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Celebration of Service
 

Growing a flowering nonprofit

Mati Hisi Higuchi helps Brazilian NGO build capacity to assist more children
 

While passion and commitment are cornerstones of charitable service, resources are needed to maintain and improve that service as “doing good” generally does not happen for free. It takes the time of volunteers, the talent of skillful managers, the money of donors, and the effectiveness of time-tested programs for a charitable enterprise to thrive. A volunteer from the for-profit world, with the business lessons she or he has learned, is especially valuable in the social sector, particularly in times of change.

Mati Hisi Higuchi, an IBM business development executive in Brazil, was looking for a volunteer opportunity closer to her home when she came across Gotas de Flor com Amor (Flower Drops with Love). “I learned they operate in an area of more than 18,000 people living in squalor,” says Mati. “I decided they would be my Centennial project as part of IBM’s worldwide celebration of service in 2011.”

Almost twenty years old, Gotas de Flor com Amor, or Gotas for short, is a non-governmental organization (NGO) in Brazil at the middle stage of its life cycle. It has shown its value to the community—an impoverished area surrounding the well-to-do Brooklin neighborhood in São Paulo—but now must grow to meet increasing needs.

Gotas’ mission is broad—to improve the development and integration of children and families in their area, and while flower essence therapy was one of their approaches in 1992 (hence the name of the organization), today they rely on a variety of methods including education, culture, health, environmental protection, sports, and skills development for first-time job seekers.

Mati noted in a recent grant request that Gotas is at full capacity taking care of the more than 200 children currently using its services, while also providing full-time care and shelter for the twenty-two children separated from their parents due to child abuse. There are more than 200 other children on the waiting list.

Doubling Gotas’ capacity will not happen overnight, and it will take support from several directions, but Mati began in the same way many nonprofits get started in the first place—by sharing the passion. “I stayed at the cafeteria exit door everyday for days explaining Gotas and their project, trying to recruit volunteers.”

It worked.

Doing it all: sell, paint, teach, renovate

At the Maifest fair, volunteers helped sell handicrafts and German noodles to raise money for Gotas, but prior to the event IBM team members led a training session for Gotas staff and volunteers about effective selling. Everyone must have been paying attention. The German noodles sold out three hours before the event ended.

In June, as part of the IBM celebration of service day, more than 40 volunteers and their families participated in cleaning and painting Gotas’ sports court.

Earlier in the year, Mati and other volunteers led the children in IBM’s “Kids Go Green” activity, designed to introduce them to the three R’s of reduce, reuse and recycle. The children created and performed a rap song about recycling at the end of the day. “With this activity we expect the kids to be seeds within the community regarding green behavior and act as change agents with their family and friends,” says Mati. She adds, “It is not an easy task since the environment where they live teaches them exactly the opposite.”

The team has also renovated more than 30 personal computers, which will be sold to the community at a very nominal price. IBM volunteers also installed an upgraded server and network at Gotas.

A satisfied Mati says, “It really has been gratifying to me that all the first time IBM volunteers keep asking me to invite them to the next activities with Gotas.”

Getting to yes

Mati’s perseverance also paid off when IBM awarded a Catalyst grant to Gotas to support their capacity building efforts, including the development of a marketing and communications plan, online donation capability for their website, and enhanced use of social media to attract sponsorships, donations and volunteers.

She is also hoping to receive support for a customer relationship management solution which will allow Gotas to better develop revenue opportunities, keep track of donors, and initiate proactive campaigns—vital steps in the maturation of a nonprofit.

“While an NGO is not in business to make a profit for shareholders, they must be sustainable,” says Mati. “They must have the management, tools, and systems to succeed—to be financially and economically sustainable in order to transform the lives of these children.”

“The most important thing for me is hearing from the kids that they’ve enjoyed the activities, learned a lot, and will tell their mothers about it,” says Mati.

“Now, whenever I go to Gotas, the children ask me, ‘Are we going to do an activity today? Please say yes!’ My wish is that we can always say yes to them.”

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.