Why employee volunteering matters: 4 stories of hope
Read Time: 7 minutes
December 06, 2023
Ariana Moreira will never forget the smile that changed her life.
It was Oct. 12 — known as Children’s Day in Brazil, where Ariana lives and works as an administrative assistant at Cargill’s facility in Ilhéus. But on this day, Ariana’s work was helping turn a young man’s dreams into reality.
“I was part of a Cargill Cares event to celebrate underprivileged children in the community,” Ariana recalls. “There was a kid there who hadn’t spoken in public or smiled in years. But he had shared he wanted a scooter.”
Ariana and her colleagues ran all over town trying to find a scooter. When they came back with it, the kid broke into laughter.
He was so happy that he spoke: “Thank you for making my dreams come true.”
“I will never forget that day,” Ariana says. “It moved me deeply.”
Like Ariana, thousands of Cargill colleagues around the world have joined efforts to strengthen the communities we call home. Our teams make a difference where we live and work, whether that’s as individuals or collectively through Cargill Cares Councils — employee-led groups that work to make a positive impact where we live and work.
Just ask our CEO.
“Some of the best, most meaningful experiences in my life have happened through volunteering,” says Cargill Chief Executive Officer Brian Sikes, who met his wife while volunteering in a soup kitchen during a summer break in college. “I’m constantly inspired to learn about the impact our teams are making by volunteering in their communities around the world.”
Let’s learn about three other inspiring stories of giving back — and meet some of the colleagues behind them.
No. 1: Building schools in Vietnam to create ‘a generation of change’
It began with a promise.
In 1995, when Cargill started operations in Vietnam, our leaders pledged to make a positive difference in the lives of Vietnamese people. A year later, that promise began to materialize.
Ever since, Cargill has built new schools in the country’s underserved, rural communities.
For ThienNghiep (Tony) Nguyen, a Cargill environmental, health and safety specialist, making a positive impact means offering quality education. That is why Tony leads a school construction team under the Cares Council in Vietnam that has partnered with local governments to build schools, utilities, related infrastructure and more.
“It’s not just building a school,” he says. “We’re connecting with partners to bring electricity, water, supplies to the school in need. We ask local governments to build concrete roads that lead to that school. Yes, trucks can deliver material to the site — but it’s there for the betterment of the community, especially parents and students as well.”
After Vietnam and the U.S. normalized diplomatic relations, the Vietnamese government began a series of economic and political reforms. Issues lingered, including crumbling educational infrastructure.
Cargill’s Vietnam School Project was a response to those challenges: an ongoing, employee-led initiative to build schools across rural and remote villages to make a positive local impact during a time of economic and social transformation in Vietnam.
By the end of 2020, Cargill had achieved its original commitment of building 100 schools. But we didn’t stop there: Cargill Cares Vietnam has built more than 114 schools nationwide, covering 64 of Vietnam’s 94 provinces and reaching more than 17,000 children every year. The team has a new goal now: building 150 schools in Vietnam by 2030.
For Tony, it’s the long-lasting impact that makes the greatest difference.
"I remember one school we opened recently, where one of the teachers was a student in one of our first Cargill schools! We’re already creating a generation of change.”
No. 2: Creating lasting opportunities in Bulgaria
Mariya Poppalova grew up in Southern Bulgaria, with political aspirations.
At school, she loved history. She wanted to work for the United Nations (which, years later, she did, along with many other international organizations). And she wanted to help people locally and beyond.
“I was always impressed when Kofi Annan (former Secretary-General of the United Nations) appeared on TV talking about peace,” Mariya remembers. “He seemed like someone who could make a real difference, and that’s what I wanted to do.”
So, when she joined Cargill as a project manager in 2019, Mariya was immediately drawn to our volunteering efforts. She’s been involved with the Cares Council in Bulgaria since its creation two years ago.
There, she co-leads the education focus group. She’s involved in several initiatives such as: a mentorship program for underprivileged children and an “adopt-a-school” initiative in partnership with “Teach for Bulgaria” to fund a school in a low-income area.
“There are a lot of minority groups in Bulgaria, especially Roma and Sinti, who have limited access to education, food, and other basic services,” Mariya shares. “In many cases, their kids grow up with very few opportunities to succeed. Our goal is to encourage them, through actions, to not give up.”
Looking back at her two years with the Cares Council in Bulgaria, one story in particular warms her heart. She had applied to be a mentor in a three-month program that connected Cargill employees with teenagers from a local school.
“At first, I was nervous,” Mariya says. “Me and my mentee were so different. I like history and politics; she wanted to be a veterinarian. I even thought about asking for a change. “But she taught me so much because I listened to her. I feel like, in so many ways, she mentored me. To this day, we’re still friends.”
No. 3: Improving food security for local communities in Mexico
The first time Uriel Maldonado took part in a volunteering initiative, he had no idea what to expect. A friend had invited him, and he blindly said “Yes.”
The mark it left on him took him by surprise.
“It felt so good, so satisfying, to know I was making a real, immediate difference in the life of someone who has been less fortunate than I have in life,” recalls Uriel, an administrative assistant in Cargill’s agriculture supply chain business in Mexico.
Almost a decade later, Uriel remains passionate about supporting local communities. That’s why he is one of the leaders of the Cares Council at the Tula plant, Cargill’s largest facility in Mexico.
Uriel has helped organize volunteering campaigns to support children and the elderly; he has helped at migrant shelters and with cancer patients; and he has even traveled abroad to participate in community impact initiatives.
“We have mainly focused our work on helping our local communities have access to food,” Uriel says. “That’s our mission as a company, and that’s where we want to see more immediate results. We are also sharing best agricultural practices so families can grow their own crops at home.”
That’s not all. Uriel and his teammates also have organized several employee volunteering programs in partnership with non-profit organizations and local governments to enrich the communities where they live and work.
More Cargill colleagues are joining the initiative, too, Uriel says.
“I once read an interview with a Mexican fashion designer, who is a doctor by trade,” Uriel recalls. “He says he practices medicine to eat and designs fashion to live. That’s how I feel about volunteering. As long as I can, I will never stop helping those who need it.”