Jie Peng Kang
Jie Peng Kang (left)
and other IBM volunteers
helped seniors in Beijing gain
confidence with technology
for use in their daily lives.

“I admit that before our volunteer project I did lack some patience with the senior citizens in the family,” says Jie Peng Kang, an IBM software developer in Beijing, China. “But now I think more from their perspective and better understand how to support their needs.”

Jie Peng, together with Le Ping Zhao and two other former IBM colleagues, worked with the Beijing Xi Cheng Community Civilization Advancement Association to create a curriculum of Internet education specifically for senior citizens.

The IBM volunteer team received a 2017 IBM Volunteer Excellence Award.

Nurturing those who nurtured

According to the United Nations, China is aging more rapidly than almost any country; its population is growing old at a faster rate.

While it isn’t always true, the fast pace technology often leaves senior citizens behind, though that same technology can often offer them considerable value. For example, if mobility is an issue, technology can provide access to services, connection with family members or the ability to shop without leaving home. The IBM volunteer team realized that in many cases it wasn’t that seniors aren’t interested in technology, it’s that there’s no one to teach them.

“We found it is very common that most seniors cannot use the Internet, especially mobile apps,” says Jie Peng. “But their own children had little time or patience to teach them.”

As members of the IBM North China Volunteers Association, the team developed a plan with the Beijing Xi Cheng Community Civilization Advancement Association.

They surveyed a group of seniors in advance and then prepared a series of presentations on selected topics based on the responses with the intention to give seniors confidence and skills using new technology.

“Growing up we have all been taught and nurtured,” says Le Ping Zhao, an IBM operations specialist and member of the award-winning volunteer team. “Learning should never end, so the idea was simple—to nurture those who nurtured us.”

But learning goes in both directions and the IBM volunteers quickly learned that stand-up lectures wouldn’t be the most effective approach for this audience.


During an earlier education session, the IBM volunteers noticed that the seniors weren’t quite following and understanding the presentation.

“Many of the seniors were accepting new things more slowly,” says Jie Peng. “At first we didn't realize that and after the session most of the seniors said they couldn't remember what we had shared with them.” The volunteers then decided to adopt an Agile method like that in software development. They would actively adjust the content of the lectures, separate the sessions into more pieces, prepare the presentations with more pictures instead of words, and always review the previous sessions.

With those adjustments, Jie Peng says the situation got getting better and better.

Moving forward, the sessions considered issues such as memory deterioration, and focused on teaching practical skills like using a mobile phone to pay at the supermarket, making hotel reservations, booking train tickets, taking photos and even using WeChat with grandchildren.

The IBM team recruited about 10 other IBM volunteers for each session. After a short presentation, the seniors would then receive one-on-one tutoring on their own smartphones from the IBM volunteers.

Over the course of eight months in 2017, the IBM team organized 13 activities, for nearly 300 senior citizens with over 80 volunteers contributing 400 hours volunteer services.

The Internet of thanks

The project included the use of IBM Activity Kits, and Jie Peng also says that without the bigger IBM volunteer team the project would not have been as effective.

“We could never have sustained the initiative without their help. They are all great teammates and great thanks to them. And, thanks to Li Jian and Jia Hua, our former colleagues, who were also leaders on the project”

The volunteers also received thanks from the seniors.

One of the seniors successfully made online purchases after the sessions and sent the volunteer a recorded message: “Your help has not only brought us technology, it has also given us the confidence to face the ever-changing life.”

A grandmother wrote an email of thanks describing how the education helped her avoid an Internet fraud attempt.

“We all have seniors in our family, and all of us will become seniors in the future,” says Jie Peng. “I think to help them is to help ourselves too.”

The IBM volunteers from China are 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.

About these stories

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Read about IBMers whose volunteer efforts are improving communities around the world.

Activity Kits

IBM’s volunteer Activity Kits include everything you need for a range of activities.