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“I see pro bono consulting as a hybrid between work and personal passion,” says Kimaya Padgaonkar, a Consultant at ZS Associates.

At ZS, employees are empowered to support the greater good and use their skills and passion to help their communities. As part of this culture, Padgaonkar took a lead role in creating pro bono consulting opportunities by driving a partnership between ZS and the nonprofit Working for Women. The result? Padgaonkar and her coworkers have “been successful in creating new local pro bono consulting opportunities, engaging individuals and driving meaningful impact for the nonprofit partner,” says Padgaonkar.

In the following interview, Padgaonkar discusses why she was drawn to pro bono consulting, her commitment to philanthropy and how she spearheaded the partnership with Working for Women.

Tell us about your job.

I’ve been at ZS for about six years, starting in our New York office before transferring to our Philadelphia office. Now, I’ve just moved to our London office and am very excited for this next phase of my life professionally and personally. My area of expertise is in customer-centric marketing, digital strategy and execution.

What excites me about my job is helping organizations figure out how to connect the dots across business strategy, insights and technology to make key decisions and take impactful action. 

Describe ZS’s culture in three words.

Smart, inclusive and authentic.

How does ZS support women in the workplace?

ZS’s Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) supports women in building successful careers at ZS. I’ve both participated in and led events focused on networking, career growth and diversity and inclusion.

What opportunities does ZS provide to help you give back to your community? 

Through our Corporate Social Responsibility Program, ZSCares, employees are empowered to localize how they contribute to the greater good — from philanthropy and volunteering to pro bono consulting. ZSCares acts as a vehicle for ZSers like me who are passionate about giving back to their communities by supporting them in finding ways to do good.

What prompted you to take a lead role in organizing the partnership with ZS?

I’ve always been an avid volunteer, thanks to growing up observing my parents’ passion for giving back to the community. My introduction to pro bono consulting began with Compass Pro Bono, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to inspire business professionals to engage with local nonprofits to transform communities. I was placed on a project to recommend a fundraising strategy to a local nonprofit. I jumped in and enjoyed it so much that Compass invited me back for a project lead role for the following year. My hands-on experience with pro bono consulting sparked an idea: “could I create pro bono consulting opportunities at my own company?”

At ZS, I had already been engaged in ZSCares and had recently met Beth Bengtson, CEO of Working for Women (W4W). W4W builds purposeful partnerships between businesses committed to affecting social change for women and nonprofits focused on supporting women who are economically marginalized in the workforce. Through the W4W model, businesses give back better by providing financial and skill-based contributions to expand the capacity of their nonprofit partners. The nonprofit organization’s model, along with its focus on economic independence for women, drew me to W4W & Beth. They were the perfect partner to help turn my spark of an idea into a reality.

Just a few months later, I could proudly share that we had been successful in creating new local pro bono consulting opportunities, engaging individuals and driving meaningful impact for the nonprofit partner. The experience has been extremely rewarding from my business world lens, in terms of:

  1. Realizing the positive impact that can result from redirecting professional business skills toward a nonprofit organization’s strategic needs.

    • A testimonial from a ZS volunteer echoes this sentiment; “Being able to support a nonprofit out of our own company isn’t only convenient but fulfilling.”

    • And, on the client side, it has been amazing to hear and see the immediate appreciation of our work.

  1. Prioritizing the importance of taking time to define a meaningful pro bono consulting engagement that can maximize impact for both the volunteer and nonprofit organization.

    • Working with an organization like W4W allowed us to clearly define the engagement. This allows for a triple win where nonprofits improve their capacity and serve more women, and businesses retain loyal employees and customers, resulting in better business performance.”

  1. Creating the right type of opportunity for your potential volunteers can enrich the overall experience and increase engagement.

    • Working with W4W allowed for flexibility, low time commitment and relevant expertise, which helped us engage 20+ ZSers across three offices to volunteer their time enthusiastically on an ongoing basis, and we continue to see increased or continued engagement. 

    • For me, it is so exhilarating to see colleagues from different backgrounds and levels work together and discover the joy that comes from working for a nonprofit’s greater cause!

How has the W4W program changed to adapt to the current pandemic?

We are functioning completely virtually! We actually found that being virtual challenged our way of thinking enough to expand our local office opportunities beyond Philadelphia to include other regional offices (New York and Princeton). This, in turn, not only gave more people the chance to volunteer but also allowed us to tap into more diverse skill sets and experiences, thereby strengthening the support we could offer our nonprofit partner.

In addition to helping others, has volunteering with W4W helped you in your own career?

I found myself diving head first into taking on a leadership role that I didn’t think I was ready to take on. When I brought the idea to an office leader, she asked me how she could support me in making it happen. That was all the encouragement I needed to take the leap forward. The leap definitely paid off by giving me a chance to grow my knowledge, accelerate my hands-on experience and build my holistic career experience and professional network.

How does volunteering affect your sense of work/life balance? 

I see pro bono consulting as a hybrid between work and personal passion, which, in turn, triggers a different element of motivation. It has challenged me to reflect on my impact as an individual, whether through work, volunteering or day-to-day life choices. While I have found joy in other ways of giving back, like hands-on volunteering, pro bono consulting has grown into a very meaningful interest for me..

What advice would you give to other women who are interested in giving back?

Make it a priority and take the leap! Look for opportunities, and don’t shy away from figuring out how to create them if they don’t exist currently — your professional skills are quite likely more valuable in the nonprofit world than you might think!

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