A social passion

Ottawa Citizen OnlineBy Hilary McLaughlin – July 19, 1999

In the increasingly congested world of high-tech recruiting, Ottawa’s TalentLab stands out — for all the right reasons.

When Alan Kearns and partner Doug Martin founded the company a year ago, they outlined, as part of their mandate, both a corporate philosophy and a concrete strategy to "give back" to society.

"We’re all in business, and business-minded," says Mr. Kearns. "But we are socially-minded, too. It helps us keep things in perspective. There’s a lot more to life than fame, fortune and fun. There are a lot of people out there not as fortunate (as we are).

"Fifty per cent of the world is in poverty," he adds. "We live and work in Kanata, travel to Dallas and places like that. We’re lucky. A few select people in our world live like this." And how do such "lefty" ideals play in the macho, hyper-competitive world of executive recruiting? Surprisingly well, as it turns out.

"The (executive) search industry is, by its very nature, very money-driven," says Mr. Kearns. "There’s a lot of money going around. We can give some of that … to others, not just locally, but globally."

Toward that end, TalentLab commits 10 per cent of corporate profits to World Vision Canada, for use in "projects that make a difference."

One such project has TalentLab money funding interest-free loans for micro-businesses in Malawi, started by people recently released from prison or jail. "What we are giving is enough for a new business every month, letting people get started or re-started. There’s an economic sustainability to helping people start their own business, and enabling others to become successful. So far, there’s a 94-97 per cent success rate."

Mr. Kearns, Mr. Martin and their colleagues say they felt comfortable in selecting World Vision, after researching and considering the many worthy channels for charitable donation. "It’s a good organization. The money goes directly to the projects, and they have a good track record."

Closer to home, TalentLab in the last quarter devised a program referred to as "Giving Back Day." Under this scheme, each member of TalentLab spends one work day a month doing volunteer work at a local organization of their choice.

"This is not about networking or sitting on boards," says Mr. Kearns. "It’s deliberately not for us, not about the branding of the company or image-boosting. It’s about doing, helping." Accordingly, Mr. Kearns can be found one day per month working in the kitchen at the Ottawa Mission for Men, which helps the homeless.

Doug Martin and another employee, Stuart Musson, are working with the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) in a program that involves distributing books and reading to sick kids, particularly children in long-stay treatment. The hospital’s need for a certain commitment of time means the two TalentLab workers may essentially "job-share" their volunteer activity.

"CHEO needs consistency," said Mr. Martin. "If we share it we can both give the eight hours a month that TalentLab™ wants each of us to commit, and can fulfill the needs at the hospital."

Another TalentLab employee, Rob Pritchard, recently relocated to Ottawa from Kingston. He’s looking to volunteer in the area of children’s literacy, and is currently researching Ottawa agencies that work in this area. "I’m happy to have the opportunity," he says. "Here I am with a new job, in a new area. It’s great to have the time to contribute, due to the program at TalentLab. It’s fresh."

TalentLab scout Daniel Simard, meanwhile, wants to work with teenagers. "They’re scared about their future, they are trying to find out what they can do. I would like to help with that," he says. "I don’t know much about little kids, but I do know a lot of teenagers. That’s the sort of thing I’ll be getting into."

Nancy Sheppard, a high-school teacher who is working at TalentLab as a brand advocate for the summer, wants to help in primary schools with special needs children.

All told, TalentLab™ employees will contribute some 96 volunteer days per year to local causes. "We just want our people to be hands-on in the activity they choose to support," says Mr. Kearns. Interestingly, the company has had no trouble finding people willing — eager even — to do volunteer work as part of their job.

"It’s consistent with Gen-X (culture), to some extent," says Mr. Kearns. "There’s a real sense of social responsibility in the next generation." Nor will the company compromise its principles by hiring people who aren’t committed to social causes and volunteer work.

"It’s non-negotiable," says Mr. Martin. "We are a success-driven company like any other. But the real success is being able to share. We take it into our corporate life. We have to do something meaningful, from our hearts, for other people."