Making a Difference Globally and Locally: How We Give Back

Volunteer work has always been a part of Joanna Wolfe’s life. A lead process improvement consultant for MetLife, Wolfe spent her childhood and teenage years working in urban gardens and advocating for social justice causes. So serving as the Habitat for Humanity volunteer coordinator for our Cary, North Carolina office was a natural fit.

“There are a lot of successes that go along with homeownership,” Wolfe says. “This work gets at the issues I care about regarding fair housing, and the challenges people face when they don’t have a home.”

Since our company was founded in 1868, we’ve strived to strengthen the communities where we work. Beyond our core business of protecting life and health, we provide philanthropic support for health, education, housing, and through MetLife Foundation’s support of low-income individuals and communities on their journey toward financial health and well-being. We believe financial health should be within everyone’s reach — no matter where they stand today.

For Wolfe, organizing large scale projects is part of her day job. She’s drawn on that expertise to coordinate between 500 and 600 Habitat volunteers annually, building five houses in five years. Wolfe admires how the Habitat organization puts families in need on the path toward financial stability — plus the volunteer work strengthens her bonds with her coworkers.

“Everyone comes away with a good feeling of accomplishment that another family is moving into a new life — their kids will have a school, they’ll have a neighborhood, and a place to live where they don’t have to worry about things breaking down or not working,” she reflects.

In Korea, a team of MetLife employees have turned out more than once to help build homes, and support for the Habitat organization in the region has only grown.

“Housing prices in Korea have been skyrocketing, and it’s especially challenging for low-income families and young people,” explains Ae Kyung Hwang, head of MetLife’s Korea Foundation and a Habitat for Humanity volunteer.

MetLife first partnered with Habitat for Humanity in Korea four years ago, and in 2018, MetLife Korea Foundation provided a financial contribution to build six townhomes in Seoul for families in need. More than 300 employees volunteered alongside community members and customers over the course of six months, with their work helping several families access housing in a tough market.

“Our work with Habitat makes people more financially independent. People said they felt really rewarded and motivated to do more,” Hwang says. “They feel proud to be part of a good company that contributes to society.”

Back in New York, Taproot Foundation, an organization that pairs nonprofits with skilled professionals for pro bono work, connected MetLife Foundation with Hot Bread Kitchen (HBK), a nonprofit that trains women for culinary careers in corporate cafeterias, commercial kitchens and restaurants. Their “Bakers in Training” program creates economic opportunities for women who face employment challenges, like language barriers or a lack of education.

They were looking for ways to scale their program, planning to train 200 women in 2019. “We’ve been looking at every part of our process and building it for volume, especially our community outreach and how we handle an increase in applications,” explained CEO Shaolee Sen.

To help, a team of MetLife employees — all experts in the LEAN management philosophy of optimizing workflows — focused on speeding up and formalizing HBK’s recruitment process.

Our volunteers developed a survey, defining the ideal characteristics that make a Bakers in Training candidate successful. They revamped the application process and interview questions to make reviewing hundreds of candidates possible. And they developed a process for continually refining the profile of a successful candidate — for example, a simple braiding exercise, where applicants braid playdough to test dexterity and ability to follow instructions — to help HBK increase the number of graduates from their program and make sure they’re prepared and well-suited for a new position.

“The experience the team provided just catapulted our thinking to the next level,” Sen shared. “It was something that we couldn’t otherwise access or afford.”

We know that one of our biggest assets is the skill and passion of our employees around the world. We’re thankful for the nearly 20,000 of whom volunteered their time and skills to help others in need this past year.