On his bike rides through the Haarlemmerstraat, Joël Dori, Startup Liaison at StartupAmsterdam, passed through Koffiehuis multiple times.
Koffiehuis, or the Coffee House, in Amsterdam looks like any other cafe in the city but it plays such an important role that it can reveal a whole different world to its visitors.
For people struggling to make ends meet, sleeping outside in the cold or facing immense hardships, Koffiehuis serves as a sanctuary.
It serves them breakfast and warm lunches prepared by volunteers like Dori and the homeless people give back to the society by actively cleaning up the neighbourhood.
“Their dedication to giving back despite their own challenges left a lasting impression on all of us,” says Dori.
In Amsterdam, Koffiehuis is one of the epicentres of social impact and stands as a symbol of how volunteering can bring about a profound change in a society.
Getting involved through volunteering
The daily activity at Koffiehuis serves as a great example of how the society can volunteer its resources to drive a positive social impact.
During the pandemic, a number of Dutch companies wanted to do their best but often lacked a way to volunteer their resources.
To solve that challenge, experts from the City of Amsterdam, Vrijwilligers Centrale Amsterdam (Volunteer Centre Amsterdam, VCA) and Deedmob formed Business Involved as a platform to curate volunteering opportunities.
With a network of 2,068 social organisations, VCA and Business Involved connect companies of any size in Amsterdam with volunteer work that fits their team.
Dori says, “Volunteering at the Koffiehuis opened our eyes to the importance of looking out for each other, extending a helping hand, and offering compassion to those in need.”
“It highlighted the urgency of building a more inclusive and caring community in Amsterdam,” he adds.
Now, through volunteering, Dutch businesses are realising not only the benefits but also how it can help their teams to come together and tackle societal challenges.
However, volunteering should not be mistaken for an internship even though it requires the same commitment.
“The starting point is usually what a volunteer likes and enjoys,” says Rachida el Alami, Consultant, volunteer engagement advisor and project manager at VCA.
She adds that internship is meant to learn from whereas volunteering makes people immediately employable, offering a benefit that extends beyond the purpose of voluntary engagement.
Positive impact on society
The idea of making a positive impact on society is deeply rooted in the Dutch tech ecosystem.
But there are times when you could see a disconnect between the thriving tech ecosystem and the individuals facing challenges within the city. Dori says Business Involved is established to bridge that gap.
“Through this empowering platform, we are creating strong relations between these businesses and the social organisations right in their neighbourhoods,” he explains.
It is not another organisation trying to help businesses do a day of volunteer work but one that aims to increase social cohesion and foster unity within the city.
One tech company that is taking volunteering to a new level is Lemonade, a public-benefit corporation using tech and social impact to reinvent insurance.
“Volunteering is a direct way to give back to society that is accessible for all and not only focused on monetary donations,” says Nina Rauch, Senior Social Impact Lead at Lemonade.
With its alternative business model, Lemonade was set up to give a portion of its underwriting profits to nonprofits chosen by the Lemonade community.
As a company already contributing to external social impact, it doesn’t want to stop there and sees benefit for its internal social impact with volunteering.
“Not only does volunteering unite our employees in our mission of social impact, it also provides opportunities for us to connect with our customers,” Rauch explains.
As of December 2022, Lemonade employees had donated their time and money to 38 different nonprofits, raising $22,863.06 in total.
Benefits of volunteering for tech companies
El Alami says volunteering can broaden the view and bring new insights to people working at tech companies.
“Volunteering can lead to an even better understanding of clients’ needs and better custom-made services,” she says.
Rauch says Lemonade has seen their employees come together in an “amazing way” and adds that during an impact week held in their Amsterdam office last year to raise awareness of the conflict in Ukraine, 40 employees united to raise $3,000.
During a focused week in July, Lemonade hosts Giveback month to announce its external donations and its employees participate in volunteering activities such as helping out with after-school clubs in underserved areas, volunteering in soup kitchens and blood donations.
Blaine Holt, Senior Product Manager at Lemonade, sees volunteering as an opportunity for individuals from different parts of the company to come together and “bond over the opportunity to deliver on social impact.”
“Being able to experience volunteering with my colleagues has made me feel more connected to Lemonade and the people that make up our Amsterdam team,” he adds.
Speaking to Holt and Rauch, it becomes evident that volunteering helps tech companies inculcate leadership and team spirit within their organisation.
With 39 per cent of all Amsterdam residents doing volunteer work and about 65 per cent of companies giving their employees an opportunity, the idea exceeds its remit.
That becomes evident in employees of tech companies who see volunteering as an opportunity to step outside their comfort zone and develop themselves in other areas.
“A much-heard comment of the employees is that they encounter a completely different world,” says El Alami.
The benefit also extends to voluntary organisations who struggle with innovation and technology and can benefit from skills and insights of young people in tech.
These mutual benefits make volunteering more than a CSR initiative, delivering benefits far beyond the traditional scope of corporate social responsibility.
“It is good for your employees to make a valuable contribution to the city, see what is happening in the world around you and create a new network,” says El Alami.
Through volunteering, people in the Dutch tech ecosystem meet people they would not easily meet in their normal world and see immediate impact of their efforts, whether it’s preparing a meal for a homeless person or helping a social organisation modernise their website.
Adopting volunteering opportunities
The secret ingredient behind the success of volunteering at Lemonade is the way insuretech powered by AI and social impact is built.
At Lemonade, Holt says volunteering is embedded in the core values of the organisation and its “Give Back” is valued and enjoyed by the employees.
“It’s definitely one of the reasons I choose to work for Lemonade,” he says.
Not every organisation will have the same success and Dori argues managing expectations between social organisations and companies remains a hurdle.
He also sees making volunteering opportunities accessible to international citizens with language barriers as a challenge.
Dori says, “Creating a seamless and engaging platform where employees can easily connect with causes close to their hearts is an important step toward creating a culture of involvement and team.”
Holt says a key difference could be the scope of volunteering opportunities being made available to employees in the tech industry.
“From people, to animals, to the environment,” Holt says, “Lemonade was able to create opportunities for everyone to deliver on social good in a way that connected with them.”
El Alami wants to make it even easier. She recommends “taking this quiz to discover the volunteer in yourself” and then looking at Business Involved’s database for currently advertised volunteer opportunities.”
Tackling social challenges
If you ever wondered if solutions to major societal challenges can be found outside labs, startups, and big organisations then volunteering opportunities curated by Business Involved shows the possibility.
There are now volunteering opportunities that meet over 17 sustainable development goals, including inclusion and gender equality.
El Alami sees fighting loneliness and poverty as a big challenge in Amsterdam and sees a need for many volunteers in the area.
These opportunities could pave the way for future organisations that innovate not to benefit themselves but benefit an entire ecosystem of people in a society.
For anyone looking for volunteer work in the city of Amsterdam, El Alami recommends looking for something that makes you happy.
“Look for something that may have nothing to do with your ‘real’ work and may make you happiest of all,” she says.