Valeria Estela
"IBMers Val Estela (left)
and Gregorio Antonino
deliver a project management
workshop for people with
intellectual disabilities at
Fundación Nosotros."

In the 11 years that Val Estela has been working at IBM, she’s been an IBM volunteer for seven of them. During the day, she works as a project manager in Buenos Aires, Argentina, overseeing global asset management. But away from work, she’s contributed to a range of volunteer programs, working with teenagers, neuroscientists, local entrepreneurs, and more.

While those volunteer commitments happened intentionally, Val first encountered Fundación Nosotros by chance.

“Another IBM volunteer was supposed to deliver an activity kit to the organization,” Val says. “But they had an unexpected issue, so I was asked to step in.” Two years later, she’s still showing up.

Fundación Nosotros promotes the inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities in social and professional environments. The organization helps foster opportunities for their students to gain job skills and learn appropriate job conduct in real-life situations that develop their potential abilities. “Fundación Nosotros helps people with disabilities achieve dignity in their chosen work and improve their quality of life,” Val says.

Project management inspires an organization

After hearing more about the foundation’s work and meeting some of their students, Val wanted to chip in. Val and other IBM volunteers regularly meet with the foundation’s leaders to analyze how IBM can best contribute. In the past, IBMers have delivered workshops for the foundations’ teachers and therapists, and to the relatives of the students that benefit from the foundation’s teaching. But Val realized they were missing a key point.

“Fundación Nosotros helps people with intellectual and social disabilities and we collaborated with the workers that affect the students’ lives,” Val says. “But we never got involved with the foundation’s youth directly.” She asked the foundation directors and therapists if they would agree to a project management workshop targeted for the youth. “Fortunately, they loved the idea,” Val says.

Using the Project Management Primer activity kit, Val prepared the workshop with the help and feedback from the therapists. “I put the material in a format that was suitable for my audience, including the special requirements for fonts, drawings, tone of voice, and rhythm of speech,” Val says.

The workshop was a success. “I was amazed with the participation,” Val says. She encouraged the students to use games and their imagination to design a project about going on vacation. The students practiced skills such as how to plan a schedule, how to prepare and communicate travel plans, and how to identify risks. Val says that the students were enthusiastic and that they understood the concepts. Fellow IBMer Gregorio Antonino coordinated other activities for the workshop. “The results were heartwarming.”

Val enjoyed using her professional project management and leadership skills in a new way. The work was revealing in ways she didn’t expect. ‘This kind of volunteer work allows me to feel the real ‘user experience’ of project management,” Val says.

Surprise yourself

Even though Val has been volunteering for years, it might surprise some to learn she didn’t always think she’d measure up. “I used to feel that I had nothing to give as volunteer,” Val admits. “But when I started sharing my skills with the foundation community, I realized that knowledge is a treasure, and sharing it with people that might need it is a real gift.”

Val says she feels personally rewarded by her time at the foundation. “Often, we relate helping others with donating money, but that is not the best solution to all problems. You can also help with skills, knowledge, passion, and even only with your presence.

About these stories

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