Building a thriving society

Discovery employee volunteers help refurbish the Cottonlands community hall in KwaZulu-Natal. (supplied)

Discovery employee volunteers help refurbish the Cottonlands community hall in KwaZulu-Natal. (supplied)

The Discovery Employee Volunteer Programme, a countrywide initiative that engages employees at all levels, had the support of more than 4 000 employees this year alone.

Not only is it changing communities for the better, it is also changing the company ethos.

“The programme goes far beyond normal corporate social investment, which tends to land on the periphery of many organisations,” says Ruth Lewin, head of corporate sustainability at Discovery.

“Here it’s an integral part of the company’s culture. Even our top executives are highly engaged.”

The programme focuses on sustainable developmental initiatives, mainly with a community health focus. From small beginnings 13 years ago, it has grown into an independent and formalised programme run with the encouragement and support of its parent company.

Discovery Limited contributes a significant budget — R3.7-million in the 2012/13 financial year — and has dedicated staff administering the volunteer programme.

The company also provides logistical support, resources and materials needed for the programme.

Staff from all Discovery’s regional offices participate by using their skills to develop their communities.

Initiatives include Adopt-a-Project, where employees design and take responsibility for a project for a year or more; short-term projects for the National Volunteer Initiative; and the Business Unit Challenge, which capitalises on the competitive nature of Discovery business units to make a significant difference to their project of choice.

Business units compete to raise the most money for their chosen charity, with the winning amount matched by the company and handed to the charity.

Beneficiaries include the Reach for a Dream Foundation and the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation. Employees also participate in annual events, such as the Cansa Shavathon, National Volunteer Week, Mandela Day, Casual Day and National Bandana Day. Some employees have also adopted institutions, such as the Alexandra Health Centre and University Clinic and Kids Haven in long-term partnerships.

Sustainable partnerships
At the Alexandra Health Clinic, a partnership has been formed with Discovery’s health executive committee to provide funding and the transfer of skills, systems and knowledge.

Discovery first contributed to the clinic in 2000, with a grant of R850 000 for consulting and waiting rooms, and the company continues to give funds to the clinic, which receives 90% of its funding from government.

Through the Discovery partnership, the clinic has been able to install a server, computers and software that have allowed it to computerise its admissions system.

Discovery provides business and medical training to staff at the clinic, and includes its medical practitioners in some of its own in-house training programmes.

According to Labane Maluleke, chief executive of the Alexandra Health Clinic, the transfer of skills and knowledge is extremely valuable to the clinic, and is contributing towards its operational competence and organisational sustainability.

Staff at the clinic have welcomed the project, and have been overwhelmed by the level of enthusiasm from volunteers during annual events at the clinic.

In another initiative, Discovery helped the Refilwe Community Project east of Pretoria to identify a building on its premises that would be used to create a safe haven for abandoned babies.

Among the volunteers’ contributions to the project is the El-Roi Baby House for abandoned babies.

The company has been supporting the Refilwe Community Project for several years, initially through the Discovery Fund, and now supports the project through its employee volunteer programme and enterprise development project.

“Volunteerism provides our employees with opportunities to link our core purpose of making people healthier,” Lewin says.

The programme also raises employees’ awareness of South Africa’s developmental needs, and empowers them to feel they are personally contributing to the improvement of their environment.

“When they personally engage with the communities they are supporting, they get a deeper understanding of the needs of society. They also learn to listen and engage with the communities to tailor their projects to better serve the communities.

“And seeing the positive outcomes of their hard work is incredibly rewarding for some staff — for others, it is life changing,” says Lewin.

Lewin says the company aims to grow the numbers of volunteers participating and to improve the quality of engagement with beneficiaries in future.

It has launched a monthly induction programme where new employees are introduced to Discovery’s core purposes and its CSI portfolio.

The volunteer programme is also becoming more strategic and structured in approach, with a careful focus on sustainability and effectiveness, she says.

Lewin has worked for NGOs for most of her career, and joined Discovery in 2004 when the employee volunteer programme became formalised.

The difference between Discovery’s programme and others, she says, is that it’s fully integrated into the company culture and staff performance measures, and that top management gets fully involved.

“The Discovery Employee Volunteer Programme is thus one cog, and a pivotal one, in our commitment to contributing to building up our country’s healthcare system and promoting a strong, healthy and thriving society,” she says.

Although this article has been made possible by the Mail & Guardian's advertisers, content and photographs were sourced independently by the M&G supplements editorial team. It forms part of a larger supplement.



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