Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Keeping the Spirit of Volunteerism Alive in a Virtual Environment

Meet an HSBC Commercial Bank employee who has helped keep the volunteerism spirit alive in an all-virtual environment.

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Outreach and volunteering are critical to HSBC as a company – but equally important to their employees, who live and work in the communities the bank serves. Matthew Douglas is just one such employee. A Relationship Manager for the Commercial Bank, Matthew is based in Los Angeles. He has been leading HSBC’s People Excellence volunteer program since 2019.

One of the volunteer programs Matthew has spearheaded includes working with local high schools to help teenagers with financial literacy and mock interviews.

The five-week program covers everything from budgeting basics and opening bank accounts, to building personal and business credit, to identify theft and more

Pre-pandemic, volunteers typically worked with one local high school, offering the course several times throughout the academic year to give access to a range of students.

Rethinking Volunteer Programs in COVID-19

When COVID-19 shut down much of the world in an attempt to slow its spread, Matthew was determined to keep the program going as best he could. So in August, he launched HSBC’s first virtual financial literacy program. While there were some drawbacks, he says there were also several positives that were apparent right out of the gate.

For one thing, since the course was being taught via Zoom, only the presenters had their cameras on.

I couldn’t see students as I could when we met in person…That made it impossible to really read the room – to see who was engaged and perhaps who needed to be drawn out a little.

On the other hand, he says, since students could submit questions anonymously if they chose to, there seemed to be more actual interaction. It seemed the kids felt freer to participate, those that would normally be too shy to speak up in a live discussion, felt safe to ask the right questions.

The number of kids volunteers can reach is also far higher in the online format. “In face-to-face meetings, we would work with one school and smaller groups of students, maybe 10 or 15 for each session,” says Matthew. If they offered the program four times during an academic year in the same school, they might reach 40 to 60 young people. For the first virtual program, there were 87 students representing 17 schools.

They could never achieve this in an off-line world, says Matthew, mainly due to the traffic in LA, where it can take an hour and a half to travel just 20 miles. “Getting from one place to another is time-consuming and unpredictable. It really limits what we’re able to commit to, so the virtual option is really great.”

It doesn’t only benefit the students he’s able to connect with himself, says Matthew. He’s finding more of his colleagues want to volunteer their time given that the sometimes three or four-hour round trip to travel out to a school is eliminated.

That means more kids throughout the area can have access to the program. That’s critical.

Matthew says he wanted to give back because he knows he and his family are fortunate. “I’m from the north of England. My kids were born in San Francisco. When we moved to the LA area – I realized quickly that just a few miles in either direction could bring you into a completely different neighborhood. The schools don’t have the same access to the level of funding as others in many cases,” he explains. “The kids simply don’t have the same privileges and advantages mine do. For instance, I couldn’t believe how many of the teens I was talking with worked five-hour shifts after school and could just use a little help understanding what goes into managing finances.”

Matthew sees keeping an online component as part of the financial literacy program, even after stay-at-home and safer-at-home orders are lifted. “I love that more of my colleagues want to be involved and that we’re able to help more kids,” he says. “I do, however, miss watching some of the students go from very shy to coming out their shells a bit after only five or six lessons.” He also plans on moving the mock interviews online for the time being.

The goal of the mock interviews is to give students pointers on everything from how to dress, to paying attention to their breathing, to sitting up straight and more – to help them get a sense of what employers are looking for.

That, he says, will be a lot harder to do online – but it’s such a valuable skillset, he wants to do what he can working within the current environment.

Matthew connects with the schools through EXP, a 501(c)3 nonprofit based in Southern California. Their programs are geared toward helping schools deliver innovative, career-based curriculum. In addition to volunteering his time, Matthew also helped secure a $10,000 grant for EXP through HSBC’s sustainability team. You can learn more about EXP or donate to the organization today to support teens and high schools in Southern California.

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