Henri Devos is the WW Talent Management Director at Gucci. He took a solidarity leave in Bolivia with Enda El Alto, an association that helps women who were victims of sexual abuse.
What inspired you to get involved as a volunteer?
A News post on the 360° platform presenting the Solidarity Leave programme inspired me to give the experience a try.
After reading the testimonials published on the Foundation's website, I told myself it was a good time for me to take on this adventure. For several years I had missed being able to do volunteer work, particularly because of my workload. I wanted to go on this mission because I felt I was becoming more and more isolated in the sometimes "artificial" world of luxury, which can make you lose track of reality. During this mission, I truly appreciated the sense of balance it gave me between reality and the world I work in.
What I also liked very much about this solidarity leave offer, is that Kering assists the volunteers. Everything is made easy, everything is planned in terms of insurance and accommodations and that saves a lot of time because these steps are difficult to handle on your own.
What was your role during your mission?
My mission was in Human Resources. I worked with Enda El Alto to improve internal communication and increase the satisfaction of the teams who work for the association (psychologists, social workers, cooks, doctors) in order to reduce staff turnover. The objective was to give them the necessary tools to conduct recruitment or manage a work meeting well.
What are your best memories of this adventure?
I have many good memories. This experience completely changed my life. The strongest moments were the discussions with these women who were victims of sexual abuse, especially when I listened to their stories. It was a face-to-face encounter with a very different reality than mine and I was particularly moved.
Also meeting Patricia, the NGO director... This woman made a lot of sacrifices to carry out her fight. She is an engineer and she chose to give up the stability of a job to dedicate herself to the cause of women.
Another very strong moment was during a lunch I planned with another volunteer. We cooked Italian and served the women, and it was a true moment of happiness, laughter and sharing.
Finally, taking the aerial tramway in El Alto where we were based to go to La Paz: the capital city was truly magical. What a magical country!
What advice would you give to future volunteers or to people who hesitate to take a solidarity leave?
Even if everything is very well planned by the Kering Foundation, you need to be realistic about the living and travelling conditions. This is not a business trip, and living conditions can be rough.
The biggest advice is to leave with an open mind, to forget your own problems and to bring a healthy dose of creativity, so as to take initiatives during those two weeks.
It is also important to prepare for the mission beforehand, in particular by doing research on the topics you wish to address, because on site the Internet isn't always available. In this respect, it can make the work easier if you have the possibility to contact the local association or NGO before leaving.
Another piece of advice is to focus on concrete results. In two weeks, therefore 10 days of work, you can't do everything, so it is better to have fewer objectives and to reach them, than to be too ambitious and not be able to fulfil your missions.
Also there may be times when you feel depressed, a little lost... For times like that, it may be a good idea to bring with you something that reassures you. I had a candle that I would light and that comforted me, creating a link with my life on the other side of the ocean.