Sending employees to Africa helps grow our talent pipeline, says Beverly Newman of William Hill

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Tell us a bit about Project Africa?

Project Africa is a combined development and corporate responsibility project.  Twice a year we take a group of around 10 people to Ol Maisor, a rural community in northern Kenya. Ol Maisor has little by way of infrastructure and William Hill has committed to developing both educational and medical facilities for the community. Ol Maisor has a primary school called Island School where the Project Africa work has focused so far – William Hill has built and stocked a school library, provided sports equipment, school shoes for each child, on site homes for the teachers, have provided text books for all lessons, set up a bio gas facility and a crop farm and have renovated all classrooms. A major project to install a clean water solution for the community is just coming to fruition – previously the locals’ only access to water was a polluted river that runs alongside the school. Later this year we will be focusing on building a medical centre and employing trained medical and dental experts to run the facility. William Hill colleagues are chosen to participate for their potential within the organisation and experience a number of learning interventions before, during and after their time in Kenya.

How does this project align with William Hills corporate goals?

Directly it is helping us grow our talent pipeline as it stretches and develops people in ways we have found other programmes haven’t. It has provided William Hill with a strong sense of pride as it directly reinforces one of our core values of ‘Everyone Matters’. So far over £180,000 has been raised by colleagues across the organisation.

How would you describe the expected impact of the project on the community?

The impact on the community has been huge, as our film shows. This year we will be sponsoring six children through their secondary school education, that’s six children who would have faced a life of goat herding without our help – we will continue to sponsor them as far as their talents will allow. Health wise the clean water solution is already making a big difference – the locals delight at having access to fresh, clean water is incredible to experience – we believe we have made a difference at the very fundamental level. We are also seeing adults using the library and learning to read in their 30’s and 40’s.

What sort of challenges have you encountered?

Teaching standards are a challenge, the school has a number of teacher vacancies that there seems little hope of filling, most rural schools run at 30% behind establishment, so we are looking into funding teachers as well as teacher training for a couple of locals to help improve that situation.

Did employees volunteer to participate in the project?

No they are chosen as part of their development with William Hill.

It is interesting that employees are getting involved, what is the motivation for them?

Project Africa is providing colleagues with a real sense of pride and focus. We have pretty effective communication channels in place internally and so colleagues can directly see how their fundraising is being used. They know that William Hill pays for the flights, accommodation etc for the entire project team and so every penny raised goes to help people in Ol Maisor.

What are employees gaining from participating?

In some cases they cite ‘a life changing experience’ – being in such a different environment does have a profound impact on people and just about everyone who has been out there describes how it has changed them in some way – from being more considerate of others, to wishing to remain involved with the community, to growing in confidence, to improving their personal effectiveness and leadership capability. A number of people have been promoted after their time in Ol Maisor and the profile they earn across the organisation is considerable.

Have you noticed a difference in your employee engagement and has this translated into better retention rates or improved absence or productivity? 

It actually can be a bit strange coming back to work straight after a stint in Kenya – but once that settling back period is over the bonds, the commitment and engagement of those who have been is extremely strong. We deliberately chose groups that we want to get working more effectively together and the relations formed in Kenya prove beneficial when back in the work place. The sense of pride and engagement and in some cases sheer surprise that William Hill has given someone this kind of opportunity is very evident.

What can other organisations learn from this project?

We have found that Kenya changes you, that it gets under your skin and has a powerful impact – so this is a significant learning experience for people.

How long is your commitment to this project?

Our commitment is for five years and we are just over one year into that period.

Beverly Newman is the People Development Direct at William Hill

You can watch the Project Africa documentary on our Facebook Page

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