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  • Writer's pictureAri Betof

CSR Virtual Volunteering Shift Gives Kids a Chance at Tech Careers

“Corporate social responsibility,” or CSR, refers to the ways in which companies demonstrate their concern for the environs in which they operate--in other words, their social accountability. CSR can take many forms and can yield benefits for the companies concerned in terms of employee engagement and brand image. More importantly, it benefits the communities served.

Volunteerism in the United States

Volunteerism is a popular form of CSR whereby causes benefit from the contributions of employee volunteers. Many companies match employees’ hours with “volunteer grants,” monetary donations made to the nonprofits where their employees volunteer. For example, Microsoft donates $25 for every hour an employee volunteers at a nonprofit.

According to Double the Donation, 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies offer volunteer grant programs. With approximately 63 million people volunteering in the United States annually, this translates to a total of 7.7 billion hours, worth about $175 billion.

But employee volunteering translates to more than dollars. Research by United Health shows that volunteering is good for you. Respondents who had volunteered in the last 12 months said volunteering made them feel healthier, improved their mood, lowered their stress levels, and gave them a stronger sense of purpose. And in a survey by Deloitte, 70 percent of respondents felt that volunteerism was essential to employee well-being.

Volunteering during the Pandemic

For obvious reasons, in-person volunteering was challenging during the pandemic. Companies and employees used to volunteering were left scrambling to find ways to continue their contributions and maintain a sense of connection.

Capital One is one company that successfully moved its volunteer efforts online, leading it to the third-place ranking in Fast Company’s list of the “10 Most Innovative Corporate Social Responsibility Companies for 2021.” It moved its Capital One Coders summer program to a virtual classroom model and expanded it by 400 percent to engage primarily low-to-moderate-income students. It also equipped 2,500 homes with digital connectivity to facilitate access to virtual classes.

The Capital One Coders program is an annual opportunity for the company’s technologists to volunteer to teach computer science skills in classrooms. It is aimed at overcoming the “summer slide”—a tendency among students of low income, in particular, to lose some of the learning gained during the previous school year.

In 2020, more than 500 volunteers shifted their teaching online to fight what promised to be an even more pronounced slide caused by the coronavirus. They worked with more than 1,000 students through 50 Virtual Coders Camps—more than four times as many sessions as normal.

Helping Students Explore Fields in Computer Science

Participating students were able to explore the various areas of computer science through a range of programs. They could learn about cloud computing by participating in hands-on activities within Amazon Web Services or study the basics of web development, Python, or Android application development, among other topics. Participants could even watch and participate in real-time coding by Capital One technologists.

Program manager Matthew McCurdy said the program aimed beyond merely preventing the COVID-19 slide. It exposed students to fields in computer science that they would not otherwise have the chance to experience, as only 40 percent of K-12 schools offer classes that incorporate computer programming.

This exposure is vital if we are to bridge the gender and race equity gaps in computer science. Currently, women hold only 26 percent of the jobs in the industry, but their chances of majoring in computer science increase by a factor of 10 if they take computer science classes before college. For Black and Latinx students, the likelihood increase by a factor of seven.

Virtual Volunteering in 2021

Forbes has identified virtual volunteering as a top CSR trend for 2021. For volunteers, virtual programs offer more opportunities and flexibility. For nonprofits, virtual volunteering results in potentially more positions for volunteers, greater access to qualified volunteers, and savings in terms of operating costs. Companies and individuals looking for a place to start can refer to this list of ideas for online volunteering, many of which are also suitable for team-building initiatives.

They say necessity is the mother of invention, and COVID has catapulted us into the digital era. With the relief provided by vaccination will likely come a return to in-person volunteering that could not be replicated online. But virtual volunteering has opened up a host of new possibilities for volunteers, employers, and nonprofits that should endure.

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