Covid-19 is adding to the challenges charities face with corporate organisations such as ESB stepping up to help and support
The Government’s coronavirus catchphrase “In This Together” encourages people to stay connected through this isolating and anxious time.
For individuals, this means checking in with friends and family, neighbours and work colleagues. For businesses, it means ensuring corporate and social responsibility (CSR) activities are maintained, to look after some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.
At ESB, these activities are not just being maintained, they are being stepped up. This is because, early on, the energy company recognised that Covid-19 creates enormous challenges - both financially and operationally - for the voluntary and charitable organisations it supports across the country.
Keeping the lights on for early learning
Take for example, the Early Learning Initiative that provides parent and child learning support programmes in marginalised communities which, in turn, helps families achieve their educational, career and life goals.
It works on the basis of volunteers calling to children’s homes on a weekly basis to support their educational development. It also brings children together in gatherings, to provide parent and child learning support programmes.
At the outset of Covid-19, the Early Learning Initiative - and hundreds of other organisations which operate on a similar model - had to adapt overnight, at enormous cost.
Energy for Generations Fund, ESB's CSR programme, was able to help. It disburses around €1m annually in direct funding to charities working in the areas of suicide prevention, homelessness, education access and support.
As a result of the pandemic, ESB increased the fund, so that it could provide additional urgent financial assistance to organisations such as the Early Learning Initiative which it has supported since 2014.
This additional funding helped facilitate the provision of educational resource packs to assist with home schooling and improve the home learning environment for young children.
It’s already having an impact. “We are grateful to ESB for helping so many vulnerable, isolated children and families deal with this crisis,” says Dr Josephine Bleach, director of the Early Learning Initiative.
“ESB’s contribution is ensuring that these children start school with the language, literacy and numeracy skills needed for success in their education, career and life,” she adds.
At Jigsaw, the national centre for youth mental health, additional financial support was needed to alter the way it operates due to Covid-19.
Following the postponement of its face-to-face services and community work, it set up a free phone support line at 1800-Jigsaw, developed a new website and an inbound SMS and email service, as well as hosting group chats and webinars.
These new service offerings provide a space where young people can access mental health information, advice and support to help them deal with the current situation. It was another opportunity for ESB to help.
“To us at Jigsaw, it is clear that corporate social responsibility for ESB goes far beyond euros on a cheque,” says Jigsaw chief executive, Dr Joseph Duffy. “They understand the value of community and grassroots supports; they work alongside civil society as partners, and they have added huge value to us an organisation and to the nation as a whole.”
The impact of Covid-19 on mental health is also of concern to Aware. The charity, which specialises in helping those with depression, has seen a dramatic increase in demand for its services.
Aware introduced an app that allows its support line volunteers to take calls remotely and it moved its face-to-face support groups to a phone and virtual alternative. It also recruited and trained new volunteers remotely to ensure it has the capacity to meet heightened demand.
As a result, the charity faced additional operational and financial challenges.
“As Aware only receives circa 20 per cent of our funding from the State, we rely heavily on the support of corporate organisations and communities in order to provide our free services,” explains Dominic Layden, its chief executive.
“We have been very fortunate to have engaged corporate partners like ESB who have continued to support us throughout.”
The cancellation of key fundraising events – such as Pieta's Darkness into Light – is a concern for many organisations, and their service users. With Electric Ireland as lead sponsor of the annual event, ESB’s Energy for Generations Fund donated an additional €100,000 to ensure Pieta could maintain its vital service offering.
More than money
A positive CSR programme should go beyond the provision of financial support. One element seen clearly during the recent crisis is that organisations, and individuals, want to play an active role in helping those most impacted by the pandemic.
The Tech2Students Initiative is a good example. Following the closure of schools in March, there was significant concern for students who did not have access to technology for home studies.
Camara Education Ireland, a not-for-profit organisation which uses technology to improve education in low income communities,andTrinity Access, an initiative of Trinity College which is designed to support people from areas with low progression rates to higher education, launched a campaign for homes and businesses to donate disused laptops.
The response was phenomenal with ESB donating €100,000 to this initiative and its staff volunteering to collect and distribute more than 1,300 donated and purchased laptops.
“Donating a laptop can make a massive difference to a student’s life,” says Mark O’Donoghue, an ESB staff member who delivered the hardware across Dublin. “It’s a cliché, but with everyone’s spirits being down during the crisis, it’s brilliant to see people coming together while staying apart.”
This support was just one element of ESB’s Kindness Matters initiative, started by its staff in response to Covid-19. Staff were encouraged to volunteer in their communities with organisations such as the GAA to distribute supplies, while others made and distributed personal protective equipment.
Others donated their time to Age Action’s Keep in Touch programme which involved hosting remote IT tutorials for older people. This helped those cocooning to stay in touch with friends and family during the pandemic.
“With Covid-19 having an immediate impact on important organisations, and in turn, people and communities, we wanted to play a part in supporting them,” explains Pat Naughton, ESB’s executive director, people and organisation development.
“Staff right across the country wanted to do more for their respective communities,” he adds. Indeed, almost 400 staff recently organised a virtual 5km to raise funds for ElectricAid, ESB's staff social justice and development fund which to date has funded 24 projects responding to Covid-19 in Ireland and worldwide, totaling €170,000
As well as bringing forward and increasing its Energy for Generations Fund, ESB launched a special Covid-19 emergency response Wind Farm Community fund worth almost €240,000. This further demonstrates how ESB and the communities it serves are indeed “in this together”.