Bee-Lian Quah (first row
center) leads other IBM
in building websites
Something’s going right when you get comments like this: "You guys did an unbelievably amazing
job! I'm blown away!" and “Everyone is really happy with what you've all done.”
Those comments are from nonprofits organizations participating in an initiative called 48in48
and the positive input is directed at IBM volunteers.
“48in48 holds hackathon-style events to build 48 websites for 48 nonprofits in 48 hours,” says
Bee-Lian Quah, an IBM senior managing consultant in New York City who has organized and
coordinated IBM’s global involvement since 2016.
Refresh and reinvigorate
Nonprofit organizations and their people have passion for the causes they support and their
Yet, there often comes a point when growth begins to overwhelm a nonprofit team that may be
full of passion but not necessarily skilled in marketing, finance or technology.
and its volunteers offer qualified organizations the opportunity to refresh, modernize and
reinvigorate their websites; arguably, one of an organization’s most important asset.
“I learned about 48in48 on the IBM Volunteers opportunity
page,” says Bee-Lian. “I reached out to the few other IBM volunteers who had signed-up
and we did some word of mouth recruiting to form a team of 10 people.”
The first year went well, with the IBM volunteers joining other volunteers to deliver on the
promise to build 48 websites for 48 nonprofits in 48 hours.
A weekend for websites
Building a website requires more than technical skills.
“While some website development skills are helpful, we do have several roles to choose from:
project manager, graphic designer, digital marketer, content manager,” says Bee-Lian. “Bringing
a high level of energy, a passion for learning about and helping the nonprofits, and some
creativity are terrific. Everyone is able to find a way to contribute.”
In 2017, Bee-Lian joined the 48in48 planning committee and served as the nonprofit chair in
New York City.
Her committee, aided by a few other IBM volunteers, performed a quick evaluation of the
organization and their existing site. If approved, the nonprofit went through a set of courses
to prepare for 48in48, including those on branding and key messages for the site.
For the weekend itself, the 48 hours starts on Friday evening with about 150 volunteers from
different companies, including IBM. Typically, teams are formed ahead of time and each has a
A team will then review the materials provided by the nonprofits and have a call with their
contacts to ensure basic points are understood.
Saturday is the main day to build the site. Nonprofits communicate with the team as needed and
are invited to meet their volunteers for "Snack and Learns;" educational sessions on marketing,
metrics, maintaining their website, and other topics.
On Sunday the sites are generally done by 4 PM, when there's a small celebration before
everyone part ways. The websites go live that night, so nonprofits have brand new sites in the
In 2018, 48in48 was looking to expand. “It’d been such a good fit for IBM volunteers, I
thought it would be neat to scale with them,” Bee-Lian says. “48in48 has a long list of
potential cities—the goal is to have events in 48 cities by 2025. Many of the cities are
aligned with IBM locations, and with each event delivering $1.5 million in impact, that would
be $75 million of impact annually by 2025!”
This past year, Bee-Lian together with IBM volunteer locations leads—Grace Johnjulio (Boston),
Swanie Tolentino (Raleigh), Srini Pathuri (Bloomington), Carol Yan (New York City), Kulbir
Singh and Brittany Beckett (Atlanta), and Hatty Ruff (London, UK)—coordinated events throughout
the US and one in England.
Another volunteer, Candice Bailey, an IBM senior consultant, played a key role coordinating
with the IBM leads and creating a playbook to help prepare for each event.
Over 100 other IBM volunteers will have participated in 48in48 this year.
“For me, this experience has been about the power of the team,” says Bee-Lian. “I had a
vision, in terms of growing our IBM team alongside 48in48, but the individuals who came along
on the journey have exceeded expectations—they’ve come together to show how we are doing good
for the world outside of our client work.”
Bee-Lian is planning even greater impact in 2019 when events in Dallas and Charlotte will be
added to the schedule.
“We'll look to identify a lead and a team in each of those cities, as well as grow our teams
in the other cities,” she says. “In addition, we'll use our learning from this year to help
other corporations form global teams. And we’ll continue to look for creative ways to include
Thus far, nonprofit organizations have been thrilled with 48in48 and one has even decided to
give after receiving.
“Daryl was our nonprofit contact from the Harlem Business Alliance last year—we built a site
for them,” says Bee-Lian. “This year he was back as a volunteer! It says so much about the
impact he felt from last year that he wanted to help another nonprofit this year.”
“This is important to me because the impact is significant and lasting—it’s real for these
nonprofits,” says Bee-Lian. She recently wrote in a blog
post, “Everyone should find a cause they are passionate about—and not just volunteer, but
find ways to amplify their impact. Once they do, a little can go a long way.”
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