The 3M Impact Program Demonstrates the Value of Pro Bono Service
The room we were standing in was devoid of any furniture, so the dozen or so boys were sitting cross-legged in rows on the floor in front of us after greeting us with a cheerful song. The low ceilings and dirty, white walls made the enclosure feel more cramped than it was, but the colorful drawings of turtles and monkeys gave life to the room. The smiles accompanied by curious eyes that looked up at us were warm and welcoming. “So boys, do you have any questions for our guests?” asked our host, Deva Sharma, CEO of MySkills Foundation.
We were on the second floor of an abandoned bus terminal about an hour outside downtown Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This room, along with several others in different parts of the cavernous terminal, made up the classrooms, workshops, and living quarters for these boys, mostly orphaned or abandoned and ranging from ages 13 to 17; all poor and all ethnically Indian. These boys were only a dozen of about 200 who live and go to school at MySkills Foundation, an organization dedicated to serving at-risk youth, both boys and girls, in the Indian-Malay community of Malaysia.
The MySkills mission is to provide opportunities to the boys and girls in their organization with the fundamental social, life, and workplace skills to ensure that they can find work and integrate into mainstream society. I was here with three employees from 3M who were in Kuala Lumpur for two weeks as part of 3M Impact, a Global Pro Bono program that allows 3Mers to leverage their professional skills and expertise through capacity building projects with NGOs and social enterprises around the world. Fifty 3Mers deployed in the fall of 2017 to four cities in Southeast Asia: Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, Jakarta, and Kuala Lumpur. Nancy Brandt, Noelle Alexander, and Karla Chavez were working with MySkills and tasked with revamping its stakeholder engagement strategy and communications plans. We were spending the day at their largest facility, a revamped bus terminal they received as a donation from the government, meeting the boys and teachers at the heart of this initiative.
MySkills is the brain child of Mr. Pasuphati Sithamparam, or as he’s affectionately known by the staff and kids, Mr. Pathi. A soft-spoken ethnic-Indian Malay who’s had a successful career in law, Mr. Pathi decided a few years ago that there were too many youths in the community who were falling through the societal cracks. Ethnic Indians, most of whom are descendants of the indentured servants the British brought to the peninsula in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to work the rubber tree and palm oil farms, make up less than 10 percent of the total Malay population. Their community suffers higher rates of all the social maladies – crime, murder, prostitution, school dropouts, etc. The government wasn’t adequately addressing the problem, so Mr. Pathi and three of his friends came together to start the organization from scratch, fundraising primarily from Mr. Pathi’s network and clients.
With the commitment to improving communities and livelihoods worldwide, 3M developed 3M Impact to leverage the skills of its employees to help solve some of the world’s most pressing problems. This Global Pro Bono program utilizes the talent of 3M employees to build the capacity of organizations focused on improving their communities around the world. The program aligns 3M’s corporate social responsibility focus with the UN Sustainable Development Goals by placing 3M Impact teams into projects with organizations working in health, environment, education, occupational safety, and traffic safety.
“MySkills aims to serve underprivileged youth and improve their life by providing skills and attitude training,” said Deva, MySkills CEO. “The 3M team gave us the opportunity to revise and improvise the mechanisms we have in place to reach the client and beneficiaries.”
The 3M Impact program delivers a triple benefit: leadership and cross-cultural skills development for 3Mers; staff training and organizational development for the host organizations; and greater market knowledge and enhanced reputation for 3M. It also fits perfectly with the company’s culture – namely, enabling its brilliant and dedicated staff to employ their skills and expertise in new and exciting ways. “My greatest learning was how to be patient and adaptable when encountering a difficult and ambiguous situation,” said Noelle, one of the 3M Impact team members. “I also think some of my greatest learning came from working closely with others who come from different cultural backgrounds. Communication is very critical and culturally, communication styles are varied and it was important to understand the differences when working with our host organization.”
There is already something called “15% Culture” in the company. This means that 3Mers are encouraged to spend up to 15 percent of their work time pursuing any interest they might have, like experimenting in the lab on projects that could give way to new products. The 3M Impact program fits perfectly into this culture. Given the program’s early success, there are plans to expand the program in 2018, with four teams deploying to global locations, as well as a local 3M Impact program.