The Briefing Interview: Gareth Williamson, Smartchange

Gareth Williamson

 

Posted in: Technology & Innovation

The Briefing Interview: Gareth Williamson, Smartchange

February 01, 2002

When many Generation Xers were chasing the big bucks of the dot.com boom one chose another course, we ask one of CSR’s brightest young things why he put his chips on a dot.org dream.

So, in a snapshot, what is Smartchange?

Smartchange provides “smart solutions for social change”. We’re about using new technologies to enable private sector companies to inspire their employees to connect with charities and make a difference to society.

Sounds snazzy, but what’s so smart about ‘Smartchange’?

Nothing really – at least, not for the user. That’s the beauty of it! All the technical stuff is done at the design stage. What’s left is a simple-to-use software package that can be loaded up onto any company intranet. We call it Adhesive. Once they’ve logged on, individual employees can set up a taxefficient payroll giving account or surf Adhesive’s database of charities to see what local groups are doing and find opportunities to volunteer.

But does Adhesive really work in practice?

Sure! Diageo has been using it since last July, Credit Suisse First Boston is about to launch the service and companies from the retail, insurance and IT industries are set to go live shortly. Employees like it because they can choose who they want to support. Management time is freed up. And the registered charities seem happy too, especially the smaller ones who can now make a direct connection with individual employees.

What’s in it for community affairs managers in particular?

For starters, there’s a clear financial incentive. On average 8.5% of community budgets are spent on administration and 2% on publishing – effective use of the internet sees these figures radically reduced. What’s more, they can use the software to track which organisations and issues are most popular with their employees – an invaluable guide to where the true values of the company lie.

So how do you see the internet impacting employee volunteering in the longer term?

Oh, in lots of ways. The Lattice Foundation site, http://www.latticefoundation. com, is a good example of where things are going. People are more and more used to the internet in their every day lives. There’s no reason that surfing for volunteering opportunities or giving online should be any different from using the web to buy your groceries or book your hols. Making connections, however, is what’s so exciting about the internet. By giving rise to online communities, the web can foster massive collective action – an absolute key for bringing about effective social change.

And how about other technologies?

Text-messaging, WAP technology, interactive kiosks – all it takes is a little imagination to see how these and future technologies can be used to engage and enable employees. Teletext, for example, recently included volunteering opportunities together with its other information services. Children in Need raised almost £500,000 from interactive TV users in its latest campaign – almost twice the amount of money contributed through internet users.

So technology is where the future of employee involvement lies?

Technology is no panacea, nor should it be seen as an end in itself. It’s an enabler. Seen in that capacity, I think technology is an exciting tool to inspire and connect employees towards getting involved in their communities.

So, in a snapshot, what is Smartchange?

Smartchange provides “smart solutions for social change”. We’re about using new technologies to enable private sector companies to inspire their employees to connect with charities and make a difference to society.

Sounds snazzy, but what’s so smart about ‘Smartchange’?

Nothing really – at least, not for the user. That’s the beauty of it! All the technical stuff is done at the design stage. What’s left is a simple-to-use software package that can be loaded up onto any company intranet. We call it Adhesive. Once they’ve logged on, individual employees can set up a taxefficient payroll giving account or surf Adhesive’s database of charities to see what local groups are doing and find opportunities to volunteer.

But does Adhesive really work in practice?

Sure! Diageo has been using it since last July, Credit Suisse First Boston is about to launch the service and companies from the retail, insurance and IT industries are set to go live shortly. Employees like it because they can choose who they want to support. Management time is freed up. And the registered charities seem happy too, especially the smaller ones who can now make a direct connection with individual employees.

What’s in it for community affairs managers in particular?

For starters, there’s a clear financial incentive. On average 8.5% of community budgets are spent on administration and 2% on publishing – effective use of the internet sees these figures radically reduced. What’s more, they can use the software to track which organisations and issues are most popular with their employees – an invaluable guide to where the true values of the company lie.

So how do you see the internet impacting employee volunteering in the longer term?

Oh, in lots of ways. The Lattice Foundation site, http://www.latticefoundation. com, is a good example of where things are going. People are more and more used to the internet in their every day lives. There’s no reason that surfing for volunteering opportunities or giving online should be any different from using the web to buy your groceries or book your hols. Making connections, however, is what’s so exciting about the internet. By giving rise to online communities, the web can foster massive collective action – an absolute key for bringing about effective social change.

And how about other technologies?

Text-messaging, WAP technology, interactive kiosks – all it takes is a little imagination to see how these and future technologies can be used to engage and enable employees. Teletext, for example, recently included volunteering opportunities together with its other information services. Children in Need raised almost £500,000 from interactive TV users in its latest campaign – almost twice the amount of money contributed through internet users.

So technology is where the future of employee involvement lies?

Technology is no panacea, nor should it be seen as an end in itself. It’s an enabler. Seen in that capacity, I think technology is an exciting tool to inspire and connect employees towards getting involved in their communities.

Gareth has been in corporate/community relations for over 8 years. He first used the web in 1994 and in 2000 he founded Smartchange to support charities and social enterprises to use new technology and ensure that they are not excluded from the huge communication opportunities that the Internet offers. (www.smartchange.org)

Corporate Citizenship Briefing, issue no: 62 – February, 2002

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