Doing good can be great fun
Lighting up the lives of the distressed is the motto of some executives in Bangalore.
Crying for attention: corporates can do their bit towards bridging the digital divide
WHAT DO you prefer to do on a weekend? Cosy up and listen to music all alone at home? Go to a bowling alley with family? Party late into the night with friends? Or, spend time in an old age home with your office colleagues?
The last option does not sound exactly like a popular weekend activity. But this is what several corporate professionals of the multinational company, GE, do as members of Elfun, the global organisation of GE volunteers. Employees, irrespective of their level, can join it and volunteer their time for a cause.
Elfun, short for Electrical Funds, was an investment similar to a mutual fund that was available to GE executives when it began as a management organisation in 1928. During the Eighties, Elfun took on a newer meaning. The Indian chapter began in 1999 and today there are over 500 people in Bangalore working towards the creation of a more just and humane society.
Any member of the group can identify a project and make a proposal to an executive committee which studies the feasibility and the legitimacy of the project before authorising its approval. Other members who are interested in being part of the project can form a team, with a leader, and fix goals and deadlines. And there are the very important review meetings.
Elfun recently helped the National Association for the Blind, Karnataka, put up its website. After months of work on designing a space that would benefit the visually impaired and connect them to the rest of the world, the team did not declare its project closed. It has now volunteered to teach the NAB staff how to make efficient use of the computer. Two other teams are engaged in teaching English and Mathematics to students here.
In order to help bridge the digital divide, some volunteers have devoted their weekends to support the work being done by EOTO (Each One Teach One). Over the last two years, more than 350 children have "graduated" from these computer classes.
Leadership for such activities comes from the front. Dr. Guillermo Wille, Managing Director, John F. Welch Technology Centre, is the chairman of the GE Elfun, Bangalore chapter, and is actively involved in several projects. He is very clear that social work is not about giving funds. He says: "Funds you can get from many people and it is not necessarily a measure of your social responsibility. We are known for volunteer work. To give part of your own time is important." He and his family spend a large part of their weekends working for the socially disadvantaged.
But what does an Elfun volunteer get in return for spending his precious weekend hours for a social cause? Surely there's a monetary incentive attached? Surely, your number of hours with an NGO is clocked and converted into money? Perks? A promotion?
"When you try to say something to a child who cannot hear a word of what you are saying, and he understands you and smiles, that makes my day," says Dr. Guillermo, who works with the hearing impaired children of the Sheila Kothavala Institute for the Deaf (SKID). That is the reward that the volunteers get smiles on the faces of people they are working with.
While several projects are long term, there are also one-day events. An infectiously enthusiastic Yamini Kumar, who is GE Elfun Director, South Asia and Pacific, says that hers has been the largest corporate donor of blood to the Red Cross for two consecutive years now.
Recently, 75 NGOs from across the country participated in a three-day conference with facilitators coming in from the U.S. Elfun is publicity shy. It lets its volunteers and their work do the talking. Elfuns are committed to improving their communities, the image of their company, and their lives through volunteerism.
Next time we think of IT professionals as computer jerks who are locked in their office stations with no time even for themselves, let's remember that there are over 50,000 Elfuns working towards a silent social transformation.
Those who want to know more about the initiative can e-mail to the following address: email@example.com.
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