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Celebration of Service

Modern techniques to tackle an old foe

Silvana Gonzalez uses social networking to teach community about beating cancer

“We can fight and we can win,” says IBM employee Silvana Gonzalez, in the way that someone personally familiar with cancer does – positive, determined, strong, and not defeated. Inspired by her mother, who has beaten cancer on two separate occasions, Silvana is helping an organization in Luján, Argentina, called Asociación Lujanense de Lucha Contra el Cáncer, or ALLCEC, educate the community about cancer.

While “cure” is possibly an optimistic outlook in the near-term, death from cancer is not necessarily a foregone conclusion. Millions of people around the world live with cancer, and manage it day by day. “[My mother] is an example and that’s the point I want to communicate,” says Silvana. “You can fight the disease and you can survive.”

A tool, not a complication

Silvana recognized ALLCEC from their annual fundraising event in Luján. But it wasn’t until a friend invited her to participate in the event that Silvana realized she knew several people who worked at ALLCEC, including the president, who had been her high school teacher. “With my mother’s experience with cancer, and now with a personal connection to an organization that fights cancer, I decided to join and see how I could help.”

Founded in 1964, ALLCEC’s mission is to assist in the fight against cancer through volunteer work, including prevention and early detection of the disease. Most of the organization’s methods are based on personal and direct interaction with its patients, donors and volunteers, while the role of electronic communications has been non-existent.

“When I visited ALLCEC, I noticed that they kept all their notes, all their communication on paper. I decided that I could help by teaching and coaching them on how to use email,” says Silvana. “Also, I thought that social networking would make it easier for them to communicate with other associations doing similar work and to make contact with other health organizations.”

It may be hard for some to understand with all the news about blogging, online “friending,” and tweeting, that an organization would not take advantage of these forms of communications. However, the work of fundraising has historically been done through face-to-face meetings (which is still the case when the largest donations are sought). Longstanding charities, whose senior management may still be in place from its founding, are slower to adopt new methods.

Silvana explains that we are “used to using technology and the latest advances, but for ALLCEC it’s not a tool yet. I’m trying to make them aware that the computer is a tool and not a complication.”

Digital presence increases awareness

In fact, ALLCEC only has one older computer in the organization, but to their credit they have accepted the effort to bring the organization into the digital age.

While Silvana does not consider herself an expert in social media, her skills and experience with technology are greater than those at ALLCEC. She brought a fresh perspective on how to use the Internet to advance the organization’s mission.

In January, 2011, ALLCEC joined the online global community when Silvana helped them launch their page on Facebook. “We need to make more people aware of ALLCEC and their work, and to reach a younger audience,” says Silvana.

The power of electronic networking will enable awareness of the organization to grow. Among ALLCEC’s Facebook “friends” are organizations such as Luján’s volunteer fire department and its nearly 3,000 Facebook friends, the Avon Foundation and its 2,700 friends promoting personal development for women, and numerous other cancer fighting organizations in Argentina and the world.
Silvana says, “The list of contacts is growing everyday. It’s working because a lot of people that didn’t know about ALLCEC are now interested and we are attracting new members and volunteers.”

In addition to establishing its online presence, Silvana is helping the organization use technology in its daily operations. She helped ALLCEC identify no-cost open source software for applications like spreadsheets, as well as using online search to find information for its constituents.

Changing people’s minds

Silvana has pledged to volunteer one hour a day every day at ALLCEC, and her experience has helped her at IBM. “I’m improving my coaching skills, as well as my ability to communicate with people who have different perspectives and backgrounds.”

While ALLCEC is focused on helping people to stop smoking or getting patients to their cancer screening exams, Silvana is organizing classes to teach the patients how to use the Internet to learn about cancer and prevention, lessons that are also useful to the ALLCEC staff. Presentations from IBM’s library of resources for volunteers and charities have given her ready-made materials.

“I really want us to use the technology to fight against cancer and to help prevent it. That’s my wish,” says a determined Silvana. “By spreading ALLCEC’s work and all the information about cancer, we will change people’s minds that cancer is a death sentence. And everybody will know it’s not unbeatable.”

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.