Workplace volunteering: looking beyond the traditional charity partnership

Nowadays, is it enough for companies to simply demonstrate their corporate social responsibility? Back in 2012, commentators were already declaring the traditional approach to CSR – a largely cosmetic “add-on”, kept at arms’ length from the rest of the business – as dead and obsolete. And accordingly there has been a growing trend in recent years for companies to adopt a ‘whole-business’ approach to CSR, looking beyond a financial relationship with a charity partner, and exploring ways to develop that relationship to mutually benefit both parties.

Integrity sells

There is good reason for this, with businesses recognising the multiple rewards they will reap from investing in their reputation as a responsible employer. In a competitive market, integrity has become a marketing tool – as anyone who has watched the latest NatWest UK advert can plainly see. And the research is compelling: Edelman’s 2016 Trust Barometer showed that that 55% of people in the USA and 43% of people in the UK do not trust the companies they work for, with France, India, Australia and Mexico not far behind. The report goes on to state that 80% of the general public expect that businesses could both increase profits and improve economic and social conditions in the communities in which they operate. Meanwhile, a recent survey by Environics International reveals how more than one in five consumers reported having either rewarded or punished companies based on their perceived social performance.

“A recent Deloitte report warns businesses to adjust their focus or lose a large proportion of their workforce – and recommends prioritising the sense of purpose around people.”

Companies failing to offer employees a sense of purpose can expect to lose out

So it goes without saying that a more sophisticated approach to CSR is not only good for business, but as a recruitment tool, it can set companies apart in the eyes of the talented staff they are hoping to attract. While much has been said and written about the so-called millennial generation’s fixation with ‘finding meaning’, a recent Deloitte report warns businesses to adjust their focus or lose a large proportion of their workforce: and recommends prioritising the sense of purpose around people rather than growth or profit maximization. With an integrated approach, CSR activities can attract, retain, and develop employees while fulfilling additional core purposes: often referred to as quadruple bottom line (people, profit, planet and purpose). And by looking beyond traditional charity partnerships, businesses are beginning to understand how the non-profit sector can offer so much more than just ‘greenwashing’.

Volunteering engages and develops staff: a win-win for businesses

Business In the Community has noted how more and more companies are using volunteering not only to engage and motivate their staff, but as a learning and development opportunity too. In just the last couple of years, the trend has rocketed: in 2016, 84% of businesses surveyed were using volunteering to engage and motivate staff compared to 73% in 2014, and 56% were using volunteering as a learning and development opportunity in 2016, compared to 39% in 2014.

Looking beyond borders

At SeeBeyondBorders, from the beginning we have implicitly understood how meaningful volunteering opportunities make good business sense.  For us, with our operational focus in Cambodia and the majority of our supporters based in Australia or the UK, our starting point was to provide people with the opportunity to connect first hand with the issues we had set out to address.  It has always been at the core of what we do to enabling people around the world to “see beyond borders” and understand the impact that a small act of generosity, delivered appropriately, can have for those less fortunate than themselves.

“At SeeBeyondBorders, from the beginning we have implicitly understood how meaningful volunteering opportunities make good business sense.”

Over the years, as we have started to build our relationships with corporate partners, we have come to understand that our volunteering opportunities can form a core part of the partnership, with far-ranging benefits to the companies, to SeeBeyondBorders, and most importantly, to the communities with whom we work in Cambodia.

Aimia’s experience

The benefits of such an experience were apparent when we hosted a group of volunteers from Aimia in November 2016. Prior to this, the group of volunteers spent six months fundraising on our behalf. They characterised the fundraising aspect as a “great team-building” activity in itself, with a disparate group from different departments (and in one case, even a different country!) collaborating to raise an ambitious target of £20,000. Through film nights, marathons, bucket collections, and an impressive raffle and auction evening, the participants drew on all their talents, resources and contacts to reach their target, demonstrating incredible commitment, initiative and leadership.

Aimia 2
The Aimia team in Cambodia

When it came to the trip itself, the group were able to strengthen their bonds further as they worked together to help us implement our programmes across schools in North West Cambodia. We work in the more rural areas in Cambodia, where many teachers are underqualified and under-resourced. Over 50 per cent of the teachers in our programs have not completed high school. We aim to address the skills gap in the workforce and the barriers preventing children from accessing a quality education. We make sure our volunteers contribute to projects which provide useful and sustainable solutions to the challenges facing schools, teachers and children in Cambodia.

Every project team spends their one to two weeks contributing to projects that make schools safer, more healthy, and attractive places to be. This involved helping deliver health and sports lessons to children and their families, working with local communities to determine the best ways to improve the schools, and then putting some of those plans into action through good old fashioned manual labour!

