Business + Charity + Connexions

Apologies for cross-posting… this post originally began life as a post for my work intranet blog, but thinking about it there wasn’t anything confidential in there so I’ve tweaked it a little for posting here.

The inspiration

Last February, I got invited to an IBM volunteering celebration event at South Bank (because of an event I ran for some local charities). I am on the board of trustees for a local youth charity, so I brought along Andy – the chair of the board of trustees of my charity. (I don’t often go up to London so I thought it’d be more fun to take a mate with me.)

The day included presentations – some from IBM employees talking about what they had got out of volunteering, and some from charities and community organisations saying what a difference IBM had made to them. In some ways, I found it a bit of an eye-opener – I often see the volunteering that I do as being separate to me at IBM. With a couple of exceptions, I’ve generally approached my voluntary work as an individual, rather than as “Dale from IBM”.

Listening to the presentations, I started to question my approach. One headteacher talked about the difference that his local IBM lab made to his school when an IBM employee called upon people from his lab to support them. This was a common theme in many talks – the potential to make massive differences to the local community when IBMers work together.

It’s not like I’ve not seen that at Hursley – I’ve seen it in things like Blue Fusion. But still, in many ways, it did get me thinking, and Andy and I spent the train ride back to Eastleigh thinking about ways that IBM could add value to the work that we do at SYA to support local young people.

That ideastorming, inspired by the work from IBM sites around the UK that we’d been hearing about, led to an idea – and the creation of a new project.

The idea

First, here is a quick bit of background – SYA helps young people to find activities in their local community – things that they can do to make a difference. Different young people get different things out of it – for some it’s fun, a chance to find a try a new activity. For others, it’s a chance to learn or practice skills for a future job or college/University application. For others, it’s a chance to develop in a particular area.

So here was the initial idea – could young people get more value out of this if it was complemented with work and support from other groups? What if we packaged up some focused volunteering and community activities, with support and guidance from youth workers, as well as training and mentoring from IBMers? A youth charity like us, working in conjunction with local business, and government agencies, in a coordinated joint project. In this way, we could make more of an impact than any of the three of us working alone.

Finding partners

We went to Connexions (the UK governmental careers, counseling and advice service for young people) with the idea. We ended up with a proposal for a pilot project : a scheme for NEET young people. NEET is a term used in youth work to describe young people who are “Not in Education, Employment or Training”. Essentially, these are young people who have disengaged with society – kids who have dropped out of everything, school included. This is where the sort of focused attention we were talking about could make the difference – with young people with whom all efforts to reengage with so far have failed.

This would be volunteering with a focus – a purpose. Three organisations working together to help these young people to take the first step back into some form of education, employment or training.

Working together

SYA can provide volunteering opportunities – both group and individual activities, carefully selected and tailored to the young person. We can also provide attention from youth workers who can work with the young people to help them identify their goals, what they get out of the activities, and how that relates to their goals.

Connexions can provide funding (always important!), and access to the sort of young people we are talking about – the sort of young people with whom efforts to work with have failed. This last point is significant – these are young people that SYA sometimes finds it hard to get to, and that I’ve never seen IBM work with.

IBM can provide the business perspective – an introduction to the world of work. IBM employees can provide training in CV-writing and interview skills, and team-building activities – we already have these materials prepared and with a little tweaking these could add great value to these young people. IBM employees can act as mentors – a safe, trustworthy person who will listen to them. And with MentorPlace we already have an infrastructure in place to support mentoring in ways that a local charity like SYA would not otherwise be able to access. But more importantly, an IBM volunteer can offer a unique perspective – being outside of the social workers, truancy officers, or other authority figures that the young people will normally encounter. Both as a mentor and a role model, I think that IBMers have a lot to offer.

Getting started

So that’s where we are now. Connexions are on board – they like the idea, are willing to put money into it and have identified young people who could be helped by this sort of focus and attention. Through SYA, I’ve got together the start of a programme of volunteering activities and community placements, and youth workers ready to provide the support and guidance to drive this forwards. From IBM, I’m getting access to the MentorPlace system, as well as support to run presentation and recognition events here at IBM Hursley.

Now I just need volunteers. IBMers to deliver the sort of entry-to-work CV and interview skills training I’ve seen us do so well with local schools. IBMers to deliver the sort of team-building and confidence-building activities I’ve seen us do at events like Blue Fusion and graduate inductions. IBMers to provide the sort of mentoring and guidance that I’ve been lucky enough to experience first-hand.

This is the tricky bit… I know that we can do it. But can I find the people to make it happen?

4 Responses to “Business + Charity + Connexions”

  1. dale says:

    So far, it looks like I need not have worried. I’ve had a really encouraging amount of interest in the project from people around the Lab (not all of them friends who I’ve arm-twisted, either!)

    If even half of the people who’ve asked for application forms return them, then we should have enough volunteers to get the project started.


  2. dale says:

    Project kicked off in earnest today – with the first training session for new IBM mentors this morning.

    Not only did I get enough volunteers, but I even had to turn away a couple of people (well… ask them to volunteer for the next iteration of the project after Christmas). Yay – IBMers rock 🙂

  3. Phil says:

    I know that we can do it. But can I find the people to make it happen?
    Do not lose hope