Volunteer service trip focuses on a skills-based approach
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Gandhi
Four Viasat employees were recently able to live Gandhi’s words during a skills-based volunteer service trip to Puerto Rico. The company-sponsored workshop was the first of its kind and likely a model for future efforts.
For Jeshsika Martinez and Kaitlin Murphy, the experience was life changing.
“Being aware of what’s happening in other parts of the world, and being part of something that could better someone else’s life has changed things dramatically for me,” said Martinez, a systems specialist at Viasat’s Carlsbad, CA office. “I now want to find ways to be even more active in helping the community, inside and outside of work.”
“It was very humbling to see what the people of Puerto Rico have gone through and see that they don’t have as many resources,” said Murphy, a repair planner who works in Viasat’s Government Systems segment. “It made me realize I don’t have the obstacles they have, and I need to use the resources I’ve got to help elevate those communities.”
“I want to see where Maria takes her cleaning business, and where Rachel takes her food truck business,” she said, referring to two women who attended her women’s empowerment workshop. “And I want to be a part of something like that again.”
Hurricanes in 2017 devastated Puerto Rico, killing thousands and destroying homes, businesses and basic infrastructure. In response, Viasat worked with a partner, International Connector, to set up Innovation Hubs – centers where people could access computers, printers and other technology, and attend workshops – in the towns of Arroyo and Utado.
The response to date demonstrates the need for such services: More than 1,800 people have used the centers, 75% of whom do not have reliable internet access.
In late May, four Viasat employees – including Martinez and Murphy – flew to Puerto Rico to host their own workshops, sharing their knowledge about small-business digital marketing, women’s leadership, and job-seeking skills. The information they offered to Puerto Ricans springs from the work they do at Viasat, and is based on a fast-growing corporate concept called skills-based volunteering.
“There has been a shift in the last five years for corporate volunteer activities, from mostly hands-on (for example, building a house or working in a soup kitchen) to skills-based volunteering, which uses talents honed at work that can be applied toward challenges a nonprofit or community may face,” said Tory See, Viasat’s Social Impact Director. “These opportunities are a great win for all parties involved: the community, the employee, and a company. Not only does it help the community, it allows employee growth and development and helps create a more engaged workforce.”
Through companywide communications, Viasat requested those who were interested to apply and share their skills and ideas for a volunteer-led workshop. After interviews, input from the Innovation Hub and local community members in Puerto Rico, four employees were selected as those who would be traveling to Puerto Rico to implement their workshop.
Passions meet professions
In addition to Martinez and Murphy – who conducted their workshop together – Viasat Brand Manager Meredith Totten and University Recruiting Manager Sarah Iglesias led sessions.
“For me, it was a merging of personal and professional passion points,” said Totten, whose workshop focused on small business marketing. “Prior to joining Viasat, I spent a year in South America, and a big chunk of that was offering pro bono marketing expertise, volunteering with small businesses in marketing and other aspects of their business.
“When this opportunity came up, it seemed a perfect combination of what I do for work and had done in the past.”
In the workshops, the attendees Totten spoke with included a woman who sold baked goods out of her home and a mother who made baby blankets and burp rags. Both wanted to expand their home-based businesses. Totten shared information with them about websites like Etsy, where they could sell their items, and other sites offering free marketing and other small business tutorials.
“One of my challenges to them was to think of something you could do tomorrow, to set some immediate goals,” Totten said. “We had people who were a bit more reserved and unsure; I let them know it’s OK if you’re not a competitive person, but you need to understand the competitive landscape and decide what makes you different in your business. And we had others who were smiling and excited who already knew, ‘This is what my business stands for.’”
“In both cases, I felt we had an impact – which was really nice to see.”
Iglesias consulted with attendees about resume writing, financial aid, job interviews and other topics. After witnessing the hurricanes’ impact in the communities first hand, she was touched by the resilient spirit she saw among the people who attended.
“They are dealing with long-lasting impacts, but we met so many determined entrepreneurs,” Iglesias said. “And these topics were definitely of interest to them.”
Viasat’s satellite internet technology was integral to the efforts.
“It was really satisfying to see our technology in use and its impact, to see what connectivity can do for people, and how much they appreciate that someone has invested in their community that way,” Iglesias said. “It gave me a different perspective on our global business, and it’s something I really hope we do more of.”
Lots of ideas
“The workshops were full and people were engaged,” said Annie Garcia, Viasat’s Social Impact Specialist. “They were asking questions and attentive. After the sessions, a lot of them stayed and interacted with our employees.”
Martinez agreed, saying she saw no lack of ideas among the attendees.
“They had a vision and such a desire to really move forward and succeed,” she said. “It seemed like no matter the obstacles, they were there to make a difference.”
The obstacle for many – which Viasat’s Innovation Hubs are helping them overcome – is access to technology and the larger world. Employees at the buildings where the workshops were held walked around town with fliers to draw people to the workshops, and broadcast the information from a speaker mounted on a van.
“For me personally, I recognized the amount of privilege and fortune I have being in a country and working for a company where technology is so accessible,” Murphy said. “To see the concerted effort in engagement with the underserved communities in Puerto Rico was inspiring and completely outside of what I see in my day to day.”
Tory See said the Puerto Rico program was designed as a pilot, and given the response from both the community and the volunteers from Viasat, the company will look to include these types of opportunities in future volunteer activities. In feedback from the community members to participate in the workshops, 90% of said their knowledge and skills increased as a result of this course and 97% said they feel that they can take items learned from the course and use them in their everyday work or school life.
“Our volunteers genuinely cared about how the workshop was received, and how their fellow employees did,” See said. “I saw them supporting one another, and really thinking about things from a different perspective. They went above and beyond in everything they did.”
The experience drove home Viasat’s overall goal of “connecting the unconnected.”
“It’s one of those things that made me feel so proud about working for Viasat – having an opportunity to reach out to people and work on our vision of connecting the world, to see why that’s such an important mission,” Martinez said. “I think we were able to literally do that.”