Employee Volunteering Programme, Brazil
25 March 2017 C&A Foundation
What did we evaluate?
The Employee Volunteering Programme (EVP) has been run by Instituto C&A and C&A Brazil since 1991. It engages around 2,500 C&A employees in almost 300 business units, in 120 cities, across 25 of the 26 Brazilian states. The EVP partners with community-based child education organisations to: 'train the volunteer employees of C&A to participate as citizens in the education of children and adolescents, in all communities where the company is present'.
The independent evaluation took place between March and September 2016. It focused on assessing the results of the last programme cycle (2013-2015) to:
- enhance the volunteering culture within C&A
- improve volunteer social participation
- strengthen access to quality education
- develop community organisational capacities to improve education
The EVP delivered results for the company and volunteers, but no significant results for child education or organisational capacity:
- C&A employees' involvement in the EVP contributed to professional and personal development and increased understanding of social injustice. Volunteers reported improved communication and teamwork skills, as well as awareness and understanding of social inequality and the challenges faced in the education sector.
- There were high levels of internal volunteering across C&A, but business pressures restricted engagement with community organisations. Many volunteers took part in regular internal activities, but less than 40% had an opportunity to engage externally with child education activities. The main reason was increased business pressures, including reductions in retail staffing. This left volunteers frustrated and demotivated.
- The sale of surplus C&A clothing stock ('the bazaar') by community organisations was a successful way to provide funds for educational resources. The bazaar combines the resources and competencies of C&A staff with the financial needs of the community organisations. It raised around US$2,500 – US$2,700 for participating community organisations. Funds were used to improve premises, equipment, educational materials and buy essential food items. The bazaar also strengthened relationships between community organisations and the families they serve.
- The contribution of volunteers to the improvement of education or institutional capacity was limited. The volunteers do not have the capacity of frequency of interaction to deliver positive changes to educational access, quality or capacity. Furthermore, partnerships with community organisations were hampered by a lack of criteria for engagement and exit. Community organisations reported the main strength of the EVP was the delivery of diverse play activities to children.
- Expectations around volunteer participation and impact in the community were unrealistic. The goals set at community level were higher than the programme could deliver. The programme strategies were too complex and demanding for current volunteer capacity.
What have we learnt?
The evaluation identified recommendations, drivers and challenges from which the following lessons are distilled.
Volunteering is well developed within C&A Brazil, but it's important to clarify outcomes for employees as the EVP enters a new programming phase. Leadership, communication and teamwork is crucial in supporting the EVP, the business and Instituto C&A.
It's essential to provide opportunities for a range of types and levels of employee involvement in the EVP. The realities of the retail business mean that the EVP needs to not only offer opportunities for external volunteering with community organisations, but also promote a range of internal volunteering opportunities to support external activities. This needs to come through activities and events involving counsellors, managers, trainers and volunteers to engage new employees and motivate existing ones.
'The bazaar' strategy was successful because of its direct relationship to the core business function of C&A Brazil and the capital needs of community organisations. It is important that the EVP continues to look for links between its business expertise and the needs of the community organisations it supports.
External volunteer educational activities focused on play are critical. Volunteer strengths are best harnessed in delivering fun activities such as music, theatre and play, which children need for cognitive development.
Clear criteria and agreement with community organisations is crucial for sustaining engagement and delivering results. Guidelines for community partnerships provide structure during a fixed implementation cycle (typically three to five years). These should be based on clear objectives, expected results and an exit strategy, along with suitable monitoring and evaluation. This should be second nature for the EVP in the future.
Volunteering culture is strong and part of the C&A Brazil corporate 'DNA'. However, the past programming period was over-ambitious and the results for community organisations and children were limited. A new strategy and appropriate operational guidelines are needed so the EVP can improve over the next years.