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Celebration of Service

A new flavor of volunteerism in Japan

IBM employees utilize what they learned at work

The IBM Pro Bono Project was launched in early 2010, under the leadership of IBM Project Manager Yoko Mori, now on maternity leave. Joining her were seven other financial consultants and project managers, a group selected as one of this year’s On Demand Community Excellence Award winners: Yuya Arashima, Yuko Ishizuka, Kenji Kuba, Takako Kuhara, Keiji Takeda, Hocktoh Tiong and Sayaka Watanabe.

With pro bono (a Latin term meaning “for the public good”) activities, volunteers use their unique expertise and knowledge to help others. This concept is fairly widespread in the United States, but is new in Japan's corporate community. It has had an immediate, positive impact on the nonprofits, while giving the young consultants some invaluable leadership experience.

Sayata Watanabe, a financial consultant for IBM, says one major difference between the IBM Pro Bono Project and individual acts of volunteerism is the chance to leverage her IBM skills. Helping with this spring’s massive cleanup of the tsunami-battered city of Fukushima, for example, she and other volunteers were primarily “there as individuals, doing what we could with our arms and legs. They just needed us as manpower.”

But she used her financial planning skills to help Shibuya University Network find ways to finance its free lifelong learning classes, teaching staff at the four-year-old free university how to master the mysterious business of corporate fundraising.

“They had many classes, they just didn’t have a system in place to attract corporate money in a sustained way,” Sayata says. “We helped them isolate the problems, showed them some options, applied some of the basic concepts we use within IBM and with our clients.”

“We started with an analysis of the present state of the network’s financial condition,” adds teammate Yuko Ishizuka, a strategy and transformation consultant for IBM Global Business Services. “These activities are exactly what I do in my daily work.”

Similarly, three IBM Pro Bono Project volunteers led by Global Technology Services project manager Keiji Takeda were matched with Trywarp, a nonprofit that helps provide computer training in the Nishi Chiba district of Tokyo, hampered by excessive costs related to the practice of costly customizing of classes.

Keiji says they reviewed Trywarp’s business plans, introduced the not-for-profit (NPO) organization’s staff to case studies of similar situations, and encouraged them to standardize coursework and adopt new asset management practices.

A third NPO, Sodateague Net, provides job training to stay at home youngsters needing work skills. They offered many computer classes, but had no structure in place for certifying student skills’ levels. Pro Bono Project members suggested IBM certification processes as a possible model.

“You feel like you’re making a much greater contribution with Pro Bono than you can as an individual,” Sayata says. “I can use the consulting skills I use for IBM to help the NPOs that deal with the kinds of social programs I want to support.”

She had volunteered for various NPOs in college, and wants to use her skills to aid nonprofits helping developing countries. “With Pro Bono, we can use IBM assets, our IBM knowledge, and network with other consultants to do things that wouldn’t be possible if I were to just volunteer as an individual.”

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.

Rationale for the “Pro Bono Project”

The Pro Bono Project was conceived in 2009 by a veteran IBM Project Manager, Yoko Mori, as a way to aid nonprofit organizations while simultaneously honing the skills of young consultants. To launch the new IBM community service tool, she contacted IBM Japan, Ltd., Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs Manager Teruhiko Kawashima. After helping to identify the initial nonprofit clients, she also helped those clients create new corporate vision and mission statements.

“Our young consultants’ role in chargeable projects is generally very limited,” Yoko says, “and they are not able to have a broad perspective in a really big project. My personal opinion is that the Pro Bono clients are more simple and nimble than chargeable clients. We are able to know results more quickly … and the younger consultants are able to acquire needed skills through these experiences, and leverage those skills to chargeable projects.”

Her next goal for the Pro Bono Project team is to broaden membership to other IBM job categories, particularly in IT system development, to enhance the team’s effectiveness and give other IBM employees the satisfaction and benefits from doing good.