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Vanitha Kumar

— Her deep-rooted passion for the role of women in science and technology compelled Vanitha Kumar, vice president of software engineering at Qualcomm Technologies Inc., to get involved in volunteerism through the company’s social responsibility program.

“In this field, the minority is women — we are highly underrepresented,” said Kumar, who has for the last two years been on the board of the Elementary Institute of Science, a San Diego-based nonprofit organization that focuses on developing exposure and interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers among young children through hands-on after-school science and engineering labs and camps. “That’s why this is a perfect fit for me. They focus on underprivileged neighborhoods in San Diego and expose kids that really don’t have much exposure to science and technology otherwise. The organization works at a grass-roots level by exposing kids at a young age to different branches of science to get them excited.”

Philanthropic Partnerships

Kumar’s volunteer work through Qualcomm’s in-house philanthropic partnerships is just one of many examples of how corporate San Diego continues to grow and revolutionize its volunteerism efforts; businesses are being more intentional about finding ways in which their employees can put to good use their specific skills and donate their time for causes that line up closely with their own humanitarian visions.

Enterprises like Sempra Energy, an energy company whose employees donated $2 million and volunteered over 22,000 hours just last year, and Mitchell International, a technology company working in the collision auto repair industry, engage in multiple group volunteer activities a year, according to the respective companies’ websites. They are among a long list of big and small corporations in town that also have engaged social responsibility departments. They encourage and recruit employees from all sectors of their businesses, running the gamut from marketing all the way to IT, to get involved in the community, be mentors and help pay it forward.

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Julia Dorfman

Serving on Boards

“Volunteerism is going more in the direction of true partnerships,” said Julia Dorfman, manager of community engagement at Qualcomm, who helped launch the company’s Skills-Based Volunteer Program a few years ago. “Companies are not just supporting philanthropic efforts, but also using employees’ individual skills to volunteer or go on board of directors of a nonprofit. Businesses are going more in the direction of robust partnerships and not just donating checks or traditional volunteering like beach clean-ups or painting a school.”

In addition to the skills-based program, Dorfman says Qualcomm also runs a one-time activity option, which allows employees to serve on a board of directors for a nonprofit of their choice for a certain period of time, and a joint venture with Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Diego County through which mentees come to Qualcomm once a week and connect with employees who want to mentor a young person but don’t want to leave the office. Qualcomm also works closely with Mission Edge,another San Diego nonprofit that provides strategic and operational services to nonprofits and social businesses and also helped the company implement the skills-based program. Qualcomm also partners with HandsOn San Diego, a nonprofit that helps engage and inspire people in volunteerism and runs a very easy volunteer online calendar, to give company employees various options through which they can effectively fulfill their altruistic aspirations.

A Look at the Numbers

On a larger scale, studies support the idea that corporate responsibility programs bring a significant return on investment. According to Project ROI, a Washington D.C.-based company that defines and delivers financial and business value from corporate responsibility and sustainability, a well-designed company responsibility program can increase employee engagement up to 7.5 percent, increase productivity by 13 percent, reduce turnover by 50 percent and increase revenue by as much as 20 percent.

Additionally, findings from the 2017 volunteerism survey conducted by Deloitte, a company headquartered in New York City that provides audit, consulting, tax and advisory services, show that 74 percent of working Americans believe volunteerism provides an improved sense of purpose; 70 percent believe volunteer activities are more likely to boost employee morale than company-sponsored happy hours; 70 percent agree that companies that sponsor such activities have a more pleasant work atmosphere; 77 percent say the activities are essential to employee well-being; and 89 percent believe companies with such activities offer a better overall working environment than those without. Lastly, results also show that employees may volunteer more if they have a better understanding of the impact their efforts are making.

Although people from all ages and all walks of life are engaging in volunteer programs in their respective places of work, experts believe the reason volunteerism has gotten more attention within the workforce in the last few years is in large-part due to millennials’ social awareness and their desire to be socially responsible.

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Alicia Quinn

A Millennial Movement

“This all has been gaining more traction and exposure in recent years because millennials are driving this,” said Alicia Quinn, director of programs for Mission Edge. “They don’t necessarily want to work for a nonprofit, but they do want to work for a company that cares about social impact and the issues that are pressing in the world today.”

Jaci Feinstein, volunteer-in-chief at HandsOn, agrees. “This all stems from millennials as volunteerism has been more of an expectation for them,” she said. “The mentality is, ‘if a company supports me, then, that makes me feel better about working for them.’”

The reason for this? Social media, says Qualcomm’s Kumar. Millennials are so socially aware of what is going on around them, thanks, in part, to the internet, which allows them to see, share and participate, she said. “This generation just doesn’t think about getting good grades anymore, they also think about helping others. It is a very positive feedback cycle that is beneficial and rewarding.”

And, there also other benefits to encouraging more skill-specific volunteering for companies, including talent

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Jaci Feinstein

development and hands-on training. “In order for corporations to recruit, retain and develop talent, this is a good tool for them by sending employees out into the community and outside of normal training,” said Quinn. “The skills set they get through volunteerism is certainly transferable. There is definitely a return on investment for businesses by engaging employees in this idea of skills-based volunteering.”

It’s All Connected

The bottom line is, when the focus of the volunteering project is one that pulls at one’s heartstrings and hits closer to home, according to experts, data and those in the field, it makes it that much more impactful. For Kumar, it starts and ends with her own family.

“I have two daughters at home, so, this is all very important for me for that very point,” she said. “I not only get the opportunity to work with an organization that looks at the grass-roots level, but also, as a woman in technology, I get to lead by example.”