Simon Christiansen
“Using our skills to make a
positive difference in the world
makes me happy and proud,”
says Simon Christiansen.
Simon Christiansen
“Using our skills to make a
positive difference in the world
makes me happy and proud,”
says Simon Christiansen.

Most will agree, and studies have shown time and time again, that having friends is a vital part of childhood development.

While we usually think of children as having friends of a similar age, there are also benefits to children being friends with adults—not as a substitute parent, but as a companion who is there to play or listen and grow into a role model.

Simon Christiansen, an IBM business manager in Denmark, helped Landsforeningen Børns Voksenvenner (National Foundation of Adult Friends for Children; BVV) improve the approach to match children with adult mentors.

In 2018, he received an IBM Volunteer Excellence Award for his work with BVV.

Going beyond Impact

Two years ago, Simon responded positively to a broadcast email from his manager asking if anyone wanted to participate in an IBM Impact Grant that had been awarded to BVV (IBM Impact Grants provide consulting expertise and technologies such as cognitive, mobile and social to support educational and nonprofit organizations).

“At the time, despite being 100 percent busy, I figured I could find time to help on the grant project,” says Simon. “I was the senior consultant on the project and with my fellow IBM colleagues, we helped BVV develop the specifications for a system to register children and adult friends.”

The identification and documentation of the specifications was the conclusion of the grant project, but Simon was determined to bring the approach to life.

“As part of the grant work, I recommended that BVV use volunteers to create the new system rather than bidding it out,” he says. “I decided to follow my own recommendation and continue as one of the volunteers—I thought staying involved might help ensure success, but just as much because I found the mission of BVV appealed to me and wanted to make a difference.”

That’s what friends are for

Divorce, death, illness, disability and economic hardship are some reasons that can leave a family with a diminished ability to meet all the demands of raising a child. Children in these situations can sometimes experience unintentional loneliness, isolation and learning problems if they do not have other strong or resourceful adults in their life.

BVV, inspired by the American organization Big Brothers Big Sisters, provides adult friends and mentors to help children “gain a higher self-esteem and more courage in challenges and development.” Since 1990 Børns Voksenvenner has facilitated more than 3,700 friendships between children and adult mentors.

After the official end of the IBM Impact Grant, Simon worked on developing the “Friend Base” to facilitate the matching of children and mentors. He established the overall project plan, as well as helped identify the other volunteers who would serve on the project.

“I used my network to handpick some of the volunteers who I knew would be outstanding,” says Simon. “I also posted on LinkedIn and got some volunteers that way. They helped with various tasks including development, testing and scrum manager.”

Along the way, a couple of contractors were hired to supplement the work of the volunteers.

Simon also established the hosting environment on IBM Cloud and received IBM funding to support the BVV solution.

Today, parents with children that need an adult friend can register their information with BVV, while adult mentors can also register their interest. BVV has trained matchers who then conduct interview with both parties, and if a match is made, they track the relationship.

Before, the entire process was manual, but now with the friend base everything is stored electronically, and matching is more streamlined and efficient.

Happy and proud

Simon had previously used IBM Cloud in his work with the Danish Tax Administration and other internal projects. And though the friend base was created for BVV he wanted it to be as flexible and configurable as possible, so other NGOs could also benefit.

Currently he is involved in deploying a modified version of the BVV solution to an organization called Come Together, which provides older teens with adult mentors.

“My years of experience were very important in project—including my consulting, project management, technical, process and architectural skills,” says Simon. “I absolutely believe others IBMers can be very valuable to NGOs. Our every day experience with clients is directly or indirectly transferable to NGOs.”

He adds, “Using our skills to make a positive difference in the world—and with BVV in the case of these children—makes me happy and proud.”

Simon Christiansen is among 12 other IBM teams and individuals who are recipients of the thirteenth 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.

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