A playground project in Africa exemplifies why corporate volunteering makes a big difference for everyone involved – the local school, the students, and the volunteers themselves.
This trip has a clear geographical destination and yet leads into the unknown: Eight PATRIZIA SE volunteers meet at Brussels Airport at the beginning of April this year to board a 14-hour flight to Cameroon. In addition to their chosen destination, the four women and four men are united by something else: they want to build a playground on the grounds of the PATRIZIA School in the Cameroonian capital of Yaoundé. And they want to do so with their own hands, together with local volunteers. Prior to their trip, they raised a large part of the required investment sum of 60,000 euros, through fundraising and charity activities, such as charity runs.
Twelve unforgettable days lie ahead of them: hard physical work under the heat of the subtropical sun, forging a tight-knit team with the local volunteers as everyone works on the one joint project, and gaining impressions in a country that is considered “Africa in Miniature” because of its geographical and ethnic diversity.
One team, one goal
The volunteers faced challenges along the way, but these did not serve to separate them, but to weld them together. “We realized pretty quickly that we were a great team. Once we arrived in Cameroon, we were all in the same location, all had the same new experience and were all doing the same job,” reports volunteer Carina Kraft, senior associate asset manager at PATRIZIA SE in Frankfurt. “We grew together incredibly quickly, were there for each other. Decisions were made exclusively with everyone’s consent, yet everyone could also be themselves.” The participants documented their impressions in a travel blog
The project was made possible thanks to PATRIZIA SE’s volunteering concept. Every employee of the company is allowed to use one percent of his or her working time to get involved with the PATRIZIA Foundation with his or her own ideas. This has resulted in projects such as the “Remote Run for Rwanda”, which promoted a vocational school in Rwanda supported by the PATRIZIA Foundation and in which over 650 runners took part. Another project was the “Cycle to Nepal” campaign, which funded a “digital classroom” in a school in Nepal.
Purpose as a top motivator
This social commitment is the result of a change in awareness among many employees, which not least influences their choice of career and employer. In view of the many environmental and social challenges in the world, they are looking away from day-to-day business to consider purpose, tasks that not only serve their own advancement but also creates social meaning.
“It cannot be that we in the industrialized countries have such a high standard of living, while in Cameroon a large part of the population lives below the poverty line. For the future, I would like to see more investment in such countries so that a certain standard of living is guaranteed globally,” says Giancarlo Tosto, for example, explaining his motivation for taking part in the playground project in Yaoundé.
Entirely new capabilities
Many companies are responding to this need by changing their corporate culture and integrating volunteering programs in their ESG strategy and CSR reporting, offering relevant training and education – and benefitting themselves in many ways too. In terms of corporate branding, for example, a socially committed company becomes more attractive, not least for high potentials looking for purpose, and creates loyalty beyond their actual career ambitions. This a major advantage for HR departments when the “war for talent” is palpable. In addition, employees train their soft skills and intercultural abilities during such programs. Away from the usual company hierarchies, they learn to interact and to respond to others, often on foreign social and cultural terrain.
“In a project like this, you learn more than anywhere else. About yourself and about the real world, whether in the global West or South. Empathy and flexibility are required here. These are skills that often come up short in the normal workday,” notes Eva Maria Bergel, Event & Volunteering Manager at the PATRIZIA Foundation. The projects themselves produce images and CSR stories with which a company can also credibly demonstrate its socially active and committed to the outside world.
Success on all sides
The PATRIZIA Foundation offers its volunteering activities exclusively to its cooperation partners – due to the considerable personnel and usually also logistical efforts involved. “We offer an excellent platform here for long-term commitment, with great results on all parts,” says Markus Elsen, Director Fundraising & Communications at the PATRIZIA Foundation.
There is plenty to do. In Africa alone, the Foundation oversees eleven projects. In addition, there are schools, education and housing projects in Asia, South America, and Europe in cooperation with local partners. The Foundation has already helped more than 280,000 children in its almost 25 years of work. The aim is to help 500,000 children from all over the world by 2030.
Everything is possible
The playground project at the PATRIZIA School in Yaoundé was also a resounding success in every respect. Instead of a concrete jungle, the schoolyard now has a playground with climbing frames, a balancing pole, slides and a playhouse where 350 pre-schoolers can let off steam. In line with the “Essence of Learning” educational concept promoted by the Foundation, the playground is used for early childhood education.
The number of local volunteers supporting the team from Germany grew from day to day. An intercultural exchange developed that went far beyond the actual project to the benefit of all. “I believe that whatever we set out to do, we can achieve or make happen, regardless of the circumstances surrounding us,” said Otto Dodoo, the Foundation’s partner manager – and he certainly doesn’t just mean building a playground in Central Africa.
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Sandra von Waldenfels
Donor Relations & Services Business Development
+49 821 50910-157