Monday marks the start of BiTC’s Responsible Business Week ( A week that shines a light on Corporations’ efforts towards a sustainable and ethical future. But Corporate Responsibility isn’t just for one week a year; sustainability and social benefits are underpinned by year round programmes of engagement, work and activities.

I am Katie Hyson, people engagement manager for Telefonica UK’s sustainability and responsibility programme – Think Big. In this blog I want to discuss the role of the Corporate Volunteer.

At the outset of my people engagement journey, the enduring symbol of corporate volunteering was a smiling, baggy t-shirted, logo bearing, paintbrush wielding, enthusiast – surrounded by similarly uniformed team members,  in a posed team photo. Paint seems to be the key ingredient of an engaged workforce.

However, it soon became clear that whilst these DIY SOS style projects were important and valuable in their own right, the painting and re-painting of the same community buildings, year after year, was unlikely to drive the ambitious social change agenda of Think Big. I realised the need to match the talents of our people – a skilled and capable workforce – in a more thoughtful and targeted way, to tackle the social issues that our customers cared most about.

My role now focuses on engaging our people and encouraging them to work closely with youth and community organisations to provide more tailored and relevant support. Our people engagement model has evolved – and we’re still learning every day about how to mobilise the expertise of our people and the capabilities of our digital business to make a positive social contribution.

Here are some of the lessons that I’ve learnt along the way:

1.      We achieve more together. It sounds cheesey, but experience tells us that the partnerships we’ve created with NGOs enable us to combine our skills and expertise to extend our reach and impact. Charity and business partnerships are now defined by transaction – with both parties sharing a commitment to work together for positive social change. Partnerships take time to build, like the work some of our Operations teams have been doing with Streetspace – they’ve now been working together for the past year, custom building CV apps and helping with outreach programmes.

2.      Engagement is much more than volunteering. On average over 40% of our business get involved in our Think Big programme, for around two days each year. In this time, our people gain critical insights into key social issues, learn new skills, network, work in new teams, project manage and much more. A flexible approach to engagement enables us to harness the skills and talents of our people to make a positive difference in our local communities and across the UK. Critically both the organisations we partner with and our people giving their time and skills both get something out of these experiences.

3.      A strategic approach. The key to really engaging our people around Think Big has been to ensure that it is strategically linked into our wider business framework. Ensuring our people not only understandwhy the Think Big activities they’re undertaking are making a real difference, but alsowhy it is good for our business. We create a really strong framework, which people can then flex and make their own. A great example is our Big Thinker teams, who work across all our main sites and champion our activities for people and planet. In 2012, we published our three year Blueprint ( where one of the commitments was to give 4,000 young people work experiences by 2015. In one year alone, our Big Thinker teams supported over 11,000 young people to gain relevant work skills and experience – blowing the target out of the water.

At O2, we are very fortunate that our senior leaders are both passionate about Think Big, but also understand and champion why it makes good business sense. With strong, visionary leadership from the top, a creative groundswell of support for Think Big from our 11,000 strong workforce and some incredible NGO partnerships, we’re on course to make a difference that we can be proud of. Employee volunteering has evolved – and the growth in new digital technologies offers hugely exciting possibilities, not just for O2 people in the UK, but for Telefonica’s global workforce to drive positive social change. Here’s to the future of people engagement…

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