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Sunday, 23 March 2014 11:14

Infosys is talking the talk and walking the walk Featured

Infosys Senior Vice President and Country Head for Australia and New Zealand, Jackie Korhonen, with Peow Goh, formerly CIO of Rio Tinto, building gingerbread houses for disadvantaged members of the community in partnership with OzHarvest. Infosys Senior Vice President and Country Head for Australia and New Zealand, Jackie Korhonen, with Peow Goh, formerly CIO of Rio Tinto, building gingerbread houses for disadvantaged members of the community in partnership with OzHarvest. Supplied

Multinational consulting, technology and outsourcing firm Infosys has been awarded the 2013 Ian Kiernan Award for Corporate Social Responsibility by the Australian Human Resources Institute, and iTWire sat down with its Australian head to find out what the company has done to earn it.

The national award, named after prominent Australian environmentalist Ian Kiernan AO, was awarded last month to Infosys for its volunteer programs and leadership demonstrated throughout the company.

iTWire interviewed Senior VP and Country Head for ANZ at Infosys Jackie Korhonen, who also runs the company's local social responsiblity programs, to find out more about the award and what benefits are seen both throughout the company and the wider community. Korhonen revitalised the company's previous donation-led CSR system in 2010 and has brought it to where it is today.

Can you talk a bit about Infosys' Corporate Social Responsibility program and what it involves?

At Infosys corporate social responsibility has always been a big part of our culture, and trying to operate that well in all the markets that we're in around the world. A number of years ago I felt that we needed to reinvigorate our local corporate responsibility program, so we did a couple of things. We went out to all our employees and got their input on what areas were important for them, for us to put any efforts that we have and any support we can give into the community, because I'm sure you're aware, there are hundreds of different types of things you can help with, so to be realistic we had to try and find what is it that our team and our employees felt most passionate about, so we did that first. And then we talked and formed a board of volunteers who were representatives from our employees, and we asked them how they wanted to get involved. And many of them wanted to personally get involved, but didn't really have a good way of doing that. So what we then did is said 'okay, we have everyone who has one day a year, to take up volunteer work', and we looked to form partnerships with organisations that met our criteria, that staff wanted to focus on. And our people could then volunteer and do real personal work in the community to get involved. And that allowed all of our employees, instead of just giving money, it made it personal for them and it got them more involved in the community.

And we've got some great partners, we've got one in Melbourne called Ozanam House, where we go and make lunches. Our staff go and work and make lunches for homeless people in Melbourne on a regular basis, and we also have areas where the skills of our staff can be put to use as well. So we have a lot of really technical people, and they give up their time and energy to Random Hacks of Kindness, which we take part in. And another thing that we also did was we tried to figure out how we could engage our clients in the stuff we were doing as well, because many of them also want to give back to the community.

So one of the things we started doing when we had client events is instead of giving a pen or a notebook or things like that, we had an event and at the end of the event we gave all the attendees little gifts - one for example was we gave everyone a farmyard animal. And that represented the fact that we'd made a donation to Oxfam that would buy in a village somewhere a chicken or a goat. Better spending the money on that then buying the attendees another pen - we'd used the money in a different sort of way, and the attendees did get a kick of out that. When we followed that up, we went further with our client Christmas party. Instead of having a traditional Christmas party, where you just have a dinner, we actually partnered with organisations like OzHarvest, where together with our clients we went and made gingerbread houses for example, and they then went out to underprivileged people throughout the city. So again it was an active sort of thing that we did, instead of just having your traditional Christmas dinner.

So we tried to do it in various ways, but I guess the thing was to get as many people in our staff involved personally as we could, and also to get the leadership, so myself and the people engaged as well, to show that we're also committed. And at the time we had over 700 staff who had been personally involved, and I think that will continue to just grow.

Can you talk a bit about the award itself?

So the award was from the Australian Human Resource Institute, and I think we were in some good company. We were up against some of our own clients, but also other organisations in the community. So we outlined what I just explained but also some of the stuff the leadership did, so I went on the CEO sleepout for a couple of years, with St Vincents, for homeless people. It was interesting though, when I actually did that, people obviously sponsored me, but they also came to me and said 'can we do it with you?', and that event wasn't really set up for a lot of people doing it together and participating, so I'd been changed to doing events like the Mother's Day Classic run and things where I could encourage not just me to do it, and for people to sponsor me, but for people's families to get involved, my husband and son, and employees and their families, so it made it a real communal event for us. Which again just involves so many more people.

Have you noticed a change in the company culture at all through doing these events and activities?

What we're finding is that the people looking to join us, as a prospective employer, is that people ask about this stuff. They want to know 'what do you do in the community, what can we get involved with if we join you', so I think for our staff, they enjoy it and it helps team building amongst our staff, and we build up relationships externally too. I think it gives people the feeling that we're giving back to the community, which they obviously feel passionate about. And we're hoping too that it helps attract new employees who are like-minded and who are very talented.

Do you think that the tech industry could be doing more when it comes to corporate responsibility? It sometimes gets a bad rap for being greedy.

I don't want to comment about other companies but I do think that Infosys has always felt we have a responsibility to help supply the community, because we do this not only in Australia but just about all the countries we operate in, we have some sort of program. We started in India and we have a foundation there, and one of the things that we do in India is we provide midday lunches to schools. So one of the things we've done is help poorer children to be able to do better in their schoolwork and their studies; we run a program, we provide lunches for them to make sure they have sufficient energy in the afternoon to learn. On the whole I think IT people do want to give back to the community, and they can also do that with the skills they have, which is a great thing. We can do a lot of work helping charities and others with the technical skills that our people have, and I think that they love doing it.

Does Infosys have any plans to expand what you're doing?

We have 700 employees volunteering at this stage, but we have many more people than that working. So I'd like that number to grow. And we have big employee centres in Sydney and Melbourne, so one of the things I think we could be doing is finding ways to engage our employees in places other than Sydney and Melbourne. We have people in Brisbane and Perth, and we also have staff in New Zealand and in Canberra. So the obvious thing to me is to engage more of the staff and spread the programs that have been successful in Sydney and Melbourne to those other locations. If people have a good volunteering day they come back and talk to their colleagues, and other people get involved. So I hope next time we talk it's not 700 it's maybe 1700.

And is it challenging picking which programs to sign up to? Are there many charities competing for your attention?

First of all it was a challenge because just on the surface, there are a lot of different things you can do. Helping the homeless, feeding the underprivileged, to even things like animal welfare and a whole host of things. So that's why we did an initial poll on our intranet, and asked our staff what's important to them. So that was a big way we honed in on the types of work our staff wanted to do. And it has been a bit of a challenge to find organisations that logistically were able to work with us, from an admin perspective and also where we can really add value... that's been part of the responsibility of the board, which I'm chair of, so we go out and form these relationships and then open it up to our employees. So that's part if you like of the leadership role, and as soon as you make it available to the employees they go for it. We haven't had to do a lot of internal advertising to get people to volunteer. If you put it out there and people feel strongly about it... They'll get involved.

For more information on the Infosys corporate social responsibility program check out its dedicated page here.

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