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Andrea Newell headshot

Wells Fargo, Grameen Foundation Partner to Expand International Volunteer Program

By Andrea Newell

On August 5, Wells Fargo announced that it is partnering with the Grameen Foundation to expand its international volunteer Global Fellows program, formed in 2008. Through the Grameen Foundation’s Bankers Without Borders, Wells Fargo employees will have more opportunities to volunteer their time and skills on projects for microfinance and poverty-focused nonprofits around the world as the organization matches Wells Fargo employees with the nonprofits in their network.

This expanded Global Fellows program is starting on a pilot basis, featuring 12 spots, six volunteers each for two yet-to-be-identified nonprofits in Colombia and India. Four volunteers will work on-site, while eight volunteers will support the project virtually. The on-site volunteers will be in place for up to six weeks, while the virtual volunteers will donate up to 60 hours each. "We're going to look to see how well it does and see if there is room for expansion moving forward. There are only 12 spots this time, but there is opportunity for growth in the future," said Dasha Ross, vice president of corporate social responsibility communications for Wells Fargo.

Response to the program has been very positive. Previously, the Global Fellows program was only open to employees in the International Group business line, but with this new partnership, the pilot is open to Wells Fargo employees in any business line. This widens the reach of the program, explains Jon Campbell, the bank's head of government and community relations. Now, projects can not only focus on finance or operations, but also marketing, human resources, technology or even community involvement. 

Another new aspect, and an important one, according to Campbell, is the virtual part of the program. "It allows us to include more people in the program and gives the organizations we're helping even more support, utilizing the people that are on-site along with people that are still back in their offices. I'm really excited to see how that part works out. I think it's rather novel, and the world's becoming more virtual, so it is keeping pace with the real world and I think that's a really nice component of the program," Campbell said.

Why did Wells Fargo decide to invest in an international employee volunteer program? Campbell answered:

"The program aligns very nicely with Wells Fargo's mission and vision in a number of ways. Providing these experiential leadership opportunities for team members through a global community evolvement assignment is huge. And we're big believers in helping the communities where we do business succeed, and so anytime we can improve the capacity of a social enterprise organization that's supporting the community, that aligns perfectly. Our brand and reputation are very important to us, and global leadership opportunities help enhance our reputation, and finally, anything we can do to promote diversity and inclusion by helping our team members develop their cross-cultural competencies is a huge win for Wells Fargo."

Global Fellows is not the only volunteer leave program that Wells Fargo supports. It has a domestic volunteer program through which employees can submit an application detailing why they want to dedicate up to six weeks of paid leave to a nonprofit of their choice, and, Campbell says, competition is fierce. "The selection process to pick the number of people for volunteer leave is really hard because we have a lot of people who want the opportunity to match their vocation and their passion to do important nonprofit work."

Wells Fargo encourages participants to share what they've learned with their colleagues after they return, and employees that volunteered with Global Fellows reported inspiring experiences.

Efraín Amado worked in Bogotá, Colombia, for two months in 2012. A communications consultant for the International Group, Amado worked on developing a customer service plan for Opportunity International and helped with communications and marketing processes. In his Wells Fargo debrief, he said: “This trip gave me the chance to explore my potential. I met locals who would stretch $50 over four months, yet they weren’t complaining about their situation — they were striving to make a better life for themselves and their communities. How can you not be inspired by that?”

So far, Wells Fargo has received 24 applications for the international pilot program (the application period runs through August 15) and is in the process of selecting the 12 participants. Bankers Without Borders will identify the two nonprofits and design the projects and tasks to be completed. Participants will be matched to the projects and they will run from January to March 2015.

Image credit: Mike Mozart, Flickr creative commons

Andrea Newell headshot

Andrea Newell has more than ten years of experience designing, developing and writing ERP e-learning materials for large corporations in several industries. She was a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers and a contract consultant for companies like IBM, BP, Marathon Oil, Pfizer, and Steelcase, among others. She is a writer and former editor at TriplePundit and a social media blog fellow at The Story of Stuff Project. She has contributed to In Good Company (Vault's CSR blog), Evolved Employer, The Glass Hammer, EcoLocalizer and CSRwire. She is a volunteer at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can reach her at andrea.g.newell@gmail.com and @anewell3p on Twitter.

Read more stories by Andrea Newell