More and more companies are launching international corporate volunteering programs. So what do these companies get in return for their investment? What’s it really worth? This is part 1 of a 2-part blog. 

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By Laura Asiala, Senior Director of Client Relations and Public Affairs, PYXERA Global

What is the ROI of Global Pro Bono?

This is one of the top five questions we are asked at PYXERA Global, when talking about the type of programs for which we are most well-known: international corporate volunteerism (ICV), also known as global pro bono.

Although they weren’t the first to invent the idea of placing talented, highly-skilled employees into other organizations—generously sharing their talent for the good of another organization, community, or cause—IBM certainly has earned a leadership position in this practice. Each year, they send 500 of their top talents to work in underserved markets through their Corporate Service Corps, working on projects which leverage their vast array of business skills and experiences—building capacity in SMEs, NGOs, and government ministries. Other leading companies with similar programs include The Dow Chemical Company, GSK, SAP, EY, BD, Merck, PepsiJohn Deere and many more.

Great Results at a Fraction of the Cost

So the main question is what do these companies get for it? What’s it worth? To answer this, let’s take a look at the outcomes that can result from a successfully implemented international corporate volunteer program and see if you agree that the outcomes are in fact valuable. Maybe the more important question to ask is this: what else could you implement to get the same results, and how much would that cost?

The outcomes fall into three categories:

  1. Talent development: Attracting, developing, engaging and retaining talent.
  2. New business: Gaining insights into new products, services, and markets, as well as introducing brands.
  3. Risk reduction: Preventing crises through deep understanding, stakeholder engagement, strong reputations, and creating resilient organizations in times of challenge and change.

Category One: Leadership Development

ICV is a fraction of the cost of traditional leadership programs—and it works.

Talent attraction, development, engagement, and retention are always priorities of the most successful organizations. Companies only deliver on their value propositions when they have strong, well-trained people who can deliver on it over an extended period of time.

Global pro bono assignments are one of the most effective, efficient leadership development strategies available. The rough cost (exclusive of salaries) of an ICV project is $15,000 per person for a 3-4 week assignment. An ICV project is roughly half the cost of a master’s degree at a public university and less than half that of executive leadership programs at Ivy League schools. They are fraction of the cost of a single ex-pat assignment.

Read more about the business case for leadership development.

There is now compelling research which demonstrates that the leadership skills acquired during these assignments, including change mastery, team building skills, and intercultural sensitivity, are every bit as sound as the skills gained through the more expensive development options. Carefully crafted, short-term, immersion service learning assignments are effective and tremendously efficient—for both the individual and the company—for building global leadership competencies.


Retention is another major outcome. If you lose a top performer, how much does it cost to recruit? What are the chances that you’ll replace a top performer with another top performer? What are the opportunities lost?

Read more about the business case for employee engagement.

Our clients’ post assignment assessments demonstrate that these programs make employees more loyal. According to a 2011 IBM survey, 76% of past employees said the experience boosted their desire to complete their business career at IBM. If you look at this only in terms of the money saved in recruitment—often several months’ salary—the program pays for itself.

Talent Attraction

Net Impact’s Talent Report: What Workers Want in 2012 reveals that employees who have an opportunity to make a direct social impact through their jobs report higher satisfaction than those that don’t—in fact by a 2:1 ratio. This is backed up by 45% of graduating students who say they would even take a pay cut to do so. International corporate volunteer assignments are of course not the only way to do this, but they are one of the ultimate “plum assignments” and demonstrate a company’s commitment to meaningful, impactful, trailblazing work. This attracts courageous, smart people to join.

Read more about the business case for attracting top talent.

What about all the other employees?

It’s like we had 10,000 phone-a-friends.

Obviously the people who are selected for these assignments are highly engaged, but what about everyone else? Do others in the company feel left out? Actually, it’s just the opposite! To the extent that the projects are meaningful, colleagues of participants often demonstrate pride. In many cases, companies set up ways for participants to interact with their colleagues when on assignment.

PYXERA Global had one client who fielded a team, working on improving the supply chain for producing clean cookstoves in India. A quality analysis revealed a critical welding issue. Although no one on the team had this expertise, they knew who did! A description of the problem went out one evening to a group of colleagues back home. It was “caught” by the trades group. After a little lunchtime brainstorming that was responded to by email, voila!—a solved issue. It’s like we had 10,000 ‘phone-a-friends’, one of the participants remarked.

Companies spend significant resources to attract, develop, engage, and retain their employees. Certainly an ICV program alone is not sufficient. It is, however, an excellent and affordable part of the portfolio of activities to do so.

Be sure to watch for Part 2 where we look at how ICV programs can result in new business and offer fantastic risk management.

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About our guest author

Laura Asiala

Passionate about the power of business to solve-or help solve-the world’s most intransigent problems, she leads the efforts to attract more participation of businesses to contribute to the sustainable development, through their people and their work. She also serves on the Board of Directors for Net Impact. Before PYXERA Global, she was the Director of Corporate Citizenship at Dow Corning Corporation, where she led the development of their international corporate volunteer program (Dow Corning Citizen Service Corps) and oversaw CSR strategies and relationships, including the company’s public-private partnership with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves.

Laura was also a recent interviewee of our podcast, Realizing Your Worth, which you can listen to here.

Some ways we can help

If you’d like our help with your employee volunteering or workplace giving program, please feel free to drop us a line at or call us at 855-926-4678. You can also take a look at some of the services we offer.

And be sure to check out our newest offering, Cohort Consulting. Not only will you receive all of the services we provide for Fortune 500 companies, but each month you’ll collaborate with others in your field to discuss best practices, address challenges, and receive tools for running a great program.

Click here for more details about Cohort Consulting.


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