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Celebration of Service

IBM volunteers make history during the company’s Celebration of Service

Over 300,000 volunteers, including senior executives, give back to their communities

During the year long Celebration of Service, IBM volunteers, in unprecedented numbers, are making history by sharing their time, skills and expertise at schools and community organizations worldwide. To date, more than 300,000 IBMers in 120 countries pledged 2.5 million hours on 5,000 projects, and the Celebration of Service continues all year!

On June 15, 2011, the IBM Celebration of Service Day, IBM employees came together to volunteer their time and expertise to make a difference in communities around the globe. Their volunteer projects were as diverse as the volunteers themselves, and their impact was significant.

IBM executives were very much a part of the Celebration of Service Day and they were out in full force, joining scores of IBM employees to make this day a success. One common executive goal was the launching of new forms of lasting relationships with carefully selected nonprofits. Another was to urge employees to keep redefining global standards for corporate citizenship.

As Sam Palmisano told students in Baltimore, “… We're giving back to the world because the world has been generous to us."

Back to the beginning

The IBM chairman decided to spend June 15 in his home town of Baltimore, Maryland, US. It was here, in 1973, he joined IBM, starting as a salesman. On June 15, 2011, Sam, with Baltimore’s mayor and chief of schools, joined about 100 middle-school students at Digital Harbor High School in south Baltimore, to educate students on the many uses of digital technology.

Encouraging entrepreneurship

For Ginni Rometty, the Celebration of Service Day was an opportunity to lead hundreds of volunteers in “speed mentoring,” building entrepreneurial skills among low-income, high-potential members of Westchester County’s Women’s Enterprise Development Center. "This is a really interesting time for business," said Ginni. "We have a huge boom of information, fueled by wireless deployment and social media, and I think we are on the cusp of another big wave of innovation, led by the entrepreneurship of small businesses."

Using technology to help visual impaired

Amit Sharma, vice president and general manager, Operations, IBM India, kicked off a partnership with India Retina with the announcement of a $10K Catalyst Grant to create an online, interactive database to match the visually impaired with IBM and other volunteers. India’s expanded partnership with Retina was showcased by IBM volunteers across that nation demonstrating new tools for India’s 23 million blind people, the largest number in the world.

Social media increases exposure

Celebration of Service Day activities received enormous exposure, largely thanks to social media, another indication of how the world has changed since the days of IBM’s first product line – butcher scales. Perhaps the most visible promoter of that technology was Jon Iwata, senior vice president, Marketing and Communications. Jon paused before leading a Harvard University workshop for nonprofits on use of social media to tweet: “Today: IBM's Worldwide Day of Service. I'm in Boston, one of 100 IBMers helping 125 NGOs with marketing and comms plans.”

Two days later, he added an update, “Back to work today... IBM's goal for next 100 years? Creating a smarter planet” and pointed followers to a recommended CBSNews blog on IBM.

Describing the Harvard event on her own blog, one nonprofit leader noted: “It was amazing to connect with others facing similar struggles we are having and talking about what our main issues have been and how to focus energies on this!”

A sampling of other senior executives’ service activities

In Washington, DC, Rod Adkins, senior vice president, Systems and Technology Group, met with 9th grade students at KIPP DC College Preparatory. Joining him were leaders of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and other volunteers. The group helped students submit personal stories to the “National Memory Book Exhibit,” a new feature of the museum’s IBM-funded Museum of the Web. “America’s shifting demographics make it especially important that we encourage minority students to pursue science and engineering education,” Rod said.

Meanwhile, in Brazil, innovative IBM Research Lab work with biodiversity led IBM Brazil general manager Ricardo Pelegrini to announce a partnership with the Ministry of Science. A new collaborative “Community Science” portal will facilitate cooperation among students, communities, educators and scientists on biodiversity in the Amazon, the world’s largest rain forest.

In the United Kingdom, Country General Manager Stephen Leonard joined other volunteers to launch a partnership with Mowgli, a nonprofit specializing in providing mentors to new entrepreneurs starting their own for-profit businesses or social enterprises. Hundreds of colleagues, meanwhile, spread about the UK in more than 25 “Silver Surfer” workshops teaching internet concepts to seniors.

Summing up his feeling, Stephen noted: “I am very proud of the enviable track record of volunteering that we have here in the UK. It is not just about the volume that our employees deliver, but also the range and quality of that volunteering … As we continue with our year-long Celebration Of Service, I look forward to driving new initiatives that build on what we have achieved so far.”

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.