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Engage employees in CSR through experiences

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Peter Fahy, former chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, describes his aid work in Africa

Employers can engage staff in CSR activities by providing them with experiences rather than just fundraising, according to Peter Fahy, former chief constable of Greater Manchester Police and CEO of charity Retrak.

Retrak works to transform highly vulnerable children’s lives in Africa and South America, and allows those who have helped raise funds to visit their locations and see the changes their work is making.

“It’s such a totally different experience,” Fahy told HR magazine. “It’s not so intensive if you’re just raising money, but this allows you to engage in the activity in a very human way. There’s something about the way it tests you that keeps you engaged.”

Speaking at the HR Directors Business Summit in Birmingham Fahy described the charity work as a great way to break down work hierarchies. “It provides an experience you can’t get anywhere else in the organisation,” he explained. “It enabled me to show a different side of myself to my own staff, and I got a different impression of them.

“It encouraged us to problem-solve together, and built on leadership skills. The public service cannot just give money to these schemes, so the staff raised the funds in their own time, and that helped to build on their skills too.”

Chris Hill of the Greater Manchester Police has been to Ethiopia with Retrak. He agreed that his team was closer after the trip. “Team building is essential,” he said. “My junior officers, who might before have been afraid to approach me, now speak to me."

Adam Postlethwaite, crew manager at Eccles Fire Station, Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Service, has been to Uganda four times as part of the scheme. He said that he has been able to bring the skills he learnt abroad back to work. “Nothing runs to time in Africa,” he said. “It helps to develop your flexibility and creativity. Every time I go I think I have seen it all, yet every time something surprises me.”

Hill added that the fundraising before the journey was also a learning process. “My staff tried abseiling [to raise money], half marathons, triathlons. It teaches you so many social skills.”

Fahy explained that he had seen improvements in the confidence and assertiveness of those on the scheme. “That professional development is just a part of the experience,” he said.

“My advice for anyone not sure if they want to go is just do it,” added Postlethwaite. “Every second of your hard work is worth it when you see those children smile.”

HR magazine is considering putting together a project team of senior HR professionals to take part in a community project in Nepal with Charity Challenge. If this is something you or your organisation might be interested in please contact editor Katie Jacobs on katie.jacobs@markallengroup.com