IBM volunteer in Czech Republic helps charitable organization comply with new privacy legislation

Jack Manning
“Volunteering is about
giving, but don’t underestimate
how much you get in return
while changing lives for the
better,” says Christian Noll.

Jack Manning
“Volunteering is about giving, but don’t underestimate how much you get in return while changing lives for the better,” says Christian Noll.

The rights of individuals to have greater control of their online information is the driving force behind new legislation that went into effect at the end of May. And non-profit organizations, despite having limited IT resources, are not exempt from complying with the stringent requirements.

Known as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the law applies to all entities—regardless of location—that collect data from individuals in the European Union.

The penalties are stiff for not meeting GDPR’s standards—up to 4 percent of annual revenue—and meeting those standards is not simple.

Just ask Czech Republic-based Christian Noll, IBM General Manager for Global Technology Services in Central and Eastern Europe, who volunteered to help Rotary Club Prague International achieve GDPR compliance.

“I chose to volunteer with the Rotary Club because it practiced the highest ethical values, which are reflected in its mission: to offer professional skills, time and energy to those in need,” says Christian. “I also liked the fact that Rotary is international; there are about 1.2 million Rotarians worldwide who share the organization’s deeply-held principles.”

A critical deadline looms, with scant resources to meet it

Christian became a Rotary Club volunteer when he moved to Prague four years ago. Among several other activities, he’d handled various administrative tasks as well as fundraising efforts for tree planting in Zambia via an NGO.

But with the GDPR legislation’s compliance date looming, Christian realized he could use the IT skills he’d learned at IBM to help the organization achieve the critical goal of GDPR compliance.

Taking on the larger role of data privacy officer for the club, he immediately began an in-depth study of the new regulations and developed a detailed, comprehensive plan to accommodate them.

From there, Christian spent several hours educating club officers and members about GDPR legislation. He explained the significance of its privacy regulations as well as the complex, extensive tasks the club would need to undertake to meet the new regulatory dictates. His thorough explanations inspired the club’s membership secretary as well as other officers and members to work as a team to meet GDPR requirements.

The club’s commitment to protecting the personal information of members, visitors, donors, speakers, and others became a top priority, as well as for ensuring that the club would be able to continue its charitable missions.

The real work begins

Focused as they are on helping others, many charitable organizations’ IT activities function at a minimally compliant level, if that. They rely on dedicated volunteers because they simply don’t have the resources or expertise that for-profit enterprises take for granted.

Yet charities often collect as much information as any retail organization, for example.

Christian said, “As I trawled through the club’s databases of names, addresses, and emails, I was astounded at how much data had been collected over the years.”

The club’s team worked countless hours to analyze what kind of personal data was stored, minimize data assets, delete out-of-date records and obtain consent from everyone whose data was stored. Christian also worked with the team to develop a detailed, GDPR-compliant privacy policy.

In addition, Christian acted as a liaison with the club’s vendors to acquire GDPR compliance certificates. This turned out to a particularly complicated task, since many third-party providers were outside of the EU.

“Some of the club’s suppliers woke up to GDPR requirements only after I began a dialogue with them,” Christian says. “It took a little time, but eventually, all of the club’s vendors got on board and upgraded their systems to meet GDPR legislative requirements.”

The work has also been passed to the district level of Rotary International for re-use with other clubs throughout the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Common to non-profits: too much data and too few resources

Christian continued, “Particularly for smaller charities, the task has been overwhelming. Many believe—however falsely—that GDPR doesn’t even apply to them. Creating understanding, upgrading IT systems and, most of all, changing work practices isn’t easy for any organization—particularly the ones that can’t afford to hire professional advisors.”

On a positive note, Christian added, “So many IBMers have knowledge and skills that we consider ordinary. But many other organizations, especially charities, consider the same skills outstanding, even inspirational. My IBM training has given me the knowledge, skills and confidence to tackle volunteer challenges I’d never have dared to take on before.”

Christian added, “A lot of IBMers are engaged in volunteer work, and I’m certain some will apply their GDPR knowledge and skills to help charitable organizations become or remain compliant.”

Volunteering inspires both humility and gratitude

Christian feels honored to have used his expertise to help make his club GDPR compliant so that it can continue to fulfill its charitable goals—whether locally or globally.

He recalls attending one of the club’s evening functions. He explained, “The club arranged to pack the leftover food and drive it to a local housing shelter for the homeless. The expressions of delight on their faces when they saw boxes of sandwiches, canapes and other goodies humbled me to my core. It reminded me that even small gestures can go a long way.”

Christian continued, “I believe that volunteering makes you a more fulfilled person. It’s changed my life for the better in so many ways and given me back so much more than I ever would’ve imagined. Doors I didn’t know existed have opened. For instance, I met my wife Helen on a volunteer project, and we’ve been happily married for 28 years!”

Christian is already working on his next volunteer project for Rotary Club Prague International. “Our latest mission is to install toilets as part of a water, sanitation and health initiative in 50 schools in Rajasthan, India. This will help improve education prospects, particularly for girls. I’m very grateful for IBM’s on-going support of my volunteer efforts on the club’s behalf.”

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