By Deanna C. White, Correspondent
Elise Saur always wanted more from her dream job than an impressive title and a predictable pathway to the top.
She wanted to challenge herself by working abroad and in global markets. She wanted to merge all of her professional passions – business transactions, her interest in Latin America, and her love of the entrepreneurial community – into one career. And, most importantly, she wanted to work for a firm that would allow her to give back – to use her skills to help small clients and startup businesses achieve success.
So before she even entered the job market, Saur set her sights on EY and its EY Americas Corporate Responsibility (CR) Fellows program. Saur said she knew the company and the CR Fellows program, which assists global entrepreneurs in emerging markets, would satisfy all of her prerequisites for personal and professional success.
“I had my eye on the CR Fellows program from the very start,” said Saur, who partnered with Tecverde, a developer of high-end, eco-friendly homes, during her fellowship in Curitiba, Brazil. “EY offers an opportunity to help entrepreneurs at the most important time in their growth, and I really wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to give back to those companies that might not be able to afford the business expertise EY could provide on their own.”
Saur, who is assistant director in knowledge - strategic initiatives at EY's Pittsburgh office, was one of fifteen corporate volunteers from EY’s 2013 class of CR Fellows who recently returned from seven-week assignments in Latin America. While they were there, the CR Fellows leveraged their workplace skills to meet the specific business needs of high-impact entrepreneurs – those who have the potential to expand employment, generate wealth, and inspire others to innovate in their local community – in various host countries at no cost to the business.
EY partners with Endeavor Network to match the skills of CR Fellows with the needs of these entrepreneurs to help grow their businesses in an effort to create scalable, sustainable economic value.
In addition to Fellows returning with improved management skills and international experience, EY saw significantly higher engagement among its Fellows’ alumni compared to the rest of its employees.
“We’ve found that the availability of volunteerism opportunities make a positive impact on the organization’s ability to recruit top talent,” said Deborah Holmes, EY Americas director of corporate responsibility. “According to EY’s annual Global People Survey of employees, EY employees who participate in our long-term mentoring program, College MAP (Mentoring for Access and Persistence), report significantly higher engagement in their careers at EY and are more likely to recommend EY as a ‘great place to work’ and commit to building a long-term career with the firm compared to their peers.”
Employees and Graduates are Wanting More
The CR Fellows are not alone in their desire to meld work and volunteerism, it seems. Many high-performing employees and in-demand college graduates now seem to expect employers to provide opportunities for personal engagement and corporate responsibility.
Recent research shows that employee volunteer programs are becoming more popular among corporations.
For example, the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP) recently released its Giving in Numbers: 2013 Edition report, which found that paid-release-time employee volunteer programs were offered by 70 percent of companies in 2012, compared to just 53 percent of companies before the global recession.
The CECP also found that companies offering pro bono services grew from 32 percent in 2008 to 50 percent in 2012. Common business goals for employee volunteer programs include improving employee morale, increasing retention, and assisting recruitment efforts for high-performing job candidates, according to the CECP.
Studies have also tied employee engagement to both satisfaction and productivity in the workplace. For instance, a Net Impact survey of 1,726 currently employed US college grads, spanning three generations, found that more than half (55 percent) said they are currently in a job where they can make a social and environmental impact on the world. Those respondents are more satisfied with their job by a two-to-one ratio, according to the survey.
“The [survey] shows that corporate volunteerism is gaining popularity as it increasingly is viewed as bringing valuable benefits to the volunteers, their companies, and the local communities,” Holmes said. “For companies, that means enhanced leadership-development skills for its employees and improved retention.”
‘If I Want to Do Something, They Will be Behind Me’
Saur is just one example of a worker who was drawn to her company because of its corporate responsibility programs, and she said those programs have “definitely provided an incentive” to make EY the place where she wants to build a long-term career.
Saur said she first learned of all the personal and professional opportunities that EY provides from Nancy Altobello, EY Americas vice chair of talent, who spoke at an EY event for interns in 2005.
“She had lived in multiple places and held multiple roles in the company,” Saur said. “I thought, ‘Wow, there’s somebody who’s really been able to spread her wings and get the most out of her career and the world.’”
In similar fashion, working as a CR Fellow with Tecverde has allowed Saur to exercise the altruism her parents instilled in her by helping the young startup company develop research and development partnership strategy and methodology.
Saur, who wrote a blog about her experience in Brazil, realized during the fellowship that the new environment, culture, and emerging marketplace had forced her to stretch her own business and management skills, as well as her language and social skills, to a whole new level.
Saur learned she could handle herself – and manage others – in challenging situations, adapt to constantly fluctuating circumstances, and thrive in the high-risk, high-pressure entrepreneurial world.
She also learned subtler lessons, as well, such as in many parts of the world, trust isn’t earned by impressive titles or corporate backing; it’s fostered by personal relationships developed over time.
And she learned firsthand what she always imagined, about the “multiplier effect,” as she calls it – the fact that for every positive impact she made on Tecverde, the startup company will make for a future generation of entrepreneurs in time.
All lessons, Saur said, will keep her engaged in her job, loyal to her company, and looking forward to the next opportunity for years to come.
“From day one, the fact that EY gave me these opportunities to push myself and make a difference is what keeps me motivated and challenged with my work,” Saur said. “Because I know if I want to do something, they will be behind me.”