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Celebration of Service

Doing double duty

A volunteer in his off-hours while also helping those in need during his day job

Chris Anderson, an IT specialist for IBM in Wellington, New Zealand, spends his working day supporting his client, the New Zealand Earthquake Commission, whose mission is to get people back into their homes as quickly as possible after a natural disaster and return them to normal lives.

Anderson’s day job took on even more urgency than usual when an earthquake struck near the city of Christchurch, New Zealand, in September 2010, causing significant damage; only to be followed by fatal earthquake in that same area in February 2011.

While Anderson works behind the scenes at the commission, the systems he and the IBM team support are processing more than 230,000 claims. “There are many incredible people working directly with those affected by these disasters, and even though our small team is focused on system performance and data integrity, among other things, we know that real people and real lives will be impacted by our work,” Anderson said. He adds, “By no means are we the most important team at the commission, but it is gratifying to have a role in this important work, helping people.”

It’s all talk

Anderson’s day job supporting the New Zealand earthquake commission is reflective of his spirit of volunteerism. Throughout 2008 and 2009, Anderson was part of a group of IBM colleagues who dedicated one hour a week working with Multicultural Learning and Support Services (MCLaSS), an organization in Wellington that facilitates education and training for immigrants whose first language is not English.

“I realize how painful it must be to try to express yourself in a second language,” Anderson says. “Now you add the pressure of needing that second language to help you earn a living in your adopted country, and those language skills become a matter of survival.”

MCLaSS has learners from more than twenty ethnicities representing thirty mother tongues from countries such as China, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, and Burma. However, as a volunteer, Anderson did not need to know any of the non-English languages. He served as a “conversationalist,” providing the students with a willing and enthusiastic partner with whom to practice English.

“We would talk about anything we could, about families, what we ate for breakfast, the weather, anything to get them comfortable with speaking English,” Anderson says. “It’s such a simple thing to do—just have a conversation with someone, and you’re helping them develop their English skills.”

Serving in the Corps

In May 2010, Anderson took his experience as a language volunteer into an overseas business setting. Encouraged by a colleague who was aware of his volunteer work, Anderson applied for and was accepted into IBM’s Corporate Service Corps (CSC) program, where volunteerism is among the many criteria for acceptance; though CSC is not a volunteer experience, it does have attributes of community service.

CSC is sometimes called a business version of the Peace Corps. It is leadership development through projects in growth markets working on economic, social and environmental sustainability challenges.

Anderson’s project was in Brazil and his assignment was to re-design the website of a non-governmental organization called VERDENOVO, which helps improve the quality of life for residents of Nova Lima, near Belo Horizonte. While such a Web site project would be a challenge in one’s own language, Anderson had one month to deliver where English was the second language and the culture was different from his own. “I think that experience gave me yet another perspective on the MCLaSS students in New Zealand. Now, in order for me to get the job done, I was the one who had the pressure to properly communicate in a new country.”

Wonderful feeling

Back in New Zealand, Anderson continues to volunteer as often as possible. Using resources from IBM’s On Demand Community, a global community that combines the skills of over 165,000 IBM employee and retiree volunteers with the power of access to innovative IBM technology, training, and support, he helped teach two six-week courses on Web Design at his son’s school, with the intention that the students will use their new skills to maintain the school’s web site. Anderson also serves as a trustee at the school and a soccer coach.

“Sometimes it’s hard to fit volunteer time into your work and family schedule, but I can say that when you do, it’s a wonderful feeling to help others.”

IBM is marking its centennial year with a worldwide celebration of volunteer service. Throughout 2011, IBM invites everyone to join our global community of employees, retirees, families and friends as we support the communities where we work, live and learn together.