General Mills Leverages Skills-Based Volunteerism Across the Globe

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Many of General Mills' volunteer opportunities, like its Giving Garden program, center around areas central to the company's core values -- nutrition
Many of General Mills’ volunteer opportunities, like its Giving Garden program, center around areas central to the company’s core values — nutrition

In our increasingly global world, our planet is becoming smaller than ever. The movement of goods, services and people has reached unimaginable levels, with greater global connectedness in our economies and even our lives. Today, 1 in 3 goods sold crosses international borders. This trend is likely to increase as digital technologies reach new depths, decreasing manufacturing and transportation costs.

While the last era of globalization emphasized finding low-cost production, the next wave will emphasize global knowledge. A shifting business landscape creates challenges for international companies to thrive. How can they connect to local communities, while having a global presence and outlook? Do brand values resonate with employees in emerging markets? How can a company mission be applied to specific and varied countries across the globe and throughout time?

General Mills‘ commitment to volunteerism is an inspiring example of a global company taking action locally to make a difference. This multinational consumer food company markets many well-known brands, including Cheerios, Yoplait, Pillsbury and Häagen-Dazs, among others, and has dozens of production facilities across the globe.

TriplePundit spoke with Mary Jane Melendez, executive director of the General Mills Foundation, to gain insights into how the company has engaged volunteers locally as a multinational.

General Mills volunteers hard at work in Brazil.
General Mills volunteers hard at work in Brazil.

General Mills celebrates 150 years of corporate philanthropy

General Mills is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. Its philanthropic work began nearly 150 year ago, and General Mills has emphasized this contribution as part of the company culture.

“From our CEO on down, General Mills employees are committed to serving the communities where we live and work by sharing our business expertise, our leadership skills and other talents to help improve lives in our communities,” Melendez explained.

“As a global food company, having our employees volunteer and engage in our communities is not something we do out of obligation. It is something that we want to do to make sure communities and the people in them thrive for the next 150 years to come. This legacy of service and volunteerism started with our company founders and continues to flourish today.”

The company’s Think Global, Volunteer Local (TGVL) initiative coincides with Earth Day and National Volunteer Week (which was from April 10 to April 16, in case you missed it) and encourages employees to get involved in meaningful ways. General Mills’ Good Works program emphasizes using on-the-job skills as an asset in helping people in their local communities by connecting marketing and consumer insights professionals with pro bono projects through nonprofit organizations.

“As our company continues to grow and expand internationally, one challenge we’ve overcome is identifying relevant and engaging volunteerism outside of the U.S.,” Melendez told us. “2016 marks the seventh year of our TGVL initiative, which is a month-long celebration that engages more than 3,000 employees worldwide on six continents. TGVL is helping to build momentum and awareness around the importance of community engagement to the company.”

General Mills is mobilizing employees to provide pro bono services to nonprofits in countries like China.
General Mills is mobilizing employees to provide pro bono services to nonprofits in countries like China.

From traditional to skills-based volunteering

General Mills is moving away from traditional volunteerism by encouraging employees to use their unique skills and experience to make a difference. Knowledge philanthropy, or skills-based volunteerism, helps General Mills make a unique contribution that might not have been possible otherwise, with highly-trained employees in nutrition, food science, research, marketing, finance and operations. It also allows employees to give back in a more meaningful way, by utilizing workplace skills to help nonprofits.

“Currently, we are working in markets like China, India and France to bring forward community and skills-based volunteering opportunities for our employees that are tied to our global focus areas of increasing food security and advancing sustainable agriculture,” Melendez told us.

“Another example of our work is our partnership with the nonprofit organization Partners in Food Solutions, where we leverage technology to connect and share our employees’ expertise in food science, engineering, marketing, and communications with farmers, food producers and growers across the world — allowing [employees], no matter their location, to serve in meaningful volunteerism projects year-round.”

From company culture to local engagement

What is particularly inspiring is the number of employees that General Mills engages in volunteerism. Nationally, 83 percent of General Mills’ employees engage in volunteer work (51 percent internationally). Considering some countries do not have a culture of volunteerism, these are impressive international numbers.

General Mills has done this partially by helping employees to understand the overall strategy of the company, translating this information into local engagement. Food security, nutrition, education and fitness are issues that are important to the company and central to corporate philanthropy work.

Many General Mills retirees are also experts in certain area, serving both as an asset to the community and as a connection to current employees. Volunteerism is a great way to allow them to still be part of a caring community, while leveraging decades of experience and expertise.

As General Mills becomes an increasingly global company with a strong presence in many emerging economies, its core values have remained relevant and inspiring to employees across the globe. The company has used volunteer work as a way to create brand value and purpose for both current and retired employees, finding opportunities to make a difference that resonate with employees across the globe. Will your company do the same?

Images courtesy of General Mills 

Sarah Lozanova is a green copywriter and communications professional specializing in renewable energy and clean technology. She is a consultant for Sustainable Solutions Group and a regular contributor to environmental and energy publications and websites, including Mother Earth Living, Home Power, Earth911, and Green Builder. Her experience includes work with small-scale solar energy installations and utility-scale wind farms. She earned an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School and she resides in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in Midcoast Maine.

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