IBM volunteers partnered with Cisco to help schools in Italy transition to distance learning during pandemic

By | 3 minute read | January 10, 2021

When the COVID pandemic forced schools around the world to reconsider their delivery methods and student contact policies, Italy was one of the first European countries to be impacted on a major level.

Italian schools were closed to limit the spread of the virus, forcing teachers and students to quickly adopt new approaches to education.

In response to the Italian government’s call for support, the IBM Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) team in Italy contacted Cisco with a plan to help out.

Cisco provided free licenses and registration for its Webex Meetings software, while IBM volunteers provided free support to schools to help train teachers and students to confidently and effectively use the technology.

The virtual classrooms, powered by Cisco Webex, enabled teachers to host and record video conferences, share educational content from their screens, communicate with students and receive feedback, all instantaneously.

The combined effort of Cisco and IBM volunteers enabled the schools to resume classes virtually while helping the students and teachers adapt to the new classroom format.

Floriana Ferrara is the CSR manager for IBM Italy and was one of the team members who helped get the project started.

“Being a digital expert on the Cisco volunteer program wouldn’t have been possible if I weren’t an IBM employee,” said Floriana. “It is wonderful to know that IBM encourages me to use my skills to help others. It makes me love my company even more.”

The program was well received by the students, with many of them expressing their gratitude to the IBM volunteers. Floriana recalls one particularly memorable example from a young student who was overjoyed at the ability to communicate and interact with their friends again.

“One moment that sticks with me was when we received a letter from one of the children,” Floriana said. “They told us ‘Thank you with all my heart. It was nice to see my computer companions during the lockdown. I did not feel abandoned.’ I admit I cried after reading this letter.”

While the project was beneficial to the students and teachers, Floriana says the opportunity to volunteer was also an excellent chance for her to feel helpful during a time when so many felt helpless or useless.

“If I hadn’t been able to volunteer during this period, I would have felt useless. Volunteering allows you to help others, to feel useful, and to give yourself completely to those who are more unfortunate,” said Floriana. “I love being an IBM volunteer. My colleagues and I can change the world by making our time, energy, passion and skills available.”

To acknowledge the IBM employees who gave their time and skills to the project, the team of volunteers was chosen to be one of the 2020 IBM® Volunteer Excellence Award winners. This achievement is shared by 145 IBM volunteers from various countries, including Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Since the initial success of the effort, the project has been scaled out to include 13 countries, 325,000 students and 70 nonprofit organizations, serving as a perfect example of what can be achieved when skills, talent and technology are pooled for social impact.


About the IBM Volunteer Excellence Award

Started in 2005, the IBM Volunteer Excellence Award is recognition from IBM’s Chairman and CEO honoring IBM employees and teams who best exemplify IBM values in their volunteer efforts with local or not-for-profit organizations.

Learn more about all 15 winners of the 2020 IBM Volunteer Excellence Award.

·      Argentina: Solar eclipse + STEM education

·      Brazil: Mentoring disadvantaged youth and diverse abilities

·      Canada: STEM education for girls (Individual award for Heather Ricciuto)

·      China, Hong Kong, Taiwan: STEM education (Also IBM Volunteers’ Choice Award)

·      India: Remote mentoring for girls

·      India: Audiobooks for visually challenged learners (Also IBM Volunteers’ Choice Award)

·      India: Supplementing education with webinar on emerging technology

·      Italy: STEM education for girls (Also IBM Volunteers’ Choice Award)

·      Japan: New-collar education

·      Pan-Europe: Keeping schools going during COVID

·      Poland: Classical music, AI and cloud

·      Turkey: Board service and mentoring (Individual award for Derya Sel Bozkurt)

·      Vietnam: Closing the skills gap with AI education

·      US (New York, Minnesota, Vermont and Texas): Making a difference by making PPE

·      US (Texas): Marketing and design expertise for Austin’s nonprofit organizations