· Features

Making a success of charity challenges

These days it’s rare for any company not to have a CSR strategy. However, does that go far enough? We explore how volunteering abroad leaves you with more than just a warm glow

It’s been six months since a 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook Nepal, claiming more than 9,000 lives and leaving many thousands more injured and homeless. The country remains in desperate need. Could your business – or more precisely your people – lend a helping hand?

Charity Challenge, an organisation with which HR magazine and our CSHR campaign has partnered with in the past, is calling on socially conscious teams to get involved with the massive reconstruction project via its Community Challenge programme.

It is encouraging teams of volunteers from a broad range of companies to travel to some of the worst hit areas in Nepal to help rebuild the thousands of schools that were destroyed in April’s quake.

The Nepal project follows in the footsteps of successfully completed corporate-backed initiatives in areas such as India, China and Mali. These involved companies such as IBM, Diageo and Coutts, with whom HR magazine publisher Siân Harrington travelled to India in 2008.

“We drop people into rural communities so that they can help build the basic facilities that we take for granted,” explains Charity Challenge founder and managing director Simon Albert.

“Teams are sent from all different industries and are usually made up of a broad range of staff from every level of the company’s hierarchy – yet everyone mucks in and grafts hard. It’s an incredible leveller.”

Here HR magazine speaks to some of the participants from two organisations that have taken part in a Community Challenge programme in India to find out what they took away from the experience, both personally and professionally.


Santander sent a team of 35 people from across the UK business to raise money for the British Heart Foundation and provide on-site support to international NGO Satya Special School, which supports children with special needs.

Sonal Patel, international mobility manager

“I’ve always done fundraising – I’ve run three London marathons, taken part in Tough Mudder and climbed Ben Nevis – but I wanted to do something a little different. I liked the idea of a team activity that gave back to a community rather than an individual physical challenge.

I wanted to show my team that anyone can go on a challenge like this, join a group of strangers from around the business and work together to achieve a shared goal. It was a rare opportunity to work with people from across all areas of the company, from all backgrounds and walks of life, in an environment where everyone is equal – there is no internal business hierarchy. It provides an even playing field to learn from each other and develop team-building skills.

One of the key things I learned was that huge things can be achieved when you focus on a single group goal. Everyone pitched in and worked together, and you can bring that attitude back to your team in the UK. Everyone was from a different department, but we were all equal and just as capable as each other. I hope I can bring back that attitude to my team.

Overall this kind of experience is a very unique situation, which helps build strong bonds with teammates. Friendships were made that will last forever and contacts within the business were formed that will help future projects and ways of working.”

The Body Shop

A team from The Body Shop and The Body Shop Foundation also flew to India to help construct the Kodathur Village Rehabilitation Centre, which will provide support and care for up to 100 children with disabilities.

Colette Freek, project manager

“For me this project was about seeing where the money goes. It’s sometimes harder to rationalise fundraising and asking people for donations that don’t link to the challenge. It’s really about hearts and minds, experiencing it first hand.

Every day was full on. We’d be on the bus to the site at 7.30am and it would already be 29°C. It was a collaborative approach every day. Working alongside the local Indian teams you found you wanted to push yourself.

The experience helped me understand how we all react in different situations.

None of us in the team knew each other and our reactions were all so mixed. My work is project-based, dealing with change, so it’s important to understand you can’t assume just because you have a deadline everyone else is working to it. Everybody has things going on. The team is only as good as the weakest individual and we are each that person at some point.

Everyone should have an opportunity to take part in something like this, particularly young people. It helps you understand more about yourself and those you work with, and how you need to work in a team.

The business should support people when they come back [from an experience like this], it’s about checking in to see if the experience delivered what it was expected to deliver. There’s an anti-climax when you come back and you need to manage that – that’s where the team support comes in useful. What could the business be doing to spread the knowledge? There’s a lot we could capitalise on.”

Simon Allchin, UK accounting and reporting analyst

“I’ve tried to do some sort of charity challenge every year for the past five, like running marathons. This one jumped out at me. I liked the idea of leaving something tangible behind. And when you see just how marginalised disabled children are in India it inspired us to come back and raise more money for the cause.

There were no egos in the people who did this project. It was a pure team coming together and everyone did their bit. I met people that I’d never seen or worked with before in the business. But having this week of shared experience makes you lifelong friends. And it’s given me a dose of perspective. I’m never going to complain about my work again!

I definitely felt the post-challenge blues. I came back to a very busy period and that pressure helped. Businesses could encourage people returning to get into project teams and work with a partner charity to develop skills. That might be the kind of thing they wouldn’t have done before, but having sparked that fire in someone it’s easy to keep fanning it.”