Sharing Expertise: The Global Citizens Program
Taking part in a corporate volunteering program not only benefits others, but also widens your own perspectives and improves various skills. Selected volunteers in the Credit Suisse Global Citizens Program share their experience.
Ever since Credit Suisse launched its Global Citizens Program in 2010, over 300 employees have been selected to go on assignments across the globe. Through this skills-based volunteering program, employees have been supporting the bank's partner organizations in nearly 50 countries in the areas of education and microfinance.
Paul Keenan, an IT manager in Lausanne, is one of these volunteers. He recently returned from a week spent in Accra, Ghana, with Credit Suisse's Global Education Initiative partner, Plan International, an organization focusing on advancing children's rights and equality for girls. "Plan Ghana is in the midst of reorganization, so the workshops I held on change management for Plan's management team really made a difference," Paul explains.
A Fulfilling Experience
Thomas Erdmann usually spends his days at the bank's International Wealth Management division in Zurich. Lately, he decided to swap the city for the Langa Township in a Cape Town suburb. One week, the mission he shared with his Singapore-based colleague Michelle Lim was to run financial training for LEAP, an education partner supported by Credit Suisse. LEAP provides free education to students from high-need communities, as well as educating future teachers. "Our goal was to share some financial knowledge with the future leaders of the schools run by LEAP. The teachers themselves come from an underprivileged background so we taught them the basics: how to budget, set a savings goal, how to interact with a bank and deal with credit responsibly. The aim was to enable the teachers to pass this knowledge onto their pupils," explains Thomas.
"They learned quickly and their questions increasingly became more sophisticated, ranging from the creation of GDP and the impact of economic growth on their own lives, to how inflation impacts their own savings," Thomas adds. After two days of lectures, it was time for a ‘train the trainers' session, and later the teachers held a regular class sharing their newly acquired knowledge with schoolchildren. "It was very fulfilling to observe how LEAP's teachers used the material and concepts we had explained, and then boiled it down to the level of a child."
Being Well-Prepared Is Crucial
All volunteers agree that the key to a successful volunteering experience is preparation. "I had prepared myself meticulously, based on courses that I have attended over the years and online research. The focus was on practical skills rather than theory, as well as promoting current best practice," Paul notes. "The skills acquired while building up the ‘Private Banking Academy' together with Credit Suisse's Business School in 2015, came in handy," says Thomas. "It gave me the right perspective and taught me to avoid too much theory."
Improved Leadership and Communication Skills
According to a study carried out by the consultancy Emerging World, the key takeaways from such programs are: seeing things from different perspectives, improved self-awareness and self-confidence, and the experience of initiating new ways of doing things. Follow-up surveys held by Credit Suisse confirm these findings.
Upon their return from the Global Citizens Program, the volunteers confirmed they had gained personal learning that will be useful for current and future roles, improved their leadership skills and self-awareness, as well as their personal resilience. "During the workshops held in Accra, I was able to renew my management skills, which led to the conclusion that I have to communicate more regularly with my team, and communicate upcoming changes effectively," Paul acknowledges. "My communication skills have certainly improved since my return," he adds.
Thomas comments: "We were seen as financial experts and leaders by LEAP's participants. There were high expectations for us to live up to, which gave me stronger self-confidence and ultimately improved my leadership skills."
An Eye-Opener As Well As a Humbling Experience
"The week reenergized me and widened my perspectives. It reminded me that there are other worlds out there, not just mine, not just the bank. It was a real eye-opener to see that non-profit organizations such as Plan International face challenges that in many ways are identical to the ones I handle in my daily work at Credit Suisse. People have different personalities; they react differently to change regardless of whether they are based in Switzerland or Ghana, or work for a bank or NGO," Paul underlines.
As for Thomas, he realized, "how difficult it is to obtain an education in South Africa, particularly for women. Two-thirds of the teachers taking part in my workshops were women with great aspirations. They are truly inspirational role models, giving their utmost to make something out of their lives. It was impressive to see their drive and willingness to learn more. It was a truly humbling experience and certainly one of the most memorable weeks of my life!"