Fall 2018
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CTDO Magazine

Service With a Learning Mindset

Friday, September 14, 2018

VMware inspires citizen philanthropy in all employees.

The belief that everyone can make a difference is a core tenet at VMware, a global provider of cloud infrastructure and digital workspace technology. Every day, its employees create positive change through contributions of time, talent, and financial resources to the nonprofits that matter most to them. This culture of service is why VMware was named number 14 on the 2018 Best Workplaces for Giving Back by Great Place to Work and Fortune.


"A culture to service reflects how people show up in a community—be it their group, business unit, company, or the broader world," explains Jessamine Chin, director of the VMware Foundation.

A core mission of the VMware Foundation is to provide a platform to amplify employees' contributions to their causes of choice and inspire the citizen philanthropist in everyone. In fact, choice is central to citizen philanthropy at VMware. All the foundation's programs are employee—led, requiring people to take action to activate foundation support. For employees looking to get started with giving back, the foundation provides an online database of service opportunities in their area. The VMware Foundation also maintains a vibrant online community on the company's internal social media platform, where employees share whom they served with and what they learned.

Enter service learning

Through VMware's Service Learning program, employees each receive 40 paid hours annually to contribute to the community, using their skills and talents to serve the nonprofit of their choice. "We intentionally named our program ‘Service Learning' because when you serve with a mindset of learning, there is a powerful two—way exchange of value," says Chin.

Last year, 18,308 employees (82 percent of global employees) supported the broader community through at least one program. For example, responding to the need to develop leaders for the workforce of tomorrow, the VMware Foundation created a unique leadership development program called Good Gigs, a pro bono Service Learning program where people form diverse teams and co—create innovative solutions with nonprofits. The foundation worked closely with VMware's global people development team to integrate the company's Leadership Code throughout Good Gig projects.

One example of a Service Learning project: Twelve global employees teamed up to provide technology support to the Millard School District, a rural district of approximately 3,000 students in central Utah. In another example, a team from VMware collaborated with LEAP Science and Math School in South Africa.

"It is amazing to see how things can be transformed with the team coordination and small work. We can develop several multicultural skills, such as empathy, patience, attachment, reciprocity, trust, and respect," Meghnath Dhal, a senior analyst for order management in Bangalore, India, says about his Service Learning experience.

The program also exposes employees to new environments that broaden their perspectives and shift their mindsets. Peter Near, a senior manager of systems engineering based in Toronto, had the chance to help Community Living Toronto develop its long—term IT strategy at the C—suite level. The project gave him insight on how to discern which projects are important to an organization and how IT initiatives are viewed from the board of directors' perspective. "Being on the other side of planning has taught me tremendously about the tough decisions that our customers have to make when deciding on IT projects," he says.

"Working side—by—side with a group of people helps you see things from their perspective, and understanding another person's perspective is perhaps the most important step toward really learning and understanding; that context can transform information into knowledge," adds Zach Shepherd, a staff engineer based in San Francisco.

Teodor Parvanov, a senior member of technical staff in VMware's office in Sofia, Bulgaria, says it best: "Service Learning gave me the opportunity to grow as a person, to step out of my comfort zone and contribute to a cause I deeply believe in."

Time to reflect

According to Chin, the four key ingredients to making Service Learning work are trust, agency, experiential learning, and reflection. She explains that once trust is established among co—workers, people can bring their whole self to work. This makes it a safe place to communicate what matters most to them—in this case, which nonprofit or cause they choose to support. Next, all foundation programs have an experiential learning component that requires VMware people to take action.

Finally, the company invites employees to reflect on their service as a pathway to learn and grow. For instance, the foundation intentionally seeds reflection in programs such as Milestone Awards (where people direct foundation donations to a nonprofit of choice), Giving Networks (where people inspire colleagues to participate in giving back), and Service Learning projects.


"From the project proposal through the debrief, we provide opportunities for teams to pause and reflect so that they can hone the skills, practice the mindsets, and embody company values," says Chin. "By integrating self—reflection with meaningful community service, we encourage a learning mindset and build a culture of service that extends beyond our day jobs to lifelong civic engagement."

What's more, companies with a higher rate of service demonstrate lower employee turnover, greater customer satisfaction, and higher profits. "We see VMware people feeling empowered, inspired, grateful, and having a sense of belonging as a result of VMware Foundation programs, all of which contribute to VMware as an employer of choice, where people choose to come and stay to work," says Chin.

About VMware

VMware software provides compute, cloud, mobility, networking, and security offerings to hundreds of thousands of customers globally. Headquartered in Palo Alto, California, VMware is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

Are You Giving Back?

Giving back to our communities doesn't just mean reaching into our wallets. Many nonprofits and community organizations can use the skill sets of talent development professionals. How do you define "giving back" and how do you think it affects your organization? What are you or your employees and organization doing to give back to the profession or society at large? CTDO would love to share your giving back story.

Contact Ann Parker, senior content manager for the Association for Talent Development, with your ideas and stories.

About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently sources and authors content for TD Magazine and CTDO, as well as manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs. Contact her at [email protected]

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