Volunteering builds vital skills for top executives

Kerry native Sheila Golden, who works with global giant PepsiCo, recognises the benefit of thinking local, writes Dan Buckley

Take a break in south Kerry and you may come across someone pointing west, declaring “the next village is New York”.

By that estimation, a neighbouring parish of Kells, a seaside area halfway between Glenbeigh and Caherciveen on the Iveragh peninsula, is Washington DC.

That’s where Kells native Sheila Golden was yesterday as she delivered a keynote speech at the White House, extolling the virtues of corporate volunteerism and its ability to achieve social goals.

Based in Chicago, Golden, 35, is marketing director with Pepsi, one of the biggest commercial enterprises in the world and one that usually thinks big, and thinks global.

Coming from a small community, she recognised the benefit of thinking local, helping to set up a volunteer programme within the organisation to benefit communities in need.

Big companies such as Pepsi, IBM, Pfizer, and Shell have committed senior staff on extended assignments to bring about social change. The activities can include anything from community clean-ups to tutoring schoolchildren, to international commitments in a movement known as international corporate volunteerism.

Pfizer has devoted thousands of man-hours to improving quality at a hospital in India, while IBM has addressed transportation and food safety issues in Vietnam.

Pepsico is now doing likewise.

“A few of my colleagues and I created Pepsicorps, a global leadership programme that promotes skill-based volunteerism and touches and changes a challenged community for life,” says Sheila.

Working in tandem with the Points of Light foundation, a non-profit volunteer organisation founded by George Bush Sr, Pepsicorps last year deployed its Performance with a Purpose programme to address issues surrounding clean water, sustainable agriculture, and health in Ghana.

This year, eight employees will travel to the south-west US, partnering with local communities and organisations to focus on health and nutrition. Another team of eight will spend four weeks working on improving access to clean water in India.

“Points of Light are driving a campaign called Billion+Change,” says Sheila.

“This campaign is promoting skilled based volunteerism. I was asked to share Pepsicorps’ global programme with corporate leaders and members of the Obama administration. President Obama is an enthusiastic supporter.”

Not only do these efforts help the communities they serve, they allow volunteers to share experiences outside their daily working lives and to tap in to their inherent compassion.

It also gives major organisations a human face, enhancing its image and strengthening trust between them and their customers.

According to Deirdre White, CEO of CDC Development Solutions, an international NGO which develops projects for Pepsicorps, “most of the participants of these programmes are leaders and future leaders of the world’s largest and most influential corporations”.

“Having the international corporate volunteerism experience opens their eyes, minds, and hearts in new ways and necessarily changes the type of leader they are or will become.

“Their first-hand exposure to the opportunities, challenges, and conditions of local communities will inform their actions as they move to become mentors and decision makers.

“And this is a good thing for the future of human wellbeing.”

Sheila agrees.

“Corporate citizenship and skill-based volunteerism is important in so many ways. As well as doing good and providing great service to communities, programmes like ours are leadership development tools and help to build empathy in people which is an essential ingredient for success.”

She should know. Having gone to the US 14 years ago “for a year” she has since risen to a senior position with one of the iconic global companies.

Come August, though, and she will be home for a while in Kells, pointing westward to her other homeland — the next village across the water.

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