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Pro bono projects: Project Managers to the Rescue

Pro bono projects: Project Managers to the Rescue

Perhaps the biggest challenge for a Project Manager working for the greater good is that disasters can strike anytime. CSR and NGO work is often pro bono, and Michelle LaBrosse elaborates how project managers can employ their special powers for the greater good.

“It's a bird, its a plane, no wait… it's a Project Manager!” Project Managers (PMs) share many similarities with superheroes: extraordinary skills, advanced tools and a strong moral code.

PM skills for the greater good

One way to utilise your super project management skills is to volunteer for a non-profit organisation. Endeavours that have a great need for professional project managers are recovery projects after natural disasters. Imagine that your community was devastated by a natural disaster to the point that you didn't even recognise the street where you once lived. Where would you start in your journey to rebuild? This is when the role of the volunteer is the most crucial. Two reputable resources to find volunteering opportunities for project managers are:

All Hands (hands.org) is an organisation that aids survivors of natural disasters around the world. They come in after search and rescue and before long-term care begins, so the projects that they do are crucial in helping survivors cope with transitioning into their new circumstances.

All Hands was founded by David Campbell in 2005 when he flew to Thailand to assist in the recovery project of the 2004 tsunami, only to find that he couldn't find an organisation that would take him in and let him volunteer. All Hands does not turn away any volunteer and utilises all skills sets. In the past five years it has completed 18 disaster response projects, and is currently working on the Tohoku Tsunami response project in Japan, and the Leogane Earthquake response project in Haiti. Where there is a project, there are project managers ensuring that what is planned gets done in an efficient manner.

Taproot (taprootfoundation.org) is another great resource for a PM interested in volunteering. Taproot is a non-profit organisation that helps make business talent available to organisations that tackle social problems. They act as a connection for business professionals seeking volunteering opportunities and the nonprofits who need help in optimising their work.

One of the company's main values is that it should be a standard in every professional's life, no matter what industry they are in, to do pro bono work consistently and throughout their career for the common good of society. Taproot attracts various professionals, from consulting, project management, IT etc and matches their skills sets with nonprofits that need these services the most.

PMs are a crucial part of disaster relief around the world. Below are two recent natural disasters that benefited greatly due to the involvement of PMs in organising recovery response project plans.

Tsunami response in Japan

The earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Ofunato, Japan on 11 March 2011 damaged 7,200 houses and left 26,000 people homeless. These cities are relying on help from volunteers to create short and long-term recovery plans. All Hands has helped greatly with these efforts by focusing their PM volunteers on the pressing needs of these communities.

In the short term, volunteers are focusing on providing housing to those stranded in shelters. While some residents will be able to return to their homes, others have the option to live in government funded houses—even then there is still estimated to be a shortage of housing options available. Fresh food is another short-term need, because while rice and noodles are plentiful right now, they do not make a complete diet, leading to real concerns about malnutrition among survivors in this area.

A major hindrance in fulfilling these short-term needs is the inability to manage volunteers and logistics related to housing, training, transporting, and food. Volunteer organisations such as All Hands help to ensure that project managers are efficiently utilised in the tsunami relief effort.

Earthquake response in Haiti

The 12 January 2010 earthquake in Haiti caused great devastation, killing 30,000 people and destroying 90 per cent of Leogane. Volunteer involvement is still very much an important aspect of Leogane's recovery project.

After the earthquake and the initial rescue and recovery period, volunteers focused on managing the project of cleaning up the debris, so that people could at least return to the sites of their homes rather than staying in temporary camps. The second phase of the recovery project included rebuilding classrooms, and implementing sanitation programs to help fight infections and diseases. Project manager volunteers played a crucial role in Haiti's recovery process from day one, and are still using their skills to help improve the lives of Haiti's citizens to this day.

Benefits of volunteering

To be a super PM, the act of giving your time and skills to help others is a very crucial aspect of your personal and professional development. Volunteering as a PM has the inherent reward of experiencing the joy of helping others. But it doesn't stop there. Volunteering and pro bono work can advance your career in the following ways:

Learn through teaching: The more you teach others a skill or methodology, the more you learn. When you are looking for volunteering opportunities, look for areas that you would like to improve in, yourself. By learning how to perform the task needed for that volunteer activity, and then teaching it to subsequent volunteers, you are ingraining this new knowledge in the best way possible.

Network your heart out: The people that make up your volunteer team will be the folks that already understand, or are beginning to understand, the value that comes from giving your time to help others. These are the types of people that you want to connect with, because they are the people “going places.” Typical volunteers are proactive, go beyond the status quo, and are confident in their skills and ability to help others.

Develop leadership skills: In many volunteer committees, there are leadership positions that need to be filled–be that filler! Look to your very own local PMI chapter, and you will most likely find a board of directors that includes a President, VP Programs, VP Members, and a slew of other positions. Pick you favourite topic, or the one that you want to work the most on, and run with it. This is a great way to practice your leadership skills in a safe environment.

Get free training: If you are affiliated with a non-profit, you may be eligible to receive free PM training. Take a look at Cheetah Learning's PM Fundamentals Certificate Programme training scholarships available to nonprofits through the PMI Educational Foundation (www.pmi.org/pmief). This is a course that allows non-profit leaders to get better PM skills. When you give back you get back.

To project managers everywhere- you are needed! Don't underestimate your skills, or how much you can help another person or organisation. Your talents are valuable, timely, and crucial to the success of our recovery projects worldwide. Bring your knowledge, energy, and experience to the volunteering field and be a part of change in the world today.

The author, a graduate of the Harvard Business School's Owner President Manager's (OPM) programme, was recognised by Project Management Institute (PMI) as one of the 25 Most Influential Women in Project Management in the world.

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