Most common mistakes on social inclusion projects
Being a member of our society carries with it many advantages. People can get access to adequate social networks to housing, educational resources, and all the different resources of a community, and with that comes a great deal of opportunity.
But every now and then, a certain individual can find themselves being pushed to the peripheries of society. And when that happens, they have reduced rights, access to legal protection, reduced access to resources, and so on. In a nutshell, they get reduced opportunities.
One of the important factors could be, for example, poverty. The poverty magnet can literally drag people away from the core parts of society to the fringes. These people are experiencing a greater degree of social exclusion, and this is a process by which we are derailing people from actively participating in society. Basically, they are denied access to many resources. Another important magnet is the health one. Whether that’s mental or physical, people who are physically or mentally ill may have a much tougher time engaging and interacting in society. They, too, might be dragged away from the core part of society into the fringes.
We should bear in mind that certain groups may face a lot of discrimination that could be an additional magnet. And these groups can face discrimination based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, and other different items such as culture. People can again be very easily relegated to the fringes of society where they’re not actively participating or interacting with the established network.
One of the things we should bear in mind is that one might think about these factors as separated magnets. But in reality, people who experienced social exclusion often have many, many of these magnets combined.
According to the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) documents, the issue of social inclusion needs to be emphasized and put as a central topic. The brief also points out that “volunteerism, when well facilitated, can be a powerful mechanism for promoting social inclusion throughout the world. With the support of research-based evidence, it demonstrates how the values inherent in volunteerism open up diverse pathways for marginalized groups to overcome social exclusion while enabling them to become drivers of development action.”
Indeed, many corporations have been using corporate volunteerism as a mechanism for social inclusion. But when it comes to CSR, many specialists think we should have a critical view on it. Jerome Tennille points out that just creating a volunteering program is not enough: “You see, I believe strongly that the very institutions that engage volunteers to solve critical social and environmental issues aren’t socially and environmentally by default simply because they’re missioned to solve a critical issue. When people rush to solve problems they don’t understand, they can end up acting in a way that imposes a specific vision of what’s “right and wrong” or “good and bad” on other cultures.”
Tomás Sercovich, a professional who has been for 15 years advising companies on corporate responsibility and sustainability, agrees that the process of creating a volunteering project can be more complicated than expected. We talked to him about the best CSR practices when it comes to social inclusion. Check it out:
Optimy: What steps should companies take to create a social inclusion project?
Tomás Sercovich: I would say there is a first step from inside the company out. You need to understand what it is that you can contribute. But even before that, you need to understand why; what is the objective? And we work with companies, and we sit down with companies, and they say we want to support, let’s say, educational attainment because it’s important for our society. Yes, but what business objective does this serve on? The business objective could be very much about employee morale, employee engagement, and asserting the brand, making people more resilient in difficult times like endless disruption.
To understand what objective this serves, because otherwise, it’s something that is floating. It’s the right thing to do. But when times of crisis come, you have to stop it because it’s not business-critical. So it has to be business-critical as much as anything else the business does. So that’s the first point.
The second point is to understand what it is that you can contribute. Is it money? Is it time? Is it volunteering? Is it resources? Is it books or whiteboards for the school laptops? Or is it the knowledge and the skills of your people and their studies made that say that. And when companies volunteer skills, it can be I.T. and legal expertise, marketing experience, leadership strategy, all those amazing skills. It has five times more impact than if a company was to contribute with cash. I know it’s the first thing that we think intuitively. Of course, this association, this charity, this cause needs cash or money or financial support. So think wisely about what you can contribute. And then reach out to the community. Understand what the most pressing social issues are. A company might say, ‘well, we want to do something specific about the enjoyment of the sport,’ but maybe that’s not a critical issue in your local community. And this is about research as much as it is about talking to the local community and other companies. Institutions that, for instance, organize local community panels to try and understand what the needs are. And sometimes, what you realize is that those dialogues can be super enriching in terms of the topic foundations that can be supported.
Optimy: What are the most common mistakes corporations make when creating their social inclusion projects?
Tomás Sercovich: I would say probably taking this whole process of dialog for granted. And sometimes I talk to companies, and they say, ‘well, our employees want to do something about X topic.’ And here in Ireland, most of the time when you ask a staff to choose or to contribute to that, they would say children and they would say sickness, you know, cancer, etc.
And I think the mistake is not having a broad view of all the issues and sometimes recognizing that some causes are very visible, very high profile, and others are very low profile, but they’re relevant. It’s important to engage your employees and make them feel excited about this, of course. But it has to be influenced by objective information.
The second mistake would be to commit and say, ‘we’re going to offer all these hours of volunteering,’ but then not really knowing if they’re capable of delivering on that commitment. That can be a mistake in an equal way because sometimes communities would say, ‘of course, we’re willing to welcome all those volunteers and help with the children in hospital,’ and then they can’t. Having realistic expectations, it’s important.
And then my third point would be being short-minded. This is an initiative that we do now because today we’re feeling very strong about it or sensitized. We hear about Black Lives Matter in the United States, or we think we have to do something about minorities in our country, in our community. But then six months later, we change our mind, and we decide it should be about education, and six months later, we think it should be about homelessness. Having a strategy, having a long-term vision, and understanding your community’s needs would be my key suggestion.
Conclusion: We can speak about social inclusion projects if you’re willing to do the hard work of providing meaningful volunteering experiences. To do so, you need to detach yourself from preconceived ideas of what local communities need. Instead, you should start dialogues with those in need to better understand their issues and challenges. Once that communication is established, you will be able to provide corporate volunteering experiences that are transactional and transformative to both employees and society.