Building houses and futures in Poland

Henkel employees support Habitat for Humanity as "Volunteers@Heart" for four weeks

Responsibility Dec 15, 2022

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From collecting donations for those affected, to purchasing necessary items, to creating a creative marketing plan for aid organizations – when it comes to volunteering, every helping hand and the individual skill of each person is a great asset. This is also the case with the support of Ukrainian refugees. Since the beginning of the war in February, hundreds of thousands of affected people – in search of safe shelter – have fled to the neighboring country of Poland. The situation requires the help of many volunteers who take it upon themselves to support those in need in this emergency. What is possible when employers support the voluntary commitment of their employees is demonstrated by Henkel's new Volunteers@Heart program. In the fall, the newly launched program gave four female employees the opportunity for the first time to focus exclusively on a volunteer task for one month. The selected volunteers went to the Polish capital for four weeks to support Ukrainian refugees with their individual expertise. How was this made possible? Through time off, financial support and cooperation with the non-profit organization Habitat for Humanity.

Cooperation with Habitat for Humanity

Henkel and the Fritz Henkel Stiftung Foundation have been supporting Habitat since 2012. The NGO is engaged in 70 countries around the world to create affordable living space. So far, our cooperation with the NGO involved the chance for Henkel employees to take a week’s paid charity leave and embark on “construction trips” to offer practical support in insulation, bricklaying, roofing, or adding a floor to an existing building. With the brand new Volunteers@Heart initiative, Henkel now expands its cooperation with Habitat for Humanity in the context of their support for Ukraine. In the past years, Henkel employees around the world have supported many of these social projects, for example in Romania, Northern Macedonia and the U.S. The "Volunteers@Heart" were selected from a large number of applications to actively support the NGO with their know-how in the areas of marketing, purchasing, communication and HR.

How corporate volunteering is anchored in Henkel’s purpose

"Pioneers at heart for the good of generations” – this our Purpose at Henkel. It refers not only to improving people's lives through innovative and sustainable brands and technologies, but also to the social commitment to shaping a purposeful future. As a supporter of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the 193 member states of the United Nations in 2015, one of Henkel's goals is to improve the global quality of life through social commitment. Our commitment is based on three pillars: volunteer engagement by our employees, partnerships with charitable organizations, and emergency aid in the event of natural disasters.

A woman leans against a workbench.

The team developed a three-year marketing plan for ReStore, Habitat for Humanity’s social warehouse.

Two women are sitting at the desk in a meeting, two other women are connected virtually via laptop.

The volunteers supported the project with their expertise in marketing, purchasing, communications and HR.

A woman is spackling a wall.

During the four weeks, the volunteers also renovated a vacant apartment for a Ukrainian family with five children.

Four women are standing in a marketplace in Warsaw, Poland.

The four volunteers would like to return next year for a long weekend to help with another renovation project.

How the Volunteers@Heart were able to contribute their expertise

Volunteer Annette Wolff supported Habitat for Humanity with her purchasing knowhow. A special focus of her activities was on helping them to get ready for the upcoming winter months. Hundreds of things had to be procured: from electrical heaters and insulation material to winter clothes and furniture. To do this, donations were acquired, new parternships identified, market analyses were conducted, vendors were identified, and delivery vans were leased. Denise Cotta, Manager Global HR Projects at Henkel, was also involved in the winter preparations: “We prepared a video script to support the Christmas fundraising. In addition, we produced a set of information tools, among them a brochure to provide owners of refugee accommodations with tips for efficient insulation.”

Lisa Pohlmeyer, who works in Consumer Market Intelligence at Henkel, set up a three-year marketing plan for ReStore, the NGO’s social warehouse: “They can now use this marketing plan as a kind of handbook for the next two to three years. Its implementation has already started: our first steps included the introduction of a tool for search engine marketing.” HR expert Viktoria Ritter used her time in Warsaw to develop a concept for staff development. “In just six months, the organization has grown from 12 to more than 60 employees. With so many things on their hand, there has been little time for staff development so far. Together with Habitat for Humanity’s leadership team, we created a toolbox for performance management and staff development. Tools range from performance review guidelines and leadership trainings to staff training in soft skills such as feedback.”

Lisa Pohlmeyer, Key Account Manager Consumer Market Intelligence at Henkel

For me, Volunteers@Heart was a great chance to develop and grow – both personally and professionally. It was exciting to live and work in a new city, to gain new experiences and, most importantly, to meet new people.

In addition to their office work, the four volunteers gained first-hand experience of how the NGO works on site. Over two days, the four women worked with Habitat for Humanity to renovate a vacant apartment for a Ukrainian family with five children: Laying floors, spackling walls, sanding and painting. “Meeting the future inhabitants of our flat was a special moment for us all. The anticipation and joy in the eyes of the refugees has really brought home to us what Habitat for Humanity is about,” says Lisa Pohlmeyer, summing up the experience.

“We could really make a difference!”

Back in their offices, the four colleagues talk about their stay with great enthusiasm, and they are proud of what they achieved. “We could really make a difference,” says Lisa Pohlmeyer. “We established new structures, accelerated processes and set the course with the future in mind.” Besides leaving their mark, the team also gained some take-home insights. The working culture of the small non-profit organization, for example, gave them fresh impulses for agile thinking and working. Because when necessary, depending on the situation, plans sometimes had to be changed at short notice. Viktoria Ritter highlights an additional eye-opener: “At the NGO, people were celebrated, when they had accomplished something. I think at Henkel too, this kind of appreciation could get a stronger focus. If we are truly innovative in our areas, advancing things with our pioneer spirit, we should celebrate these achievements accordingly.”

Victoria Ritter, Manager Global Leadership at Henkel

I joined the project, because it was great to have the opportunity to support Habitat for Humanity with expert HR knowledge. More than just donating money, Volunteers@Heart allowed us to actually help the NGO build a better organization with special expertise.

And something else remains. Ever since they returned, all four volunteers carry Warsaw in their hearts. Denise Cotta puts it in a nutshell: “The town is super beautiful, hospitable, open, young, hip, cool and we want to revisit!” And that is exactly what they are planning for 2023: A private trip where they will rejoin their Habitat colleagues for an extended weekend to help with another renovation project.