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Strong Communities Breathe Strong Travel
How Day of Caring, Expedia Group’s Community Impact Program, Came to Be.
Community service and giving back had long been a part of Katherine Cheng’s life. So in April 2011, when she heard so many of her colleagues express interest in getting involved in their communities, she went to her leadership team with an idea. From that moment, Day of Caring was born. Fast forward 10 years, Expedia Group’s Day of Caring (now Month of Giving) has become a flagship program for Expedians all around the world and the impact in the communities in which we live and work is immeasurable. Now the head of Global and Community Impact, Katherine and her team have worked tirelessly over the last decade to continue to grow this initiative into a month where EG employees can give back and create lasting change. She shared how Day of Caring and Month of Giving came to be and how she feels about the 10-year anniversary of this incredible program.
In your words, what is Day of Caring?
Day of Caring was an idea to bring our employees together in a way they could understand the needs of the community. We had so many employees coming to our team asking how they could get involved in their own communities, based on what mattered to them as a group and as individuals. When we thought about the role of a company like ours in terms of employee engagement and bringing people together, we thought “as of right now, we do a lot of parties and celebrations” and with Day of Caring, we wanted to inject more meaning into our gatherings. There was the “being together” piece, but also a focus on what impact we can have on the communities where we have our offices. The overall intent of Day of Caring was to set a foundation for our company of what we stand for and how we show up in the community, but also to highlight causes and volunteer opportunities where employees feel a personal connection and could take their involvement from that one day and continue it throughout the year.
We wanted to designate a time where employees could have the time off to go and make an impact but also wanted to continue to create a culture of team building. The Day of Caring Team came together and really set up the definition of team building: coming together for a purpose – to learn about your team members and in turn, which organizations are important to them and why. That way, our teams were able to learn about each other and the unique experiences each one of them has, and it created such a powerful connection. We wanted everyone to have a say in it, so anyone can bring forth projects and organizations that they feel tied to, and that puts a story and a purpose behind it that speaks to others: That someone you know can give testimony to the impact it has. That’s why we extended Day of Caring into Month of Giving. We wanted to make it so that throughout the month of September, there were ample and flexible opportunities for employees to get involved (and get others involved) in organizations where they felt a personal tie.
What did the planning process include? Who were some of the key players?
There were so many key players. It was actually quite daunting. I got the approval around mid-April for our inaugural Day of Caring to take place in September and I remember thinking “How are we going to get this done?”. At the time, I was on the employee engagement team and everyone really rallied around this initiative. Our administrative assistants throughout the company were a key pillar of support who really helped kicked this off and have been a constant over these last 10 years. They were the ones who made sure leaders had the correct information, that teams were armed with the knowledge about what this day was and how to get involved. A newly formed volunteer committee was also integral, and many of those volunteers from the first year are now an important part of the overall planning process and help us run the events out of our major offices. Without these people, we would not have been able to grow and evolve this program into the various models we see in offices around the globe. We also would not have been able to make the program as flexible – it is so important to create as many opportunities for employees as possible that fit in with a whole variety of schedules. Those pillars of support like our local volunteers and admin groups really are the ones who make those things possible. This initiative would have never taken off without their support.
How has this initiative evolved over time?
I think when it started, I was a little overly ambitious. My initial vision was to have projects everywhere, but also have rolling projects around the world, meaning I was hoping that we’d have a project in Sydney and then it would pass on to Tokyo, then Singapore and it would continue to be passed along. We actually did have one of those projects at the very beginning, it started in Sydney and then it went to India and then Ireland and then the United States. They just take so much coordination and a lot of commitment, more than just for the one day.
Over the years, we have tried to develop this program so that it can have flexible volunteer opportunities, from those that are standard, year over year, to those that deal with current crises. Last year, several of our volunteer events were to help those affected by COVID-19. But really, any cause can become a part of Day of Caring and Month of Giving. It just all depends on what is personally important to our employees, and what our teams are passionate about. For example, last year, we added things employees were doing for their neighbors and communities to survive during COVID, like grocery shopping for elderly, walking dogs, in addition to volunteering at testing and vaccination sites. You wouldn’t think of that as a Day of Caring event, but it really can be anything to anyone and that’s my favorite thing about this initiative. There is no formula about how to run it every year. It allows us to be unique in the ways we are giving back and gives employees the chance to get creative!
