Contributing to leadership growth is critical

Frank Waltmann
Frank Waltmann

Frank Waltmann

Corporate philanthropy can come in many forms.

Financial funding and product donations are often heralded, but perhaps it’s time for other, more specialized forms of giving to take their place in the spotlight — for instance, skills and leadership training.

A recent experience with an African AIDS group provides an example.

In AIDS-ravished Africa, 15 percent to 40 percent of all children in the southern countries have lost either one or both parents to this horrific disease.

REPSSI is a regional African non-governmental organization that provides programming for children affected by HIV and AIDS, poverty, and conflict.

REPSSI grew at a fast pace as organizations, families and communities grasped for its services.

It soon became clear that more structure and organization was needed if it was to meet its goal of expanding psychosocial care and support services.

The organization identified skill gaps among its staff that needed to be improved to keep up with the constantly increasing demands.

Most of the staff has valuable experience working with children but had inadequate business skills necessary to help REPSSI grow.

In this instance, corporate programs were adapted to organization’s needs.

Leadership workshops and training programs focused on basic skills, prioritization and advocacy, providing feedback and managing difficult conversations.

A project-management seminar provided the basics of portfolio and risk management, cross-cultural communication and leadership, negotiations, and influencing without authority.

And financial training was designed for nonprofit organizations.

REPSSI realized that more sustainable support could be found through training.  It operates in a difficult environment.

It struggles, for example, with a turnover rate of 10 percent to 20 percent that is often caused by personal or family health problems.

Thanks to the contribution of training and ongoing support, REPSSI is now a more stable group.

The number of affected children continues to grow, which makes strengthening the REPSSI organization even more important.

But growth is both a blessing and a challenge. Success starts with education.

Most companies provide materials to needy organizations, but this is the only time I’ve seen know-how and experience contributed.

The lesson: You can always contribute money and products, but training people on how to achieve their goals is equally important.

Frank Waltmann is head of corporate learning at Novartis, a Swiss-based pharmaceuticals and life sciences company.  

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