The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to physically distance ourselves and drastically reduce the number of people with whom we were in contact. Technology gave us tools to keep in touch, although the modus operandi had to change accordingly. Volunteer work experienced a similar transformation. Social needs did not disappear during the pandemic — quite the opposite, in fact.
Digitalization played a vital role during the pandemic by enabling Ferrovial volunteers to continue working.
Isolation and the economic shutdown had a particularly severe impact on the most vulnerable. For that reason, it was important to find ways to give online continuity to Ferrovial’s regular volunteer programs, since travel was canceled until the volunteers’ safety could be guaranteed.
Like the education sector in general, STEM (Science, Technology, Engeneering and Mathematics) training programs were quickly adapted and went digital. The Rescatadores de Talento (talent rescuers) program that we conduct in cooperation with Fundación Princesa de Girona was completed in the 2019-2020 academic year and continued online in the 2020-2021 academic year with 39 mentors, an almost 45% increase in volunteer numbers. Through an online platform, the Foundation selects young people who are the first members of their family to obtain a university degree or vocational training and who do not have a family or social network to help them.
The Orienta T program promoted by Fundación Junior Achievement was also adapted to a digital format and all the sessions and methodologies were reorganized to be conducted online. The aim of this program is to encourage STEM careers among boys and girls between the ages of 14 and 16.
“To help the most vulnerable and ensure the safety of its volunteers, Ferrovial used technology to do the field work”
Another volunteer program, Social Infrastructure, seemed more difficult to transfer online — how do you replace a 15-day field trip with Teams meetings? Indeed, it wasn’t easy but, thanks to the commitment on the part of the volunteers and the project managers, a consulting session was held online for the project under way with Fundación Codespa to improve the water supply for the settlement of El Ángel in Huaral, Lima. It was quite challenging, but the results were exceptional and the team of four Ferrovial volunteers, together with the NGO team on the ground, managed to improve the designs and ensure that one hundred percent of local residents will receive a continuous supply of quality water when the project is completed.
According to Luis Lacorzana, Drainage Design Manager in Washington D.C. and a volunteer in the El Angel in Peru: “With programs like Zoom and Teams, we were able to coordinate with the people on the ground, talk to the local residents, learn about the circumstances and work together. We also used elevation data from Google Earth to check the veracity of the information we had received and make sure we are not trying to do the impossible. This would normally have been done in the field. Digitalization helps in this connection, and will make it possible to use a much larger number of volunteers in the future.
“Because of the lockdown, we had to rely on local people and delegate the field work to them. We developed smoother communications and moved into a supervisory relationship, checking that the reported data made sense. Without technology, everything would have been more difficult. It provided us with links between the people in charge at Codespa, local residents and the Ferrovial team (located in different countries). We also had aerial photos, contour plots, water flow calculation programs, etc.” said Francisco Brotons, Project Controls Manager based in London and a volunteer on the Huaral – Codespa 2021 Project.
Although nothing can take the place of human contact, technology enabled the volunteers to provide support where needed and we all learned new forms of collaboration that will undoubtedly be useful in the future.