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Story | 09/04/2020 08:01:28

Reading and volunteering broadens your horizons

Employee volunteering has become more common in recent years. Even though volunteering is primarily about helping people, it can be much more than just charity. If an employee gets the opportunity to support others in a meaningful way, it can also promote their wellbeing.

Employee volunteering refers to volunteering during working hours. At UPM, volunteering is part of the company’s Biofore Share and Care programme, which aims to support the wellbeing of local communities.

Last year, over 500 UPMers volunteered for a variety of causes for more than 3000 hours in total. In Finland, employees participated in community work involving cleaning-up of environment, renovations, youth programmes and care for the elderly. The volunteering usually focuses on the employee’s own local community, but the company is also happy to help in larger initiatives.

The coronavirus crisis has encouraged people to help others. At the same time, it has encouraged companies to think of fresh and more impactful ways of volunteering. For instance, this spring, UPM employees shared their expertise on sourcing personal protective equipment. In the Read Hour campaign, UPM volunteers will lead a discussion about their meaningful books in virtual lessons in secondary schools all over Finland.

 Volunteering is more than charity

The motives behind corporations engaging in volunteer work can be varied. Typical talking points include employee engagement and positive effects on the brand. Many companies also see an opportunity for social influencing. If companies and their partners truly invest in volunteering, it can be a great asset for the future.

However, it might be more meaningful to examine volunteering as an activity that creates meaningful experiences for employees. Volunteering can broaden your horizons and dispel prejudices, as it forces you to connect with people and concepts you wouldn’t normally encounter. It makes you see things in a new way. In the evolving landscape of work and business, experiences like this can be a valuable asset that will also benefit the employer. It has been shown that volunteering develops your sense of empathy. Last year, I spent a day as a support person at Yrityskylä, a miniature city where students work in a profession and earn money for their work. I was really moved by the openness and skilfulness demonstrated by the children. Being able to see up close how the employees and consumers of the future behave was a really unique experience. 

Research on employee volunteering has shown that volunteers are often looking for a sense of community. I can vouch for that — UPMers are happy to volunteer, if it includes a chance to spend time with their colleagues. Many of our volunteers have talked about how the experience inspired them and how they felt a sense of accomplishment. These experiences can carry far, both at work and home.

When was the last time you spent an hour reading a book?

The above question, posed by the Read Hour campaign last year, was sure to make people think about the importance of reading in their lives. This year, as part of the campaign, UPM volunteers will talk about books that have influenced them and discuss the importance of reading in virtual lessons in secondary schools.  Many of the volunteers said they are taking part in the campaign because reading inspires them. It’s important to share experiences like that. The reading list they have put together is fascinating. I spotted some of my favourites, including Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and Mika Waltari’s The Egyptian. Books I would add to the list include Mia Kankimäki’s The Women I Think About at Night and Tove Jansson’s The Invisible Child, which is my three-year-old’s absolute favourite.

Reading, and knowing how to read, greatly benefits both the individual and society. UPM is happy to take part in initiatives that aim to raise awareness about the importance of reading and lifelong learning. In Finland, it is said that literacy is a universal right. Read Hour is a welcome challenge that gets us closer to our goals because reading encourages you to think and empathise with other people. Just like volunteering does.  

Kaisa Vainikka, Manager, social responsibility

Book suggestions from our volunteers:

Donna Tartt: The Secret History

Mika Waltari: The Egyptian

David Lagercrantz: Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Philip K. Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Margaret Mitchell: Gone with the Wind

Suvi Vaarla: Westend

John Irving: The Hotel New Hampshire

Trevor Noah: Born A Crime

  1. R. R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings

Astrid Lindgren: The Brothers Lionheart

Taru Anttonen & Milla Karppinen (eds.): Sankaritarinoita tytöille (a Finnish-language non-fiction book on influential Finnish women)