Argentina | Chile | China | Denmark | Germany | Hong Kong | Israel | Japan | Malaysia | Taiwan | Turkey | United States


The 2017 winners of the thirteenth annual IBM Volunteer Excellence Award have been announced. The award is recognition from IBM Chairman and CEO Ginni Rometty, and is the highest form of global volunteer recognition given by the company to employees.

Since 2005, the IBM Volunteer Excellence Award has recognized a select number of IBM employees who embody IBM values through their dedication, innovation and personal commitment.

This year recipients are from 12 countries—seven teams and five individuals—and best exemplify the IBM values of dedication, innovation and trust in their volunteer projects.

These volunteers live IBM’s practices by using their skills and expertise to engage communities around the world. Their impact included use of IBM strategic technologies such as cloud, Watson, and social media to solve critical community issues. They created innovative programs to develop new collars skills, and mentor girls to increase their participation in STEM; they worked with the elderly, under-served communities and organizations around the world to foster environments where every person matters.

Below are summaries of the award winning individuals and teams from 2017; each will be featured in a story of service in the coming months.


Three IBM volunteers have created an app so an individual can assess their impact on the environment. In partnership with Fundacion Plan21, the volunteer team used their skills as project managers, consultants, and software developers to create a mobile app that helps users understand and visualize their environmental impact in terms of carbon emissions; the app then suggests ways to minimize that impact. Known as “Carbone Zero,” the volunteers from the IBM Argentina research lab engineered the app to tap into large databases in order to measure carbon emissions related to a person’s air travel. IBM Watson Analytics may be part of the solution to analyze unstructured data. Still in beta, but having been downloaded up to 500 times, the app has been demonstrated at conferences, and a certifier of sustainable destinations is in the process of signing up to use the program with its clients. The volunteer team also helped Fundacion Plan21 become part of other initiatives; the organization was invited to be part of a government-sponsored program for children in northern Argentina to help recover native plants.

Chile—Skills development

As a former IBM Corporate Service Corps team member, Victor Diaz appreciates the impact technology can have on under-served communities. Inspired to make a difference, Victor created a program to provide education and technical skill development to the citizens of Chiloé Island, located off the southern coast of Chile. He has made extensive use of IBM Activity Kits, as well as his expertise as an engineer and a manager to teach Chilotes new technologies and methodologies. To date, Victor’s work has reached over 500 youth and impacted many living on Chiloe. The NGO, Vinculos Chiloé, has also benefited as Victor has mentored them on leadership and professional skills. In 2018, he will assume an official position with the NGO, spending as many as 30 days a year as a volunteer, to make his program more sustainable and motivate other volunteers to join—showing personal interest and striving to deliver essential assistance.

China—Social services (elderly)

With the largest aging population in the world, China’s senior citizens are a significant target for cyber criminals. Four IBM volunteers developed learning materials designed for one-on-one coaching sessions with seniors on how to stay safe using the internet, and rallied over 80 other IBM volunteers to join them in delivering the education in partnership with the Beijing Xi Cheng Community Civilization Advancement Association. Specifically created for older adults, the sessions take into account issues such as memory deterioration, and focus on teaching practical skills: using a mobile phone to pay at the supermarket, making hotel reservations, booking train tickets, taking photos even using WeChat with grandchildren. Nearly 300 seniors have benefited from the coaching sessions—a grandmother wrote a letter of thanks describing how the education helped her avoid an internet fraud attempt.

Denmark—Social services (skills)

In his role as an IBM GBS project executive, Simon Christiansen helped a social services organization in Denmark develop a technology roadmap as a resource on an IBM Impact Grant delivery team. However, once the work on paper was done, Simon could not stop there. He recruited a team of 14 IBM and non-IBM volunteers and proceeded to bring the roadmap to reality. Using his experience as a project manager and knowledge of IBM Cloud and DevOps, he and the team established a development and hosting environment to conceive, build and test the “Friend Database.” The database is designed to make it easier, safer and more manageable for volunteers to report data and pair adult friends (mentors) with isolated children. The solution has 60 active users and 100 children and adult friends in the database. This type of technical leadership by an NGO is not common in Denmark and reflects the organization’s ambition to develop and mature through leading-edge technology – aided by skilled and passionate volunteers. Simon is now bringing the same solution to another NGO, which will also make use of IBM Cloud and IBM Security.

Germany—Social services (safe communities)

Statistics indicate the majority of sexual assaults happen near or at a victim’s home, while 29% are traveling to or from work or school, and mostly between 6 PM and midnight. In Germany, IBM volunteer Anne Barten, together with the founder Frances Berger, helped build Heimwegtelefon. The organization provides a hotline anyone can call as they walk home—giving them a virtual companion; in case of an emergency, the caller’s geolocation is known and Heimwegtelefon can contact the police. Anne’s expertise as a human resource consultant for IBM SAP solutions provided the fledgling organization with invaluable support in identifying, staffing, training and motivating volunteers; a skill she still uses during the four to five hours she volunteers each week. Her skills helped increase the volunteer base from five to 100 people. IBM Activity Kits on marketing basics as well as interview skills supported her in managing the volunteer team. She also helped Heimwegtelefon extend its social media reach from 2,000 to 22,000 Facebook followers; increasing public awareness of the service. The number of calls on weekends has significantly increased as a result. On the organization’s website, Anne’s title loosely translated into English is “good soul behind the scenes.”

