I’ve always known that HR people are capable of great things, I see it every day but generally it’s through the prism of the workplace. Here, Victoria Miloschewsky (nee Keeys), a former Culture, Diversity and Change HR Professional in Australia, opens our eyes to using our HR skills in Philanthropy.
Here is her extraordinary story.
Introducing HR to Philanthropy
‘When I talk about my journey of change from corporate HR to the joys of philanthropic
work in rural Cambodia, I sometimes receive startled responses like, ‘wow, that’s brave!’ or ‘how did you manage to do that?’.
It is in those moments that I realise my HR capabilities have equipped me to embrace and pursue all the opportunities that life stocks for us.
How Did My Journey Begin?
Not so long ago, I was a seasoned HR professional in Australia working towards Diversity, Culture and Change Management. My contributions at work led me to receive National Awards for Culture Change.
The routine changed when my family relocated to Singapore in 2016. The move created an opportunity for me to start on a blank sheet of paper. I was inspired to dig deep to seek the purpose of my existence. A purpose I’m so glad to have found today.
I was aware that empowering others to grow and sharing a bit of my humble fortune was in my DNA. As a result, I instinctively decided to volunteer my time and effort in mentoring and teaching youth in the rural areas of Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.
My intent transformed effortlessly into contentment. Before I knew it, a team (more like a family now) of passionate volunteers started following my leadership to serve the local communities in need. This incredible movement further pushed my husband and I to envision and found PeopleStories Foundation. Our vision was to transform lives through education in Cambodia and Asia.
How I Apply my HR Capabilities in Philanthropic Work
Every day it amazes me to know just how transferable HR skills are to philanthropic work, especially when the focus is to support diversity and create equal opportunities for the local Khmer families. Through our change process the communities learn to be able to stand on their feet rather than relying on foreign aids.
One of my most favourite projects was to build a soccer pitch at a local primary school. We all know that sports education is imperative to social skills and education at large, as it introduces a vital fun factor in going to school.
More importantly, I believe that even a sports ground can become a means of driving diversity! Cambodia is a traditional country, still entwined in patriarchal tendencies, so much so, that young boys charge girls to share the privilege to play soccer on ‘their’ pitch.
I knew that these deep-rooted social norms could not be changed overnight. Having said that, I cannot over emphasise the impact it has when I, as a woman and the leader of the PeopleStories team, arranged a soccer tournament for teams of boys AND girls. Hear the joy of equality and true sportsmanship, after a well-deserved win in the soccer tournament.
So rather than mandating theoretical change or setting diversity targets, we consciously role model behavior that creates opportunities to showcase the power of girls and women.
How Can We Support Diversity and Change in Developing Countries?
In modern communities, women are encouraged to take up senior leadership roles and they succeed more and more.
But in Cambodia, the majority of women do not have the opportunity to gain meaningful employment due to the traditional gender-role expectations. This reality is perfectly described by Ana Salvá* as ‘Men are gold and women are fabric’.
When I looked a bit deeper, I learnt that the Ministry of Women’s Affairs confirmed nearly 30% of Cambodian women had experienced physical, sexual, emotional or economic intimate partner violence experience in their lifetime.**
Empowering girls to purse the sports they are passionate about is just one of the many examples of how we are strategically pursuing diversity and women empowerment goals.
Every time a group of volunteers help us to teach or support in refurbishment of schools, we organise meals cooked by a local woman, rather than eating at a restaurant. You might think this is a small action for a problem so large but the ripple effect of small, consistent, positive actions is driving change in the life of this woman. Knowing that her cooking skills are appreciated and rewarded, enhances her confidence. And the joy experienced in being able to generate income independently to look after her family is inexplicable. We know that confident and successful women make stronger societies.
Not only that but the ripple effect encourages more women to grow, to develop, to have confidence and break gender stigma.
It’s the sum of these person-centric, small changes that transforms communities much like any corporate organisation.
In 2018, we started a Women Empowerment Project in Phum Ou Village, located 25kms from Siem Reap. A few local women got together to design and produce upcycle bags. As a start, we went to local markets and construction sites to collect canvas wastes such as rice or cement bags, later the local Cambodian women and I designed and repurposed the seemingly useless materials into fashionable bags. These bags were sold at charity events now.
The impact is not only educating a village about reducing the use of plastic and waste but also, and more importantly, to provide the local women with employment an income and a sense of opportunity borne from hope and confidence.
In this picture, you can see Yok from our Women Empowerment Project making our first batch of upcycle bags.
Change through the Power of 94 Bicycles!
We all know, change doesn’t come easy but in this case it came in the form of 94 bicycles.
While my team and I are uplifting diversity in the rural villages of Siem Reap, we are also grappling with pressing educational challenges for young boys and girls.
Here was the problem. 1 in 4 students were dropping out of school, particularly during the first year of secondary school. PeopleStories now runs a number of projects under the School for Life banner to keep students in school and complete school.
One of my favourites was to find a better way of getting the children to school other than a long walk there and back. Change came by way of two wheels, a saddle and a handlebar, namely we gave 94 bikes to the children so they can now ride to school and what a difference that has made to school attendance!
The heart of School For Life is to empower underprivileged students and their schools to break the cycle of poverty through education. It is a way to get students to dream their dreams.
The Impact of my HR Background
Before embarking on my charity journey, I didn’t quite appreciate how transferable the HR capability is! If you want to look at it from a HR point of view you can almost look at Cambodia and charity at large as a raw and unfiltered opportunity to engage with people. It is also an impactful way to pursue societal and organisational goals, such as equality and diversity.
My love for HR allowed me to spread more love, kindness and laughter in the world. I can only imagine what many skilled HR professionals can do for the world’.