After the trip, the Aimia team told us: “Thanks to the support we received back home, we have helped make a few Khmer parents and their children smile and made at least a small difference to their lives through SeeBeyondBorders’ programmes.  What these guys do here is quite astounding. They see so much poverty but any improvement, however small, makes the effort worthwhile and gives continuous hope that bigger change can happen. Change most definitely starts with education.”

“SHAPE Australia have incorporated our volunteering experience into an annual team building exercise… a more cost-effective option that can actually also achieve further-reaching results.”

An ongoing partnership

Another partner, SHAPE Australia, have incorporated our volunteering experience into an annual team building exercise, and will shortly be sending a group of volunteers to join us in Cambodia for a third year running. With ‘corporate retreats’ and ‘team-building away days’ struggling to shake their associations with the worst of pre-recession excess, SHAPE’s approach shows how this more cost-effective option can actually also achieve further-reaching results.

Of course, we are still learning too, and we are looking at ways to further strengthen this offering – be that through skills-based volunteering opportunities or sabbaticals, or ongoing staff development activities after the trip has concluded. But if you are looking for ways to re-energise and engage your staff whilst enhancing your business, we would love you to join us on this journey.

To find out more about our corporate partnerships and overseas volunteering or sabbatical opportunities, please visit or email


“The trip of a lifetime!” Final reflections from the SHAPE Project Team

If you’ve been following our posts over the last week, you’ll know a group of 10 volunteers from SHAPE came to volunteer in schools and see first-hand what their company’s donation is doing for the people in Cambodia. If you’ve ever wondered what it’d be like to join a project team, here is the most detailed account we’ve shared, courtesy of Ben Mahmoud from SHAPE.

Where do I start to describe the trip of a lifetime? After arriving at Phnom Penh airport, we were dropped straight into Cambodia’s atmosphere – the humidity and smokiness of the city hits you and you realise you’re in unfamiliar territory. After being politely greeted by our tuk tuk driver, we crossed people in the street who were quick to give a smile and a wave, and we began to understand how lovely the Cambodian people are.

On our first full day in Cambodia, we took a 15km bike ride around the villages surrounding Phnom Penh (for some of us, it was a long time since we’d been on a bike!). Along our bike journey, we experienced a few curious cows, stray dogs, waving local kids, and numerous boats on the river, big and small. We had the chance to meet a local man who showed us how silk is naturally produced, and how it is then run through a loom to create a garment, such as a scarf. We were also offered some local treats! After an exhausting day, we spent some time getting to know each other and team bonding while enjoying a boat cruise on the Mekong River.

“The stories we heard and the sights we witnessed provided a sober reminder of what happened. Nearly every Cambodian has a story of how this event impacted them.”

Sunday was an important day, as we learned more about the history of Cambodia, and came to fully understand and appreciate why our help is needed. We visited Choeung Ek, the site of a mass grave of people killed by the Khmer Rouge in Phnom Penh, a tragedy that only took place recently in the 1970s. The stories we heard and the sights we witnessed there provided a sober reminder of what happened – so many people lost their lives and so many more were affected.  Cambodia still feels the repercussions to this day.

Afterwards, we visited another site, S21, which was once a school and then used as a torture and confinement building by the Khmer Rouge. These were just two of more than 300 similar sites throughout Cambodia. Nearly every Cambodian has a story of how this event impacted them.

After a sombre afternoon, we embarked on an eight hour bus ride to Battambang. Our luggage didn’t fit in the bus, so we needed a separate taxi to get there! The bus ride gave us a chance to learn more about each team member, which was the basis for creating strong bonds throughout our trip.

The SHAPE team in the T-shirts they bought at the local market

Upon arriving in Battambang, we realised immediately it would be an amazing city, and a comfortable vibe to settle into.

Monday was our first day volunteering at a school. We travelled to Ek Phnom, just outside Battambang. What a day! We were unsure about what to expect, but one thing was obvious based on the gravel and pile of sand: we’d be concreting.  The community circle greetings and introductions were a great way to get to know the community members, and learn more about the school. We had the chance to do this at every school we visited before beginning activities. The concreting went better than we expected, and was a good way to give us a taste of what was yet to come. The community provided us with a delicious meal, and we all sat on the floor in a calm environment to share the food and reflect on our hard work that day.

In the afternoon, we all travelled to the SeeBeyondBorders office and did training for the upcoming health and sport days to help prepare us in advance. We also were given the task of creating soaps that were wrapped in stockings and hung with string… it doesn’t seem too hard until we realised we had to make almost 400!

That night, after washing off all the concrete dust, we went to go Phare Ponleu Selpak, a circus performed by young people who are training to learn skills like juggling and clowning. This was another good opportunity to participate in the Cambodian culture.

“Every person on the team, along with the community members, pulled together to absolutely smash out the concrete work! I don’t think we had ever sweated so much in our life.”