Hong Kong—STEM (new collar skills)

Over seven years, Raymond Chu has developed a close volunteer relationship with the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups (HKFYG), and the Hong Kong Education Bureau (EDB) to address the local STEM skills gap. He has developed and led engineering workshops every year—scoring high marks from students and teachers, while also conducting anti-cyberbullying seminars to address the rising trend of student suicides. In 2017 alone, Raymond’s combined sessions reached nearly 10,000 students, teachers and parents, using materials based on IBM Activity Kits to accelerate information delivery. The Hong Kong Council of Social Service awarded him with the Caring Ambassador certificate for his expertise and time devoted to community involvement. HKFYG has recognized Raymond as a “STAR speaker” and role model for other speakers, and EDB officers repeatedly ask him to speak at their training seminars.

Israel—STEM (girls)

In 2015, IBM volunteer Michal Chorev co-founded Project Mehamemet, a nationwide initiative to motivate ninth grade female students to study computer science. Since then, using a three-hour workshop on app development, the project has reached more than 2,000 girls in over 70 schools throughout the country; supported with over 200 volunteers. Michal developed the workshop and training materials, recruits and trains new volunteers, develops special activities such hackathons and summer camps, and volunteers in the workshops. She recently recruited more than 40 female engineers and researchers from IBM research labs to lead activities for girls from poor communities. IBM Haifa and Givatayim will host such girls from 11 different schools in 2018, and a new collaboration has begun with Cyber Girlz, a virtual community for girls interested in STEM. One high school cited Project Mehamemet for helping them achieve a 50% female enrollment in computer science study. A newspaper selected Michal as one of their "40 under 40" promising individuals, due to her career development, professional skills and social activity with girls and STEM.

Japan—STEM (youth)

For a decade, seven volunteers from IBM Japan have continuously participated in developing and leading STEM activities for children at the Osaka Science Museum. Since 2006, six times a year, the team has engaged children in the museum’s Junior Science Club, using TryScience experiments designed to give young people exciting and easy exposure to STEM. Given the longevity of the team’s commitment, processes have been established to provide a high quality experience for the students: pre-activity rehearsals are held, presentation style for easy comprehension is emphasized, post-activity evaluation sessions take place, and content is enhanced based on student input. Nearly 4,500 children have joined the activities over the years, with support from more than 700 other IBM and non-IBM volunteers.

Malaysia—Social services (mental health)

The ability to create new value and reach new audiences is also a priority in the non-profit sector. A three-person IBM volunteer team helped the Malaysian Mental Health Association (MMHA) use social media to increase engagement with their client base by 50 times; developing and implementing a strategy to reach young people with possible mental health issues through alternative means. MMHA is now using social techniques such as personal messaging to counsel young people—in one case preventing a young girl from hurting herself. Through the team's engagement, MMHA has adopted the use of cloud as a means of collaboration, helping to achieve 120% of its fundraising goal. The volunteer team learned much about mental illness through its work with MMHA, and brought the organization’s expertise to IBM by working with the IBM Health and Safety team on mental wellness training for IBM managers, facilitated by experts from MMHA.

Taiwan—STEM (youth)

For 10 consecutive years, a team of six volunteers have led IBM Taiwan’s partnership with DiscoverE—the organization whose mission is to sustain and grow the engineering profession. During that time, projects initiated by the volunteers have reached over 30,000 students in 44 schools, while contributing more than 6,000 volunteer hours from 3,000 other IBM volunteers. To achieve wider engagement, the team created a strong support ecosystem with government entities, IBM clients, non-profit organizations, and schools. They developed activities, using IBM volunteer resources, to support a key Ministry of Education’s policy that within five years 50% of university students have at least one credit in a software coding course. The IBM volunteers have added new elements to keep the curriculum fresh and interesting adding a competition to groom next-generation makers and coders and leveraging the IBM Cloud platform. Inspired by one of the IBM volunteers, a student from the program in 2009 became an IBMer in 2017, and participated now as a volunteer.

Turkey—STEM (board service)

IBM volunteers have played a pivotal role in the development and growth of Turkey’s Science Heroes Association (BKD), and its mission to engage and excite young people about science and engineering. A team of eight IBM volunteers are honored for their dedication to BKD, including Pelin Tayanç—a founding member in 2011—and Ümit Çiftçi, who both serve on the organization’s board of directors. BKD works with schools, teachers and students for engagement in regional and global robotics competitions, focusing on issues such as food safety and recycling. The IBM volunteer team members act as consultants to increase organizational capacity and bring greater efficiency to processes such as tournament registrations, volunteer and judge management, and reporting. IBM Turkey’s country general manager volunteered and attended the 2017 tournament, which attracted 3,000 students. For the 2017-2018 season, BKD has received 600 team applications, representing nearly 4,000 students, from 55 cities across Turkey. IBM Activity Kits, Community and Impact Grants, sustained IBM volunteer assistance, and increased partnership from other businesses, have supported BKD’s ability to reach more students.

United States—STEM (youth)

For more than six years, IBM volunteer leaders in Iowa have been committed to deploying STEM-enriched camps through the EX.I.T.E. and IGNITE models—impacting hundreds of students and teachers at Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and Roosevelt middle schools in Dubuque. The camps support Dubuque students with STEM-enriched curricula and an emphasis on new collar jobs by using numerous IBM Activity Kits, garnering media attention, and leveraging community grants to local organizations. The large volunteer team employs an extensive project plan to document and track all aspects of their efforts and to accelerate the delivery and expansion of camps. The plan, based on a worldwide project management template, enables easy transitions as the leadership team changes, and is hosted in an IBM Connections Community.