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Celebration of Service

Giveback to get back, and also to gain life credit

An IBM planner enables greater volunteerism as part of project manager certification

It was during Kimberly Schmid’s assignment with IBM’s Corporate Service Corps (CSC) last year that an idea started to form. CSC is sometimes called a business version of the Peace Corps because of its leadership development through projects in growth markets working on economic, social and environmental challenges.

Schmid observed how she personally benefited from the program—becoming a more experienced manager—IBM benefited from the knowledge she would bring back into the company, and the organization she helped during the assignment benefited by getting highly-skilled outside assistance. This “trifecta of benefits,” or a “win, win, win” as Kimberly describes it, left an impression on her.

Corporate process with community benefits

In the fall of 2010, Kimberly and Richard Talbot, an IBM director and project executive who works with Kim in Austin, Texas, US, were listening to plans for IBM’s centennial celebration and volunteer activities, when they connected the dots on IBM’s internal certification program for project managers (PM) and a seemingly unrelated topic, volunteerism.

“For project managers, getting certified is like getting another university degree,” Kimberly explains. “It takes years of education and actual experience, with the career decision to go even deeper and get internally certified at IBM.”

Richard adds, “It’s a big deal to be certified and speaks volumes about the expertise and credibility of a project manager.”

Among the hundreds of hours of documented experience required to be a certified project manager, Kimberly and Richard focused on the requirement called “Giveback,” which asks for a minimum of 120 hours of giveback above and beyond normal job responsibilities that benefit the IBM project management community.

Kimberly says, “We thought that while the requirement typically means mentoring other project managers, or teaching classes, could it also mean leading a community service project?” With confirmation from IBM’s Project Management Center of Excellence that public service is a valid component of the requirement, Kimberly and Richard now had the core concept for what became the Project Manager Quarterly Giveback program.

“What we do as project managers is unique and powerful, inside and outside of IBM,” says Kimberly. “Our skills can do a lot of good in the community.”

Win, win, win

Working with the IBM Corporate Citizenship and Community Affairs team in Austin, Texas, Kimberly and Richard asked the project manager community to participate in defining broad quarterly themes from which all site PM’s could draw ideas for public service activities. For first quarter 2011 the theme was “hospice care,” while in the second quarter the theme is “community impact” to tie in with IBM’s June 15, 2011 day of service.

As Kimberly explains, “The project manager has complete ownership over developing how they want to support the theme, including what organization they want to work with and understanding the organization’s needs. Essentially, it’s managing a project, but rather than driving to a business outcome the objective might be to complete the installation of wheelchair ramps or entertain a group of seniors.”

Kimberly manages the regular communications and coordination with the IBM Austin project manager community. “We have a distribution of project managers who are interested in the ongoing quarterly giveback program, and then we have the set of project managers who are involved in running a project that quarter. Those conversations are more detailed about things like defining scope or building a team,” she says.

So far the results are impressive. Kimberly and Richard had hoped to recruit five project managers to lead projects in the first quarter, but ended up with nine PMs who, in turn, enlisted almost 100 other volunteers for a total of 500 hours of service.

Now acting as the program’s executive sponsor, Richard says “Everyone’s benefiting at the end of day. IBM gets project managers who are honing their skills, project managers get giveback credit as well as a positive sense of good will, and maybe most important, the community gets assistance in achieving its mission.” It’s the “win, win, win” notion that Kimberly experienced on her CSC assignment.

Life credit

Kimberly continues to be a volunteer in other aspects of her life. For almost three years she has been a big sister to a young woman in the Austin area, mentoring her several times a month. She also finds the time to participate with other IBM teammates in a once a month meals-on-wheels route, delivering food to those in need.

Finding the time to volunteer is sometimes the challenge, but as Richard says, “It’s not hard to become a positive force in whatever ‘community’ you are passionate about serving.” He adds that tapping into support from IBM “can dramatically increase your individual capacity to give emotionally, physically, and monetarily.”

“As IBM employees we underestimate how valuable our skills are in the community,” Kimberly says. “They really need this help and sometimes we may not realize how prepared we are to give it. It’s not stressful, we’re just applying what we know and it makes a big difference.” She adds, “Gaining giveback credit is definitely a worthy professional goal, but I think most would agree that from a life standpoint helping others is goal enough.”

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.