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Celebration of Service
 

Using keyboard(s) to change lives

IBM employee Tommy Forsberg teaches computing skills to Stockholm’s dispossessed
 

Even though Tommy Forsberg, regional sales manager for IBM, travels all over Scandinavia, he still finds time to volunteer several hours for the Stockholm Stadmission (or Stockholm City Mission).

The Stockholm Stadmission is a nonprofit organization that runs activities for homeless or abused children, adolescents and elderly, along with those who need a hand because of poverty. In addition to a range of social services, the organization also runs a school, operates a café, restaurant and bakery, and has a conference center.

“Stockholm City Mission sounded very interesting to me. I like that it provides services for the homeless and disadvantaged. My kids are getting older and have moved out so I thought I could squeeze in a few hours now and then for this” says Tommy.

Stockholm’s population is in excess of 1.25 million and to serve such a large city requires a lot of volunteers. “There are about 300 volunteers from all sorts of backgrounds. When joining we get a first training of about 20 hours as to how the organization works, the programs, the people it serves.”

Tommy on his first assignment: “Sitting in the orientation, I instantly hit on an idea to have a musical café once a month, to attract people who are disadvantaged. I’ve been performing music most of my life, mostly on trumpet and keyboards, and I know it is a means of communication and building bridges between people.”

He put together a monthly coffeehouse. “We offer 45 minutes to an hour of music and then coffee. The main objective is to see these people and treat them like a normal member of society. When they drift by on the streets, they’re almost invisible to regular people. We used a combination of some very well-known artists who were willing to perform free of charge, and local performers, too. I did this for 2 or 3 years and we usually had 35-40 people for each session.”

Providing necessary technology skills

Over the course of volunteering, Tommy’s focus shifted to providing a different sort of service. “We’d been talking about how the population we serve really needed some computer training. You know, for some people just getting on the Internet, sending email is overwhelming. Things we take for granted are often unimaginable to them.”

Tommy organized IBM employees and they began offering computer training classes in the school run by Stockholm Stadsmission. “We began running group classes, but we quickly realized we needed a one-to-one ratio of teacher to student. Some students actually have a good working knowledge of computers and others are almost afraid to touch the keyboard. It’s a huge variety in needs and so we try to pair teachers with only one or two students.

For now, the classes are offered only for women. “Overall, women are more marginalized, exposed to abuse, for instance. The women are all ages and we have helped some of them to go from no computer background or skill to being able to access email, FaceBook, and even do Internet banking. This is a pretty large step for them. They learn quickly and ask all sorts of questions – questions that make you think, Well how does that really work? It’s challenging but fun, because you never know what sort of demands or questions are going to come up.”

Tommy relates an anecdote. “We had an older lady who had heard she could use a computer as a phone, and she wanted to learn to use Skype. She had relatives living in Australia – which is about as far from Sweden as you can get – and it cost much too much to call there using a landline. So, with our support, she learned to Skype and late last year she was actually able to travel to Australia. Her family there raised some funds and she got some Welfare contributions as well. I think it’s a great story because first she bridged the distance via Internet and then she actually got to go there.”

Using the power of On Demand Community

Tommy found IBM volunteers through the On Demand Community. IBM’s On Demand Community is a global community that combines the skills of over 200,000 IBM employee and retiree volunteers with the power of access to innovative IBM technology, training, and support.

“We’ve found a model that works and we are continuing to develop it. And from IBM’s perspective there are no particular assets or capital investments required. We’re just giving our time because we have the skills.”

Tommy adds a final thought. “Some nights I might feel tired and not really in the mood to go and teach, but I’d just remember how much energy these events, the volunteering gives me. You meet amazing people and come to know them, and you get an understanding of what life can actually look like - you know, outside the daily business community that you and I are usually in.”

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.