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Indie Influence: Employees at 22squared can leave their day jobs for a month to give back

As part of 22squared's One Week/One Month program, copywriter Courtney Arnold volunteered in Costa Rica for a month

Welcome to Indie Influence, a series that spotlights the work, perspectives and inspirations behind independent agencies across the country. This week we're featuring 22squared's One Week/One Month program.

Taking a month off of work to volunteer anywhere in the world might sound like a dream to the average millennial, but at 22squared, it’s encouraged. It’s part of the Atlanta-based agency’s One Week/One Month program, which gives employees a chance to take a break from their day job so they can go out into the world and hopefully make it a better place.

The program was born out of the agency’s newly minted mission, ‘Together, we give rise to change,’ which was announced last November at a company-wide staff meeting. According to 22squared, the mission was created to solidify the agency’s focus on positively impacting consumer behavior, culture and client business.

In recent months, the independent agency - which also has an office in Tampa, Florida - has been working to bring its mission to life through various projects and campaigns. For example, when Hurricane Irma ravaged Florida earlier this year, the agency’s Tampa office crafted billboards made from hurricane debris to spread messages of hope. The billboards also encouraged passersby to visit, where people can donate time or money to Volunteer Florida.

In addition to external work, 22squared has also sought to implement its agency purpose internally by giving its staffers the opportunity to take some time off from work so they can volunteer at a place of their choice. Through One Week/One Month, employees have the option of either taking a week or month off to give back once they’ve cleared their plans with management and HR.

“We decided that we need to walk the talk and allow our employees to go out there and give rise to change in a creative way,” says Curt Mueller, SVP-creative director. “If we have people who we know have worked hard for us, we should give them the opportunity to work hard for the greater good.”

The program is open to staffers of all levels, whether they’re a creative director or an assistant account executive. The only stipulation is that employees must be with the agency for three or more years before they can apply for a one-month leave.

“It’s not really about what level you are, but what you want to do and what drives you,” says Mueller.

The one-month trips are funded through a mixture of paid time off and a $2,500 stipend from the agency, a policy that Mueller says ensures that staffers will still be compensated while they’re away from their desks.

Those who are interested in participating in the program must put together a proposal that details their plans, what they hope to achieve, what service or organization they want to work with and where they plan to live while away. The agency’s C-suite ultimately decides which proposals they want to support, and those who are approved are asked to document their experience while they’re away.

“We’re not trying to support just someone’s wanderlust,” Mueller says. “It has to go back to the purpose of ‘give rise to change,’ so that you can affect other people. As much as there is a freedom to it, they’re also held responsible to treat it respectfully and actually make some change.”

So far, two 22squared staffers have left on a service month: art director Caty Coplin recently spent a month in Madrid working with a program called Alicia y Guillermo that helps elderly men and women, while social media copywriter Courtney Arnold worked with a nonprofit in Costa Rica called Lacrosse the Nations that strives to improve the lives of children via sport. A handful of others have opted to go on week-long service trips, visiting places including Nicaragua.

“I had the most amazing four weeks partnering with them in a small town in Costa Rica,” Arnold says of her experience. “Living in a homestay, I was able to improve my Spanish, I worked with the local children on and off the field every day, and was able to help Lacrosse the Nations improve their social media presence. I came back to Atlanta a changed person, with more perspective on the world and more drive than ever to make a difference. I think about those kids, their families, and let’s be honest, the beaches, every single day as they inspire and influence my work.”

Upon return from their trips, employees are asked to share their experience with the rest of the agency so others have a better understanding of what they did while away. Mueller says these “bleacher talks” not only inspire others to consider going on their own trip, but also boost agency morale since they get people talking.

“When people come back, they meet people that they’ve never met in the agency who are interested in their experience,” he says. “I think it brings us all together in a unified purpose.”

Indie Influence is supported by Choozle, an independent digital advertising platform.