48in8 selfie
Volunteers take time for a selfie during their 48-hour project to build a new website for a
48in8 selfie
Volunteers take time for a selfie during their 48-hour project to build a new website for a

In late 2018, IBM Volunteers told the story of Bee-Lian Quah, an IBM senior managing consultant in New York City, who together with a team of other IBM volunteers across the UK and US, are helping update and modernize the websites of not-for-profit organizations.

The team was awarded an IBM Volunteer Excellence Award—the highest form of volunteer recognition given by the company—marking the first time an international team has been honored. The award also earned a USD 10,000 grant from IBM for their partner organization, 48-in48.

In the interview below, Bee-Lian shares the latest news about the team’s plans with 48in48, reaching more volunteers in 2019 and creating a consistent but unique volunteer experience.

IBM Volunteers: Hello Bee-Lian. Congratulations on the IBM Volunteer Excellence Award.

Bee-Lian: Thank you very much. It’s recognition of a true team effort by a terrific group of IBM volunteers.

IBM Volunteers: You and the lead IBM volunteers coordinated over 130 other volunteers in six cities to build websites—more than 60 of them since the start of your involvement. To what do you attribute the success of this volunteer project? Why does it seem to be a good fit for IBM volunteers?

Bee-Lian: I think it’s working because we’ve created some consistency around what it means to be part of an IBM team for 48in48. Using a playbook, we were able to create similar experiences for IBM volunteers at each event, while still being able to have the local IBM lead make it their own as well. It is a good fit for IBM volunteers because it builds on our skills from everyday work with clients—bringing together IBMers with a wide range of talent from across the company in a single event to serve the not-for-profit organizations.

IBM Volunteers: It’s estimated that you and the IBM volunteer team have provided roughly USD 2 million in value in digital services to not-for-profits working with 48in48. Who do you work with at 48in48 and what can you tell us about the relationship?

Bee-Lian: I work most closely with Carole Williams the director of development and Gina Gentilozzi, the chief impact officer. We have a true partnership, where they enable our teams and participants to make the most of our impact and they’re very receptive to our ideas for the nonprofits and events. Our team also works closely with other volunteers as part of each city's planning committee. We have even shared our best practices with other global corporate teams as part of the global committee.

IBM Volunteers: You're the first team to win a “global” IBM Volunteer Excellence Award since your volunteer activity spans two countries: the UK and US. Since you’re based in New York, tell us how you coordinate with the team in the UK.

Bee-Lian: The first step was finding the right person to be the local lead—someone who was passionate about the cause, a natural leader and well-connected in the local community. Hatty Ruff is that person! From there, it was having regular meetings with her on building the team, connecting her with the right people at 48in48, and providing her with enough guidance to drive the effort. In each case, we also look for an IBM executive sponsor, and for the UK, we had 48in48 meet with our IBM executive sponsor, as well as other leaders, to kick off the effort. Our local leads here in the US are also absolutely terrific: Carol Yan, Brittany Beckett, Kulbir Singh, Grace Johnjulio, Swanie Tolentino and Srini Pathuri. They really make it happen.

IBM Volunteers: Having a high-quality web presence is vital for not-for-profits. Hundreds of organizations have worked with 48in48 thus far, and many more must be interested. What are the plans for IBM volunteers to support 48in48 in 2019? You had mentioned expanding IBM volunteer participation. How's it going?

Bee-Lian: First, non-profits can sign-up to have volunteer professionals upgrade their digital footprint for free through 48in48. As much as 75% of young donors are turned off by out of date web sites, so this is huge opportunity for an organization to put their best foot forward. I encourage all IBMers to let their non-profits know about 48in48! It’s kind of like free money.
Second, we’re excited about the upcoming 48in48 events in 2019—most are in the fall. We are currently confirming leads for each of the cities. In some cases, we will have the same leads, and in others, we are looking for new leaders. We are still looking for local IBM leads in Dallas and Los Angeles, and if we look even further into 2020, we need leads for Philadelphia and Seattle.

IBM Volunteers: Are you planning to expand to other countries in addition to the US and UK?

Bee-Lian: 48in48 is always exploring new locations—international and domestic. Of course, there are a number of factors that come into play, such as financial factors, corporate sponsorship, nonprofit landscape, and more. However, we are open to helping 48in48 explore new opportunities. And with IBM’s global presence, I think we would have a big pool of potential volunteers to help out.

IBM Volunteers: What should IBMers do if they want to volunteer? How do you plan to spread the word to recruit other IBM volunteers in 2019 and beyond?

Bee-Lian: IBMers can reach out to me or sign up on our IBM volunteer portal if they want to volunteer. They can let us know whether they want to be a member of the team for the 48-hour event or play a bigger role in the planning committee or potentially as a location lead. We plan to spread the word by using many of our internal communication channels in each location and with different IBM communities, and we also count on word of mouth and repeat volunteers. Plus, we list opportunities on the IBM Volunteers website.

IBM Volunteers: For new or potential volunteers, the idea is for each city event to produce 48 websites in 48 hours—hence, the name 48 in 48. How intense are the 48-hour projects? It sounds like it could be a little stressful to get so much done in such little time.

Bee-Lian: You’re not pulling an all-nighter, unless you really want to [laughs]. But the experience depends on a couple factors. Usually, well in advance of the actual 48 event, your team and the nonprofit can meet and prepare, including getting to understand the organization’s priorities and mission. Otherwise, it may take a bit longer to understand the vision for the new site. Another factor is how complex the website is. While most website are relatively basic, we sometimes try to create a special feature or change up the branding if we have the time. In general, it's not too stressful, as we typically have enough volunteers to divide and conquer the work, but of course, as we get closer to the deadline, we are always trying to finish up the final touches! In general, our project managers do a great job managing the workload across the 48 hours.

IBM Volunteers: Have you changed any aspects of your support for 48in48 based on the previous engagements over the years?

Bee-Lian: Since we first started three years ago, we've documented our best practices along the way. We've changed the way we recruit and prepare volunteers, the way we engage with 48in48, and the level of support we provide, such as how involved we are on the planning committee, whether we host at an IBM office and other considerations. We are always looking to change and improve what we do each year.

IBM Volunteers: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

Bee-Lian: Without question, a big thank you to all our incredible volunteers who give their time and expertise; they’re an inspiration. We continue to look for creative, passionate people who want to continue exploring new ideas with this volunteer effort. We'd like to continue innovating with 48in48 to better involve other parts of IBM, our Business Partners and our clients. Our team is humbled to receive this recognition; we were really proud to reflect on what we were able to accomplish last year and were happy to see that others recognized the amount of effort that we put into this. Please reach out to me to join the team!

The IBM volunteers from the US and UK are among 15 IBM teams and individuals who are recipients of the fourteenth annual IBM Volunteer Excellence Award. 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. It includes an IBM grant for the associated not-for-profit partner or school.

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