Roshawnda Washington, Dow
Volunteer Program Manager, Dow
Years in Field: 1.5 at Dow
My Volunteerism Path
I started volunteering when I was a kid, with my parents actually. I learned from them the importance of being engaged and also the reward in being involved with volunteering. I found out what areas I was most passionate about and started looking for organizations I could get connected to.
I went to grad school for a Master of Social Work, thinking I’d work one-on-one with individuals and or children. A great professor who was a lawyer working with community groups opened my eyes to the many other ways that social work intersected with the world, including on a macro level working with nonprofits and service organizations. I realized I was really passionate about macro level work.
Out of grad school I was a counselor and while working for a nonprofit, I had an opportunity to revitalize the group’s volunteer program. Having volunteered myself, I had some idea of what did and did not make for a good volunteer experience. While the volunteer program was a small part of my actual job, I loved doing it.
I then made a point to look for opportunities where I could marry together what I’d learned of being a volunteer, coordinating with volunteers as well as my knowledge of nonprofits and the macro level approach to community work from my MSW program. I was excited to see that many of these intersected in working in social responsibility and specifically in the role I’m in now with Dow.
I love the opportunities that being in the corporate volunteerism space provides. Working for a corporation like mine has given me a different perspective than when I worked for nonprofits, but I can also use my NPO background to help navigate those waters. I get to help shape what our company engagement and impact looks like across communities even outside of my local reach.
It’s given me such a unique chance to bring new voices to the table in different ways and to introduce our employees to the awesome work that so many inspiring community and service organizations are undertaking. Being in this space allows me to partner with our team and our employees for them to use their passions, interests and talents to create change in ways they may not have thought of before. To help them intersect with our communities and see the power that that each employee has to create meaningful impact makes my work tangible and fulfilling.
Advice for Those Considering Working In Corporate Volunteerism
I think we can all be guilty of walking in with our preconceived notions and ideals of what form change should take. It’s easy to be discouraged when things don’t work out or look just like you had dreamed. But being open from the start, you’ll be able to see the big picture and find connection points you might otherwise have missed with your well-meaning tunnel vision.
-Network, network, network!-
Not just for the sake of getting your name out there, but so that you are able to be a student of others. You may be doing similar projects or working with familiar groups, but you’ll inevitably also learn about some new initiatives and emerging organizations from being connected to others in the field and taking the time to ask questions. We definitely can find areas to work together and still all be successful.
-Get employees’ insights about needs that are present in the community.-
At Dow, we leverage all of own connections and those of employee resource groups in the community to make sure we are being inclusive of diverse communities.
We also take into account the need areas in which organizations work, and see where we can utilize our company field expertise and resources. We seek out ways to be better partners through grant work, hands-on in-person projects (where it is safe to engage) and recently, through more non-traditional methods such as zoom presentations to classes and utilizing online nonprofit board training programs.
Meaningful impact starts by talking with members of the communities we are part of. Making sure we’re having conversations alongside community organizations to help the great work they’re already doing and being able to incorporate science and innovation which are essential to what we do.
How Key Components of CSR Are Evolving
I spend a lot of time not wanting to get stuck in “well this is what we’ve always done.” There is something wonderful about building strong connections with groups and working closely year over year.
But going out to find a new organization or reaching out to a group one of our employees is invested in already brings new perspectives that help us stay connected to changing communities. Many of our employees are engaged in meaningful ways, and we want to support the investments they have in their communities and champion the change they are making.
The 2020 year has presented a host of challenges to our traditional models of volunteerism. It also has opened opportunities for us to think outside of our comfort levels and connect with new areas we may not have otherwise sought to engage with.
Virtual, independent and online engagement traditionally has been shied away from in favor of bringing people physically together to tackle a common goal. With the pandemic, that wasn’t an option and the virtual landscape became a focal point.
For our company, in many ways we’ve started from scratch. We went back to the drawing board with our community partners and reached out to new partners who had already been on the virtual field. We looked at how we can leverage the work these partners are doing and the talent and passion of our employees who are eagerly looking to continue engaging and find safe ways of making an impact through volunteerism.
Many of the ways we started engaging this year will stay with our model as we move forward and create a new hybrid approach to employee volunteer engagement.