Feb 08, 2012

Feature Story

Putting Employees' Skills and Experience to Good Use in the Pro Bono Program

As part of its efforts to become a Green Innovation Company, Panasonic launched the Panasonic NPO Support Pro Bono Program in April 2011. This program is a social contribution initiative where employees use their work skills and experiences to offer support to NPOs with the aims of contributing to society and simultaneously boosting their own people skills. As a volunteer program in which normal members of society can put their own skills and experience to good use, Pro Bono* is attracting significant attention as a new means of social contribution. In 2011, a total of 14 employees took part in the program and promoted support projects for four different NPOs. This article looks at the pro bono activities conducted by one of teams, consisting of five Panasonic employees.

* Pro bono comes from the Latin, "pro bono publico" (for the public good), referring to volunteer activities through which participants contribute their own expertise and experience.

Website Upgrading Support Project

The pro bono mission given to this team of five Panasonic employees, from different workplaces and types of business, was to upgrade the website of a certain NPO. Their project began in spring 2011, with the basis that they would devote five hours per week of their own time outside of work for a period of six months.

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    A Scene of Discussion by a Pro Bono Team
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    The Overall Project Flow. Participants with Their Own Respective Responsibilities Worked as a Team to Promote the Project through Three Phases Across a Period of Approximately Six Months

The NPO to which they would be supplying their expertise was named The Network of Flower & Green Toyonaka (NFGT). This organization had previously received support under the Panasonic NPO Support Fund, a support program for NPO capacity building, and was selected again with the aim of boosting its business development further through pro bono assistance.

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    NFGT Activities in Progress. Local Children Learn about the Environment at a Farm

NFGT promotes a wide range of activities including the composting of food waste, flower planting with local citizens on farms, and interactive environmental education. Ten years after its inauguration, website-based advertising activities had become increasingly vital for activity expansion, leading it to call upon the Pro Bono Program for support.

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The team began by holding discussions and conducting questionnaires for 66 of the NPO's stakeholders in order to develop a concept for the new website. Mid-term plans were drawn up based on the results of this market research, and opinions were exchanged with NFGT as the website was developed and finally completed. Hisaaki Watanabe, who served as the project leader, says "The request was to help increase the number of members and volunteers via the website, so we sought to ascertain the NPO's needs and targets for detailed analysis and discussion.

Hisaaki Watanabe, who works in information security at Panasonic, says "It was a refreshing approach to listen to the views of the NPO and provide them with a series of better choices through our pro bono work."

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For the structure and text of the website in particular, we thought about how members of the general public would see the site and designed it to draw their interests to the activities being conducted by NFGT." Ms. Kuniko Takashima, the representative director of NFGT, commented "We realized that our old website had failed to effectively attract people to take part in our activities. Speaking with the pro bono team was a good opportunity to revisit our own efforts."

Ms. Kuniko Takashima, representative director of NFGT: "I was most impressed by the hard work demonstrated by the Panasonic employees. Their professional approach was quite inspiring."

Left: The Original NFGT Website. http://toyonaka-agenda21.jp/hanato/hanatop5.html
Right: After the Revamp by the Pro Bono Team (New Website will be Published on Early March, 2012)

Rewards for Both Parties

The Pro Bono Program is different from financial aid donations, and different from normal volunteer activities as well. It represents a new form of social contribution in which professionals can offer their skills and know-how through projects conducted over fixed periods of time. But the NPOs are not the only ones to benefit. Taking part in projects like this offer pro bono employees the opportunity to reap their own rewards as well.

Satomi Ohtsubo, who facilitated the project team's marketing operations, says "This project inspired me to take a greater interest in dietary education for children, and to look for similar organizations through which I can take part in local activities for my own home town." Tomoko Fujiwara, who also worked as the project's marketer, adds, "I have always had my own vegetable garden at home, and now I want to work with my neighbors to help do what we can to promote resources recycling as well." Meanwhile, Watanabe says that his experiences with this project even served to further his work skills.

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    Satomi Ohtsubo works in marketing at Panasonic. "My days are divided between the workplace and looking after my children. I took part in this program as I wanted to broaden my social horizons."
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    Tomoko Fujiwara says, "I took this opportunity thinking that my work skills and know-how in management planning could be put to use in wider society."
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    Yoshiyo Nakamura, secretary- general of NFGT. "We need to change our organization to attract the interest of people younger than the baby-boom generation. There is no time for hesitation."

The project served as a similar source of inspiration for the NPO. Mr. Yoshiyo Nakamura, the secretary-general of NFGT, says that he had initially been hesitant about taking part in this project but was ultimately very glad to have taken such a positive step. "As an NPO, the fact that this required virtually no financial investment was an obvious merit, but of greater importance was the opportunity to have our activities questioned by the pro bono professionals. The various materials that they prepared for us during the project will help us to start managing our activities better. Many of Japan's NPOs are rather fragile organizations with various problems, but if more individual company employees can offer their involvement on a pro bono basis, then I hope that this will bring positive change to Japanese society."

The Network of Flower & Green Toyonaka
(New Website will be Published on Early March, 2012)

Note: The Panasonic NPO Support Pro Bono Program is operated in association with the intermediary NPO "Service Grant".

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