How does it relate to our purpose now vs. 10 years ago?
Throughout all the change we have gone through, we have stayed consistent in that we are a travel and technology company. Strong communities are what breathe strong travel destinations and strong travel groups. If there are specific initiatives under the Global and Community Impact team, that is very much tied to travel and technology, but when we’re talking about Day of Caring/Month of Giving, it is solely about our communities. It is going to look different depending on where you. This is to again be flexible to the current events happening all around the world. The first year of Day of Caring, there was a tornado in Missouri and employees in that area ended up doing days of cleanup that spanned months. We want strong communities where we have our employees, but our employees need to be a part of making that community strong. Knowing the company encourages and provides resources to employees to give back to the places they call home sends a really powerful message. The bottom line is community is at the core of the initiative and the foundation for our business, when it comes to employees and those who use our services.
What is the overall community impact of this initiative? What about the impact on the company/employees?
We could give out numbers like “X amount of people participated and completed X number of hours and it’s increasing X percentage year over year”, and that’s all great to consider, but truly the impact is best measured by the testimonials we hear from the organizations we are supporting, those who are being served by those organizations and of course, our employees. I’ll never forget, there was a group in Singapore that we supported, and three women pulled me aside and profusely thanked me for bringing to their attention the amount of people in the country who are truly in need of help. They said it truly changed their lives and their overall outlook because growing up in Singapore, they were never exposed to that need, they didn’t know it even existed. We also had a project for several years with Days for Girls putting together feminine hygiene kits for women and girls around the world. At first, our executives who participated were a little uncomfortable dealing with a taboo subject, but when they learned the impact our project had on allowing young women to continue to attend school and women to work, it also changed the perspectives they had on the challenges of women and girls in general in the world. They were soon touting the importance of providing feminine hygiene kits so girls could have equal access to education. This kind of impact extends so much further than one day of service, it’s a mindset and one that is so important in the way we lead in the world.
Because of the volunteer hours that our employees have put in, we have allowed several organizations to reallocate funds to things other than labor costs. Every year, we have several folks who go to parks and pull invasive species. One year, there were hundreds of employees in parks all around the community and I was able to talk to the parks department, who was coordinating the projects, and they said we had done the work of 10 full time employees in a month just at one park alone. Because of that, they were able to use their budgets to go toward refurbishment and improvement, which is what they wanted their focus to be. You can’t replicate the feeling you get of knowing the difference you made, and that’s what is so special.
Day of Caring/Month of Giving is a moment in time for the year. How does this connect with the other charitable work EG does throughout the year?
We have our matching program where Expedia Group will match up to $10,000 per employee worldwide when they make a charitable donation. We are also aware that some employees are more comfortable giving time rather than money, and we wanted to extend as many ways for employees to give back as possible, which sparked the creation of the Volunteer Hours Match program. Employees get $30 an hour, up to $1000 and it really encourages them to take their experiences from Day of Caring or in other community impact work they’ve done and extend them throughout the year. To me, these opportunities really say a lot about our culture and it makes me proud to be a part of this company.
What does the 10 yr anniversary of Day of Caring mean to you? What’s unique about it?
Because of Covid, this year is different in that we have to come together in a unique way. This milestone really allows us to reflect as a company. Participation has always been very high for a company of our size, but we can do better and we can do more. On that point, we are absolutely not unique in offering a Day of Caring, several companies offer something similar. What sets us apart is the variety of events that we offer, because so many of those are employee driven, as well as the resources we offer to get employees out there.
What I am really hoping for the 10 year anniversary is that we are able to make a new commitment to try and be even better and have true participation, even in the times of Covid. I am really hoping to have more projects that are rooted in longer term participation. One of the positive elements of almost being forced to “pivot” our mindset because of Covid is that we can do a lot more online. There are really great projects that can be done virtually and give back in a more skills-based way that is central to their expertise. It gives employees the chance to think about how they can give back in different ways, and in turn that drives even more of a connection between our employees and the causes they support.
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