By Deanna C. White
As a senior tax accountant for Ernst & Young (E&Y), Andrea Torrico, like most young professionals, works hard trying to climb the corporate ladder. So when she decides to burn up some of her well-earned vacation time, she wants to make the most of it. In Torrico's case, that does not mean a trip to Vegas. It means giving back to the global community.
This spring, E&Y in conjunction with the Earthwatch Institute, sent thirty volunteers on skills-based expeditions to Brazil and Costa Rica to conduct field research and to recommend strategies for implementing environmentally and economically sustainable practices to local businesses.
The ambassadors donated their vacation time. E&Y paid for the expeditions.
Torrico, along with nine of her coworkers from across the globe, spent a week on a 2,600-member coffee cooperative in the mountains of Costa Rica, working alongside Earthwatch researchers to gather data on bees, the main pollinator of the coffee crop. Their research is helping scientists understand the practices and environmental factors that lead to more sustainable coffee production.
The expedition marked the fourth consecutive year E&Y has sent volunteers on one-week expeditions. Each of the three expedition teams was comprised of ten E&Y member-firm employees from the United States, Canada, Israel, Mexico, Central America, and South America. This is the second year the program has visited Brazil and the fourth in Costa Rica.
The program, which began in 2009 when E&Y sent eleven employees on its first Earthwatch expedition, has proven so successful that it has been replicated in E&Y's EMEIA Area (Europe, the Middle East, India, and Africa), said Deborah Holmes, America's director of corporate responsibility for E&Y. In August 2012, it will launch in APAC Area (Asia-Pacific). In Japan, small groups of professionals are now participating in short-duration projects.
Holmes said the Earthwatch expeditions align perfectly with E&Y's skills-based corporate responsibility strategy, which emphasizes a commitment to education, environment, and entrepreneurship.
"This really is a program with reciprocal benefits for our people as well as the communities we go to because it allows our people to bring their skills and build their skills", Holmes said. "We feel good by helping a terrific organization and the local communities it serves, and our employees come back having practiced, implemented, and enhanced their business skills."
That philosophy is underscored by Torrico's own testimony of the time she spent in Costa Rica where, she says, E&Y volunteers not only added to this long-term Earthwatch study of bee pollination, they also used their business skills to help the cooperative define effective strategies for communicating with their key stakeholders, including cooperative members, employees, local and international customers, and the local community.
"For me, the most challenging part of the expedition was developing the public relations and marketing proposal for the coffee cooperative", Torrico said. "We spent the whole night working as a team to devise a substantial proposal in a short period of time. Then we translated the proposal into Spanish and presented it to the board of directors and members of the cooperative."
"Our partnership with Ernst & Young is focused on skills-based volunteering", said Ed Wilson president and CEO of Earthwatch. "These volunteers are not only applying their skills to help our scientists collect crucial data needed to inform farming practices, but they are also using their broader business skill sets to help our local partners in the surrounding community."
Wilson said that type of skill alchemy translates to a "win, win, win" for both organizations.
"Ernst & Young develops future leaders, the teams on the ground help the environmental scientists really make a difference, and the teams also help local businesses become economically viable", said Wilson.
Torrico described her fondest memory of the expedition by saying",We worked day to day with the farmers in the coffee fields. At the end of the expedition, one of the farmers invited us to his home for dinner. They were all very grateful to have us there, and we were all very grateful to be there."
Visit the E&Y website to learn more about Earthwatch expeditions. For more information about the Earthwatch Institute, including both individual and corporate expedition opportunities, visit the Earthwatch website.