Volunteering with Colleagues Creates Strong Bonds
At work, it’s all about tenders and orders, and therefore numbers. Outside work, the focus is on other people. Svenja Pierk, Ali Cengiz and Martin Eckardt are all voluntarily engaged in social charity projects and offer their colleagues at Bayer the opportunity to get involved as well.
“Another win,” says Ms. W about her second bingo victory on this Saturday morning. Normally, qualified social education worker Dorothee Walder draws the little numbered balls, but today it’s Bayer employee Natalia Maya who’s bringing some joy to the Haus Rheinpark home for seniors in Leverkusen. Along with six of her colleagues, she is spending some time visiting with the residents.
The outing was organized by Bayer staff, and is one of a colorful mixture of 35 activities in all that have already taken place. “We offer a range of different activities, from music sessions with disabled people or clearing out the cellar of a childcare center after the last flood to games afternoons with refugee children while their parents are in German classes learning their new language. There’s pretty much something for everyone,” says Pierk, summing up some of the projects Bayer employees have volunteered with over the last few months.
The 29-year-old coordinates the dates and which volunteers are doing what. She is one of the threesome that founded PROSI – the platform employees use to sign up for various voluntary projects they can then support in their free time. She and her two colleagues Martin Eckardt and Ali Cengiz came up with the idea in their office. “We were keen to get together with other co-workers to volunteer outside of work, without committing to a regular activity. Instead, the idea was to support different projects on different days, depending on what our own personal calendars allow,” Cengiz says. The group was convinced they couldn’t be alone in thinking this, so they started casting round for opportunities to undertake voluntary work on those terms – sadly with little success.
“There was only one option left to us,” Eckardt says. “We had to create that kind of platform ourselves, that is to say, identify needs and develop suitable projects accordingly.” It wasn’t hard to come up with a name. PROSI stands for “PROcurement Social Initiatives”, since all three work in Procurement at Bayer. The program swiftly spread beyond the boundaries of their department. Helpers from any unit are welcome, of course, and the number of volunteers is growing from project to project. The rules are simple. “Colleagues don’t have to worry about anything on the organizational side and need only register for one of our offers,” Eckardt explains.
Today is the first time the PROSIs have visited Haus Rheinpark. However, it wasn’t only the hosts who were celebrating a premiere – Maya the bingo caller was also joining in for the first time, and loving it! “It’s such a lot of fun to see the residents enjoying playing the game together – and for them it’s not necessarily about their number being called, but having a good time with each other and the conversations between the draws.”
She found out about this activity from her friend Michael Wojdat, who has already been actively involved in several projects. “I have always enjoyed taking part in things, but work limited my opportunities and time. Thanks to our co-workers’ activities, I’m finally active again. This is the third time I have helped out with PROSI – and I strongly recommend it,” Wojdat says.
Some of the projects also receive financial support from the Bayer Foundation. Program Manager Daniela Neuendorf explained to Pierk and the other two PROSI founders how employees can nominate projects for financial support through the voluntary program. All the other activities take place without a budget, however, and should the need for money arise, they run project-specific fund-raising campaigns, collecting donations at a coffee and cake stand.
In the meantime, PROSI activities are now taking place at other Bayer sites, too, such as Pittsburgh and Berlin. “We have also shared our concept with staff in Bangkok, St. Louis and Manila, and plans are in place for the first projects in Monheim this summer,” Eckardt says.
Back at Haus Rheinpark, it’s time for another round of bingo. “Eyes down for a new game – garden gate, number eight,” Maya calls, bringing the attention of the players away from their cookies and coffee and back to their cards. “A nine would have been better,” mutters one voice, followed by: “But it doesn’t matter, as long as you come back soon.”