On Tuesday we took concreting to the next level and finished two classroom floors and a pathway at another school. This time we were in Bavel, another district near Battambang. Every person on the team, along with the community members, pulled together to absolutely smash out the concrete work! I don’t think we had ever sweated so much in our life.

The best thing to see was the “daisy chain”, where there was a long line of people passing buckets of concrete down the line to get to the location it needed to be. Who needs a concrete pump when you have the daisy chain method?  Two team members also had the rewarding job of getting involved in the classroom activities and teaching the kids art.

The famous ‘daisy chain’

At lunchtime, the community provided us with yet another delicious meal, and we provided some Aussie treats we bought from home. The Vegemite was probably the least favourite of the Cambodians, and the Tim Tams would have been a hit if they’re weren’t so melted from the Cambodia sun. However, it didn’t deter some Cambodian community members from using a spoon to eat the melted Tim Tams.

Wednesday was Health Day at another school in Bavel! We didn’t know what to expect as it was the first time we would be specifically interacting with the school kids. Some of us were nervous to interact with the children; however, the kids were so well-behaved and happy to see us that it made our work much easier. Who knew that washing your hands and brushing your teeth could be so fun?!  In the afternoon, we travelled to another school to help paint a toilet block and create a small garden bed. We also got to witness a few of the kid’s impressive soccer skills. After every school we visited, as we had done with our introductions, we gathered in a circle again to say our goodbyes and thank yous.

In the evening we had dinner at a supposedly famous hole-in-the-wall restaurant, known as The Noodle Man. The general consensus in the group was that the noodles and dumplings were the best. Thinking about them now is making me hungry.

Thursday was much the same as the previous day with healthy day in the morning, and painting and gardening in the afternoon. After completing the health day activities, we played “Duck, Duck, Goose” (or chicken), and played “What’s the Time Mr. Wolf?” The kids absolutely loved it and the team members loved it even more.

That night a few of us travelled to the Battambang premier of Angelina Jolie’s new movie “First They Killed My Father,” a film adaptation of the book which tells the story of a young girl who survived the Khmer Rouge. Unfortunately, Angelina Jolie didn’t make an appearance. Hundreds if not thousands of people turned up to the outdoor cinema.

“The sports day was so much fun! The kids were full of energy. Some kids needed more encouragement than others, but that’s what made the process even more rewarding!”

Friday was our last day in Battambang and it was also sports day. Yet another fun day with the kids! Unfortunately, we also knew it was going to be the last day spent with the kids on this trip. The sports day was so much fun! The kids were full of energy. Some kids needed more encouragement than others, but that’s what made the process even more rewarding!

The kids were divided between red, blue and yellow teams, the events were hurdles, sack racing and running. All the kids did so well, but after these events the red team was winning by more than 40 points. The deciding round of the relay race was to determine the overall winner.  It was a close race and the blue team came up from behind to win the relay and win the overall carnival.

Then, it was the adults’ turn to race with project team members alongside community members. The community members were so enthusiastic!

Ben showing the children how to wash their hands properly during the health day

For lunch, we shared a local meal with our SeeBeyondBorders hosts and had some delicious Cambodian crispy chicken. The afternoon brought another bus ride – this time to Siem Reap. We packed our bags and got rid of the dirty boots and clothes. In Siem Reap, we’d get a chance to wind down and reflect over the week that was. It is a very lively city, with some coffee shops and restaurants reminding us of Australia. The night market was great to shop around and explore the lovely streets. Some of us even fed our feet to the fishes for a massage (or tickle torture as some would say).

The next morning some of us woke before dawn to witness the sunrise at Angkor Wat.  The tranquillity and colours of the sunrise was great to see. We continued the day by exploring nearby temples and climbing a lot of stairs. These areas are flooded with tourists so the early start was a good idea even though we could have fallen asleep in the tuk tuk.

We wrapped our final day with free time to prepare ourselves to return to reality. During our final reflection session of the trip, we could tell that this experience has had a real impact, and has changed each and every one of us.

We cannot express enough our gratitude to the SeeBeyondBorders team for this experience, we could not fault anything even if we tried. Thank you, thank you, thank you to all of the team: you made this experience for us so memorable and we appreciate it immensely.

Thank you, SHAPE for including SeeBeyondBorders in your Corporate Social Responsibility efforts! Learn more about Corporate Sponsorship on our website:


Go team, go! Carnival Day in Cambodia

On 24 February 2017, in rural Cambodia, miles from the closest stop light and down a dirt road, hundreds of kids could be heard laughing and screaming with excitement as they tried to beat their classmates to the finish line.

It was carnival day at the students’ school. On this day, 10 Australian volunteers, sponsored by their employer SHAPE, witnessed something that happens on playgrounds all around the world: sports.


