Giving back to the community

World in your hand


Rhoda Steel is the UK head of corporate social responsibility at Johnson & Johnson. Here she talks to about its Pro Bono community programme. How did the Pro Bono programme come into being and what are its aims?

Rhoda Steel [pictured left]: We wanted to give our employees the opportunity to help first hand with causes that mattered to them, whether that be on a local, national or global scale. Our Credo challenges us to put the needs and well-being of the people we serve first to make a positive impact on society and our volunteering programme is one of many ways we’re working to achieve this. All our pro bono and volunteer work is tracked in our annual Health for Humanity report which shows the progress we are making on trying to change the trajectory of health for humanity.

WM: What kind of work do employees do and for how long?

RS: In the UK employees are eligible for up to five volunteering days per year and we’re flexible with the type of work that they can do. Although we have a set of charities that we recommend, people are more than welcome to go out and find their own placements at the charities that matter most to them. Providing company-sponsored options removes the employee’s barrier of time and effort searching for a placement, but we must ensure that they feel adequate choice is available. The work varies hugely: sometimes people will take their five days at once and go to volunteer somewhere abroad; others will choose to spend a half day a month at a local organisation.

We’ve created an initiative called ‘Build Your Team’ that invites employees to create volunteering teams who work together to make a difference to a charity and reach goals related to target hours.

There are so many great causes needing support so selecting a charity to direct our energy towards always takes careful consideration. We always aim to help where we’re most needed and consider where our time or resources would make the biggest difference.

One global example is with Open Arms Malawi, a charity that provides healthcare and support for orphans, many of whom have lost their parents to HIV and AIDS. We’ve been working with them since 2006 and it’s proven especially valuable due to the high level of employee buy-in. Over 200 of our staff have volunteered for them. They’re small enough that we can make a huge difference, but they’ve been established over 20 years so have a robust governance structure that means they can receive large donations that might swamp other organisations of a similar size.

WM: How do you cover employees’ posts when they are away?

RS: Most of our employees choose to spread their five days over the course of a year, although a small proportion prefer to use all their volunteering days at once. As we’re such a large organisation, it’s not too difficult for us to absorb the workload from staff when they’re off volunteering in the same way that we would if somebody took annual leave. Five days is a manageable period and losing employees to days of volunteering should not be seen a negative. If done correctly, it can benefit organisations and the sector immeasurably.

WM: What are the benefits to J & J of employees doing voluntary work?

RS: It’s another way of showing our staff that we value them, as well as reinforcing the approach outlined in Our Credo. This leads to more engaged staff and helps attract the type of talent that we’re looking for. It allows our staff to interact with colleagues from departments that they might not previously have had contact with, as well as giving them exposure to leaders high up in the business. Most importantly, we’ve found that volunteering provides employees with valuable skills that they can carry into their day to day roles, for example, leadership and teamwork. These are a great benefit to us as a business.

WM: What has the impact and feedback been?

RS: In 2017, more than 3,400 of our employees volunteered in the UK, which is equivalent to 15 staff working full time in the community for a year. This impacted the lives of 15,877 people and raised over £125,000 for charities across the UK and internationally. As a large company, we can have a huge positive impact on the health and wellbeing of our societies and we’re lucky to work with the amazing organisations that are allowing us to do that. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and we’re thrilled with how the programme has been received so far.

WM: How is the programme evaluated?

RS: We look at lots of different factors when evaluating the effectiveness of our programmes. Firstly, we regularly consult the charities that we’re supporting to ensure that we’re meeting their needs. We want to make sure that we’re using our time wisely so we’re always looking for any constructive feedback on how we can better serve them. It can sometimes be tricky to quantify how much difference we’ve made as a lot of the work our staff are doing for them isn’t measurable in numbers. Employee satisfaction is also incredibly important and we are continuously working to ensure that participants in the programme are getting what they want from the experience.

WM: Has it been adapted in any way since it came in?

RS: Volunteering has always been part of our culture at J&J. Since launching ‘Build Your Team’ in 2015, we’ve been able to better track our progress as it introduced a more robust form of measuring the number of hours volunteered. We have seen a big year on year increase in participation and the number of hours completed.

This year we have got even more targeted by defining three key focus areas that people can direct their volunteering towards to further drive the value of contribution. In no particular order, these are: In the community (supporting local initiatives and charities), In education (inspiring school students to take up healthcare and STEM careers) and enterprise (focusing on knowledge transfer and capacity building with social entrepreneurs across the country).

WM: Do you have any plans to change it in the near future?

RS: The ‘Build Your Team’ model in the UK works successfully, but we consistently review feedback from employees and our partner organisations to understand what is adding most value and any learnings from the previous year to help us build on the programme and continue to add value going forward.

WM: Do you think it has helped attract a broader range of candidates to J & J who might be more interested in making a positive difference to society?

There is much research suggesting younger people are interested in this aspect of work plus our own research shows a big interest among mums to reconsider their careers and perhaps change careers in order to do something which ‘makes a difference’…

RS: Certainly! We’ve found our volunteering and overall CSR programme helps us to attract the exact types of people that we’d like to work here – those who want to change the world for the better. As an organisation creating social impact is core to who we are and I think that giving our employees the opportunity to be able to work directly with organisations on the frontlines of care that are directly impacting people’s lives – whether that is in the community, in education or in enterprise – is certainly one of the key drivers that makes J&J a great company to work for!

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