Volunteer Canada held the semi-annual Corporate Council on Volunteering (CCOV) Gathering in Toronto, June 17 and 18 with a focus on “The Future of Corporate Community Engagement”. The Council invited non-profits to join them on the first day in a forum so that, together, they could discuss best ways to work together to engage employee volunteers. This is the second of two blogs on the event.

I am the Executive Director of the Volunteer Action Centre Waterloo Region and also a member of the Board of Directors for Volunteer Canada. I bring this lens to my perspective on the June 17th Corporate Council on Volunteering Gathering – Exploring the Future of Corporate-Community Engagement.

We were gathered merely blocks away!

On June 13th the Toronto Raptors won the NBA Championship and I don’t think anyone could have possibly imagined what downtown Toronto would become when the team returned home on June 17th. Certainly, Volunteer Canada and the Corporate Council on Volunteering (CCOV) could not have anticipated the milieu that those attending the semi-annual meeting on June 17th would face getting to and from the event. Yet everyone was there and on time. This truly speaks to the value that the member companies of the CCOV place on community and the equal appreciation of this essential relationship for the community representatives in the room.

While we always expect the tone to be set in the welcome and introduction to the day, the buzz was set as we all arrived walking through the excited crowds.  Once inside, the event did not disappoint.  From the icebreaker to the close of the day, the buzz in the room worked to balance the buzz outside.

Participants were “buzzworthy” too. The businesses in the room have an international or national mandate, with a few focusing on provincial business. These companies were also predominantly large-scale employers. From my perspective, these businesses are leaders and exemplars of Corporate Social Responsibility and shared impressive information about the work that they are doing to promote community wellbeing. The community representation was very diverse, from volunteer centres that are community connectors and resources, to local, national and international NGO leaders. It was an exciting convergence of ideas and perspectives.

Paula Speevak, President and CEO of Volunteer Canada, led the icebreaker for the day. She asked all participants to discuss the following three questions:

  1. What’s going on in your world?
  2. What are the trends you are experiencing, what external factors are affecting the work you are doing?
  3. What are the key social, environmental and economic issues we are facing?
  4. How can we best tackle them together?

Corporate and Community leaders traversed the room discussing Sustainable Development Goals, the aging workforce, cross-sector partnering and more. These questions framed much of the conversation and dialogue for the day. There was such intensity in the conversations that the discussion was picked up again at lunch. While a few participants ventured out into the parade crowds, a group continued the conversation, focusing on the third of our icebreaker questions. It was fascinating to see the equality of knowledge and respect between participants and to feel the sincere interest in other perspectives. 

Speaking as a panelist on the role of volunteer centres as connectors between business and community.

As a panelist for the session on Volunteer Centres as ‘Connectors Between Business and Community’ we were asked to present a challenge for the participants. While each of the three panelists presented a unique relationship between their centre and local businesses, the challenge from all three, although stated differently, focused on how to translate the best CSR practices and experience of the CCOV – as individual companies and as a community of practice – into action at the local level. There was no silver bullet but many ideas were expressed that could be further discussed and built on to help local relationship building.

For me, the most exciting session focused on ‘Partnering to Build Community’. Elizabeth Dove, Director of Corporate Citizenship for Volunteer Canada, framed the session with a definition of partnership from the Partnership Brokers Association. This definition was valuable to see in front of us as the session began. “(Partnership is) an ongoing working relationship where risks and benefits are shared”.  We heard from partnerships at three stages of existence; newly established (Meridian and TRIEC), moving into a second phase (Deloitte and CivicAction), and a long-standing partnership (TD and ABC Life Literacy).  Two threads were common to all three examples.  First, that mission alignment between business and community partners is essential. Second, that the partnership was co-designed/co-produced.  These were ‘marriages of respect’.

I have been in my role as Executive Director for 16 years and I am happy to share with anyone that I continue to learn and be challenged every day.  Each day, I feel that I have done something good for my community. I can only say that this Gathering of like-minded individuals that value community was enlightening, thought provoking and inspiring. Thank you to the Volunteer Canada team and the CCOV for this opportunity.

This is the second of two blogs on the event. Read the first here.