IBM Canada investing in local CSR programs

In the war for talent, corporate social responsibility programs are another weapon companies can wield to attract and retain staff, says Jennifer Roynon, corporate social responsibility lead for IBM Canada.

For the past decade, the organization’s IBM Service Corps program has enabled its employees to serve as volunteers in other countries in four-week stints. But following a review of the program, it now helps staff volunteer locally as well.

“Four weeks away for international engagement is pretty tough personally and professionally,” notes Roynon. “So a lot of employees were saying, ‘Can we have a more flexible, approachable model?'”

Read: 72% favour employers with strong CSR practices: survey

On Monday, IBM Canada launched its more localized model, with a five-week program in partnership with Jump Math. Employees will have the opportunity to volunteer for the Toronto-based non-profit, which aims to build confidence and success in math for students and educators. While there will still be opportunities for IBM staff to volunteer globally, the company is aiming to partner with six other organizations across Canada this year, says Roynon.

CSR programs are often used by companies to communicate good deeds to the external community, she adds. However, IBM has found these initiatives can also be a good way to engage its internal community. “Definitely, with our millennial cohort they’re very passionate about working for companies that follow their values and align their CSR work with the purpose of the company.”

Read: Using benefits, pension programs to maximize CSR policies 

Offering a range of volunteer opportunities is in line with current employee expectations. According to a 2019 study from, 86 per cent of surveyed employees expect their employers to provide opportunities to engage in the community, while 87 per cent of surveyed employees expect employers to support causes and issues that matter to them. Roynon echoes this sentiment, noting she’s received very positive feedback from employees who’ve participated in the program. 

Whether a company is a global behemoth like IBM or a local mom-and-pop, she says the key to using CSR programs to win the talent war is taking a holistic approach that also aligns with a brand’s core values. 

The new program with Jump Math, for example, allows employees to stay at home while helping a local non-profit focused on empowering people through education.

“Our CEO always talks about being responsible stewards,” she says, noting one of the big learnings from 10 years of the IBM Service Corps program is “being authentic in terms of our company and what we do, both internally and externally.”

Read: Canadians want volunteering opportunities organized by employers: study