Global Citizens Program: Credit Suisse Employees Share their Expertise to Strengthen NGOs Around the World
For Kelsey D., visiting the new home of a family of eight in rural Cambodia brought home the life-changing power of microfinance. Though the family had long had land, a much-needed loan allowed them to move out of a makeshift hut and finally build a house of their own.
Kelsey D. was there working with Women’s World Banking as part of Credit Suisse’s Global Citizen’s Program. The pioneering initiative allows employees to volunteer with the bank’s microfinance and education partners, donating their skills and expertise to help the organizations grow and succeed.
“We got to see firsthand the effects these microfinance products were having on people and how they helped improve their quality of life,” said Kelsey D., Credit Suisse’s Head of Fundamental Strategies Research in New York.
An industry first
Started in 2010, the Global Citizens Program was one of the first of its kind in the banking industry. The firm has been committed to addressing socioeconomic challenges for several years, from partnering with NGOs to supporting humanitarian projects around the world. Credit Suisse specifically focuses on microfinance and education initiatives.
“We see these as two areas that align with the bank’s core business and where we can really help people help themselves,” said Laura Hemrika, the firm’s Head of Corporate Citizenship and Foundations. “We also realized that there was much more we could offer beyond financial support. We have 47,000 employees, all of whom have valuable skills and experience that we can share with our Corporate Citizenship partners as well.”
The program began relatively small — 18 employees volunteered for in-country assignments that first year. Now about 50 employees participate annually. They spend anywhere from a week to three months on assignments with individual organizations, tackling projects that range from HR and marketing to IT and finance.
“We’re providing our partners with critical expertise and human resources to help them achieve their goals,” Hemrika said. “At the same time, we’re offering leadership and learning opportunities to our employees. For example, if you’re used to implementing HR strategies in New York, then developing the same thing in Ghana, where there may be no Internet connection or limited transportation and a very different kind of talent, really tests your problem solving skills and creativity. You learn how to accomplish goals in a short time period, coach people and adapt to new situations.”
The Global Citizens Program piqued Kelsey D.’s curiosity shortly after she joined Credit Suisse in 2012. “A colleague had told me about her experience in South Africa and I knew I’d want to give the program a try as soon as I was eligible,” she said. Employees must be at the company for two years before applying to the program.
Kelsey D. found the right opportunity in 2015. She landed an assignment helping Women’s World Banking research potential private equity investments into microfinance institutions (MFIs) serving Southeast Asia. Women’s World Banking is a global nonprofit dedicated to providing low-income women with access to financial tools and resources.
For Kelsey D., the work was very similar to the research she does for Credit Suisse. She and a colleague spent six months analyzing the microfinance landscape and opportunities for investment in Southeast Asian countries including Malaysia, Cambodia and Vietnam. They juggled working on the project with their regular work.
Kelsey D. and her partner then augmented their research with a trip to Cambodia to interview MFIs. “We were asking lots of questions to the executives of these MFIs, dealing with language barriers and learning new terms,” Kelsey D. said. “It definitely helped us learn how to communicate in different situations, and with different people.”
The volunteer work had an unexpected bonus as well: It gave Kelsey D. one more way to connect with her Credit Suisse clients in Asia, who appreciated her interest and commitment to helping the region grow. “The experience we had in Cambodia really resonated with people,” she said.
A global reach
More than 250 Credit Suisse employees have volunteered in 41 countries via the Global Citizens Program. Like with Kelsey D., the firm strives to match the expertise of Credit Suisse’s employees with their partner programs’ needs.
Other recent assignments have included:
- Developing leadership and supervisory skills for the senior management of Room to Read: This nonprofit collaborates with communities and governments in Asia and Africa to help develop children’s literacy skills. Jyothi M., Credit Suisse’s Head of HR Service Center in Pune, India, took this assignment in Sri Lanka. “I was not confident about my training skills, but now I am confident about my own ability to coach, and conduct such leadership sessions. I was completely at ease; they made me feel like I was an integral part of their organization,” she said.
- Reviewing the finance system and processes of Teach for Qatar, an NGO that trains professionals to teach in the country’s independent school system: George D., VP and COO of Strategy in Credit Suisse’s London offices, said that it was rewarding to “see how everything I did translated immediately into action and had observable impact on the way the organization functioned. My best memories are from the people that I met. All were incredibly genuine, passionately dedicated to the mission of the organization, and always looking to improve.”
- Working with Opportunity International to perform business risk review on microfinance institutions: Opportunity International is a nonprofit that helps build scalable banks in developing countries. Zandra H., a VP within the COO office of International Wealth Management in Zurich, said “Being able to develop a small business, to repair one’s home and send children to school gives people self-assurance and confidence that they can do more. But I feel I also grew personally, because I constantly had to challenge my professional knowhow in a new and comparatively unstructured environment.”
Credit Suisse believes that employees can change the world for the better, both through business activities as well as through community and social leadership. With the Global Citizens Program, the firm puts this belief into practice.
“This is a huge reflection of what the firm values as an organization and an invaluable opportunity for anyone working here,” Kelsey D. said.