In Hong Kong, IBM volunteers help the underprivileged deliver social projects

Story of service • Hong Kong • October 2013

Fred Kwok, Audrey Lai, Cynthia Wong, Barry Chan, Victor Tsang
Supported by 37 other volunteers from IBM in Hong Kong, Cynthia Wong and a core team helped underprivileged children in the Sham Shui Po district show caring and support for neighbors in their community; the team received the 2012 IBM Volunteer Excellence award (left to right, Fred Kwok, Audrey Lai, Cynthia Wong, Barry Chan, Victor Tsang; missing is Silvia Sin).

Cynthia Wong, an IT specialist for IBM in Hong Kong, led a core team of six IBM volunteers in the Mentorship for Active Internet Learning (MAIL) program—in partnership with the YMCA of Hong Kong and U-Fire Networks, which together started the program a few years before IBM joined. While the intention of MAIL is to help bridge the digital divide for underprivileged children and reduce cross-generational poverty, IBM’s participation focused on enabling social activities for the three-generation mentorship program in the Sham Shui Po district—one of the poorest districts in Hong Kong, with the highest percentage of people over 65 years old.

“Among the challenges faced by the residents of Sham Shui Po are a lack of community care, especially for the elderly,” says Cynthia. “Also they have limited social exposure and use of Internet resources, and poor integration and development of immigrants from countries such as Indonesia and Pakistan.”

MAIL brings together three generations to accomplish its mission: mentees, who are the children in Sham Shui Po; mentors, who are college student from nearby universities; and adult volunteer coaches, who are recruited by U-Fire. Cynthia and the IBM volunteer team served as advisors and supported MAIL by using the skills they employ every day at IBM, such as consulting, project delivery, and project and program management—while also deploying technology to streamline sharing and communications.

Generating ideas to help a community

An IBM grant helped the team formally begin in August 2011 with a journey that included identifying social issues, problem understanding and definition, root-cause analysis, solution formulation, option evaluation, idea try-out and proposal presentation.

The core volunteer team recruited 37 other IBM members to participate as Social Project Advisors to help the mentees, mentors and coaches create mentorship teams. After providing the IBM volunteers with background on the challenges in Sham Shui Po, the mentorship teams generated more than twenty social ideas to benefit the mentees’ community. The mentees—the children, not the adults—would be responsible for delivering service to the community; the underprivileged learning to serve other underprivileged people. 

Social project ideas included “creation of memoir”—to engage elderly people in the district and encourage them to share their life stories, increasing their interaction with others, while giving the mentee a sense of respect and compassion for their older neighbors. Another project idea was “smile action”—a photography exercise to capture the smiling faces of people in the Sham Shui Po community. The IBM volunteers’ expertise in project management helped the teams systematically plan and execute their social project.

Underprivileged learn to lead by serving

A Social Project Try-out Day was held in April 2012—designed to test the proposed social project ideas from the mentorship groups. Three hundred volunteers performed an estimated 2,400 hours of volunteer service in the Sham Shi Po district on that day, and the underprivileged children experienced helping other people in need in their communities.

Cynthia, with Audrey Lai, Fred Kwok and Silvia Sin, looked after the social projects, while Barry Chan helped align support within IBM and served as spokesperson. Victor Tsang, another core team volunteer, led the effort to deploy an IBM SmartCloud solution to assist the overall effort.
“The SmartCloud iNotes solution is built by my team of engineers who largely originate from Hong Kong,” says Victor. “Knowing that our product would be used by MAIL—helping underprivileged families in such an impactful way—gave me and the team a new source of energy and pride.”

The SmartCloud volunteer team created various marketing and training activities to promote use of the platform, including preparing cartoon training slides and presenting at schools to teach students how to use it. Tasks were designed for them to complete during Chinese New Year to greet their friends, and a collaboration game was designed for two pilot groups to play on the SmartCloud.

The platform enabled 800 participants to share information and collaboratively achieve the objectives of their social projects. A knowledge repository was built to improve quality, while the mentees were also able to remotely communicate with their mentors, fostering social bonding.

Getting support, giving hope

Some of the social project concepts are being shared with other nongovernmental organizations (NGO) in Hong Kong, while similar community services are now being done in Shum Shui Po and other parts of Hong Kong. The Caritas Elderly Center in Shum Shui Po has also replicated the idea of “creation of memoir.”

The director of social services for YMCA of Hong Kong said, “As an NGO with over a hundred years of service history in Hong Kong, I must say that it is one of our signature social service programs, not just the commitment and professional input given by IBM volunteers, but also the personal growth of the mentees and its impact to the society.”

Victor says he was gratified by the quick support of IBM executives. “The support from our executive was both strong and swift. It only took a short time to get the SmartCloud solution approved and everybody was supportive. It has truly been our process at its best.”

Reflecting on the whole project, Cynthia says they simply want to provide some hope to the children in Sham Shui Po district. “We can show our caring to these children. We hope the children will be encouraged to study hard for their better future.”

The IBM volunteers in Hong Kong are recipients of the 2012 IBM Volunteer Excellence Award which recognizes IBM employees or teams who best exemplify the IBM values of dedication, innovation and trust through their volunteer efforts.

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