The beauty of the sports program is that it allows kids to be kids; to experience fun, competition, and healthy activities that are the same as those in developed countries, despite living in a country with poor school infrastructure and one that otherwise lacks resources, such as sports equipment.

Ben Mahmoud shared his experience with us:

“It was so much fun being involved in the sports carnival day, the kids at the school were very well behaved, filled with excitement and enthusiasm. It was great to see all the kids trying their very hardest and not giving up to get to the finish line, all the kids were encouraging each other!

Well done to all the Blue, Red and Yellow teams! There is definitely some future athletes in the bunch! It was fantastic the parents, teachers  and community members were great support and so willing to help out and participate.”


Thank you, SHAPE for including SeeBeyondBorders in your Corporate Social Responsibility efforts! Learn more about Corporate Sponsorship on our website:

Concreting in the Cambodian Sun

The SHAPE team started off their week volunteering in Cambodia with two full days of concreting. As the warm months of March and April are fast approaching, the weather brought us some very hot days. There is no faster way to feel like you’ve accomplished something than spending nearly 20 hours in two days concreting alongside the local community in Cambodia, who are working hard to make conditions safer for their children.

The classrooms in this school were hazardous for the students, as the concrete was broken and crumbling. With help from SHAPE, SeeBeyondBorders initiated a day to invite community members to work alongside SHAPE volunteers to repair the broken floors. The showing from the community, and the teamwork among Australian and Khmer people, was remarkable. The two groups worked in the grueling sun for hours, not speaking the same language, but prepared to accomplish the same goal.

Both groups learned from one another. The SHAPE volunteers taught Khmer people how to improve their cement mixture. The Khmer people taught the SHAPE volunteers how to accomplish a huge task with limited resources.

The classroom before, with an unsafe and uneven floor

The classroom after, with a freshly concreted floor

The outcome of all the hard work paid off. The school now has two beautiful floors that are safe for the children to learn. And the teamwork and feeling of accomplishment shared among the Australians and Khmers will continue to inspire both groups as they head back to their daily lives.

Thank you, SHAPE for including SeeBeyondBorders in your Corporate Social Responsibility efforts! Learn more about Corporate Sponsorship on our website:

See a video of the project!

Good Food, Good Mood: A shared meal with the Rohalsoung Kert School Community

The first stop on the SHAPE Project Team’s adventure in Cambodia was Phnom Penh, where they recovered from jet lag, prepped for the work ahead, and visited some local sites to learn about Cambodia’s dark history. The work the SHAPE Project Team is doing with SeeBeyondBorders to improve education in Cambodia will feel even more impactful after understanding the devastating impact of the Khmer Rouge regime on their education system.

Now in Battambang, the location of SeeBeyondBorders’ headquarters, the Project Team is visiting several schools in the surrounding districts. After an exhausting morning laying concrete, the Australian volunteers and the Khmer school communities cooled off over a shared a meal. Everyone brought their favorite grub from home to share.


We asked one of the volunteers, Ben Mahmoud, to share his experience of a meal consisting of words he doesn’t understand, but a shared language: food.

“Meeting with the people from the local community and sharing a meal after a hard day’s work was such a great experience, to be able to celebrate our accomplishments thus far.
Even though there is a language barrier we all share the same goal of creating a better future for the kids of the community.
The food was so good, really fresh and gave us a taste of what Cambodia has to offer. Thank you to the community people for all their efforts and hospitality.”

With renewed energy, the afternoon sun meant it was back to work to prepare for tomorrow’s sports day.


Thank you, SHAPE for including SeeBeyondBorders in your Corporate Social Responsibility efforts! Learn more about Corporate Sponsorship on our website:

SHAPE volunteers touch down in Phnom Penh

SeeBeyondBorders is thrilled to welcome volunteers from our partners SHAPE to Cambodia!

As a corporate partner, SHAPE sent a group of well-deserving employees on a unique team building trip to see first-hand the impact their company’s contribution is having on education in Cambodia.

They will be helping to deliver our programs in schools across North West Cambodia, working alongside members of the local community to get a deep understanding of the challenges they face and the solutions SeeBeyondBorders offers.

On our blog we’ll share the volunteers’ experiences and hear stories directly from them as they help deliver our work and take on new experiences in the Kingdom of Wonder.

As they arrived in Phnom Penh over the weekend, the volunteers described feeling excited, welcomed, anxious about the journey ahead, humbled and awestruck by the beauty of the country. A real mixture of emotions!

Over the next week, we’ll be hearing more about their reflections on the trip in a series of posts on our blog – so check back soon for more updates.

Thank you, SHAPE for including SeeBeyondBorders in your Corporate Social Responsibility efforts! Learn more about Corporate Sponsorship on our website:


Main image: Volunteers from the SHAPE Melbourne team on their first day in Phnom Penh.