/ 22 January 2009

Banking on volunteers to make an impact

In March 2002, then president Thabo Mbeki appealed for South Africans to become a society of volunteers. FirstRand took this call seriously by facilitating, encouraging and supporting a “Spirit of Giving” among employees who want to give back into their communities.

“Many people want to contribute and give something back to society. The problem is they often don’t know who to support and how. Our experience is that when we provided the facilitation and enablement, our staff immediately embraced the opportunity,” says Paul Harris, chief executive of FirstRand.

“We believe the programme’s success is purely driven by this passion to make a difference. The emphasis of our programme is on volunteerism — employees are not forced to participate, we just support, facilitate and motivate giving. The focus is purely on what and how people want to contribute.”

The FirstRand Volunteers Programme is implemented through the divisions of the FirstRand Group (First National Bank, Rand Merchant Bank, WesBank and Momentum) by the FirstRand Volunteers committee.

Desiree Storey, manager of FirstRand’s Volunteers Programme, says the business unit plays an important role in bringing community needs to the workplace.

She says the FirstRand Group employs 43 000 employees and to date the programme has enjoyed an approximate 20% to 25% participation rate.

It also offers financial support. For example, where employees raise funds within any business unit or division, FirstRand will match this R1 for R1 to give to their chosen charity. Employees are matched for their time too.

FirstRand’s entry into the Best Community Involvement Programme category consisted of three separate entries: the FNB interbank risk and compliance project; the FNB commercial banking life skills and mentorship programme; and Momentum volunteers support for the community of De Aar, in the Northern Cape.

FNB interbank risk and compliance project has worked with residents at the Andeon Plot in Bethlehem since 2006. In the past two years this small team of FNB employees has raised more than R32 000 and helped families to implement four vegetable tunnels, a potato plantation, an irrigation system, to refurbish vegetable tunnels and to establish a woodwork project.

“Our aim through our involvement with the Andeon Plot community is to identify where money can be made and assist with the funding and implementation of these income generation programmes,” says Leon Moll, manager of FNB interbank risk and compliance.

The FNB commercial banking life skills and mentorship programme began in August 2006. This 22-week mini-enterprise development programme was initiated by FNB commercial employees and the Junior Board members. The staff partnered an NGO, Junior Achievement South Africa, helping to provide the learners with writing material for the programme. The FNB commercial team made a difference in the lives of over 80 learners over the past two years.

The aim of the programme is to equip the youth with the skills they need to start and run a successful business, leading to job creation and poverty alleviation.

Describing the support Momentum volunteers give to the community of De Aar, chief executive of FNB commercial banking Iris Dempsey says: “We recognise that our giving — through mentoring, teaching, donating and sharing our time and skills — will help to build a better South Africa, a more stable economy in which our company can successfully operate.”

“This project involves people at Momentum from all races, ages, genders, creeds and religions. All we ask from stakeholders is that they have a caring heart and helping hands,” says Patrick Louw, at Momentum.

Louw feels passionately about the De Aar community because this is where he grew up and where his family now live. De Aar has the highest prevalence of children diagnosed with foetal alcohol syndrome and is one of the poorest areas in the country.

Momentum staff have donated a fax machine and a bread oven to De Aar Kleurtjie Kloof School from generous staff donations.

Five families in De Aar liaise with Louw on an ongoing basis about how things are going, how the schools are progressing and any other needs that may arise.