Social good programs give vital support to veterans, students, and prisoners alike
An ironclad belief in the power of project management, and a deep commitment to share it with others, are at the heart of outstanding projects undertaken by PMI chapters in North America. Ongoing volunteer efforts with support from the PMI Educational Foundation (PMIEF) give new skills—and new hope—to individuals, nonprofit organizations, and entire communities. Here are a few examples of initiatives that demonstrate the golden value of project management for social good®.
PMI Fort Worth Chapter
Cindy Vandersleen, PMP, VP of external relations, and president elect of PMI Fort Worth Chapter, had never set foot in a jail, let alone interacted with prisoners incarcerated for crimes as serious as armed robbery and murder. But when Michele Gagne, MBA, PMP, chapter past president, asked her to co-train prisoners who were within three years of parole in the basics of project management, she was all in.
The two coordinated with the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) at Sanders Estes Unit Correctional Facility, Venus, Texas, which hosts volunteer executives (of which Michele was one) to present an intense career-readiness program.
“The first half is for character building,” explains Cindy. “It strips away prisoners’ rough exteriors. Inmates can’t cuss, gamble, fight, or get new prison tattoos; they must toe the line.” During the second half, prisoners take classes and create business plans. Executives mentor, brainstorm ideas, review business plans, and provide feedback. “Eventually inmates do a ‘Shark Tank’-like presentation,” tells Cindy. “When they graduate, they receive certificates of entrepreneurship from Baylor University.”
Michele and Cindy realized project management training at the start of PEP would help prisoners craft business plans. “From the very first moment I was blown away,” says Cindy. “Prisoners were on their best behavior and treated us like royalty. They were so happy to have visitors; some hadn’t had a visitor in 10 years.”
Participants are hungry for knowledge and learning. “They are committed to change. Unlike corporate folks who may be distracted, looking at their phones, prisoners give 100 percent of their attention. If we ask a question, hands shoot up, and they are all over that answer. They are enthusiastic, engaged. It’s a complete joy.”
Cindy and Michele regularly receive handwritten notes from grateful inmates with comments like, “… I’ve been thinking about risk management ever since you were here …” and “… thank you for clarifying my understanding of a critical path chart.”
“Can you imagine? These guys are in their cells thinking about project management,” says Cindy with a laugh. “We also hear, ‘project management will serve me well, not only in business plans but also in real life.’ That means something.”
Cindy reports that of a class of 100 participants, upon release from prison, 10 or 20 start a business, while others necessarily find employment. However, the most remarkable result is found in the decreased rate of recidivism.
“Typically, 50 percent of parolees without a program like PEP return to prison. But for PEP participants, 93 percent do not reoffend. There is only 7 percent recidivism. That’s amazing. It’s about training, yes, but also about human interaction. We tell prisoners, ‘We believe in you, we are willing to invest our time in you, and we want to give you a second chance.’ It lifts them up.”
Cindy adds, “I can’t tell you how overwhelming this experience is. I never dreamed I, like Michele, would want to become a monthly PEP executive volunteer. But that’s exactly what I am now.” For their efforts, Cindy and Michele deservedly received the 2018 PMIEF Community Advancement through Project Management Award.
(To see a video about the program, go to https://youtu.be/f-V0dknzROc.)
PMI Alaska Chapter
Alaska may be known for colder climes, but PMI Alaska Chapter (PMIAK) spreads a warm feeling of social good with outreach to its large community of nonprofit organizations.
“In Alaska, there are more than 5,700 registered nonprofit organizations. According to the Foraker report, nonprofits provide more than 44,000 direct jobs, which in turn create thousands more,” explains Josiane Ballin, PMIEF/PMI chapter liaison for PMIAK. “If nonprofits were considered a single industry, they would be second only to the oil and gas industry when it comes to economic impact.”
Realizing Alaskan nonprofit organizations maintain ambitious missions yet grapple with limited resources, Josiane realized these groups and their staffs are ideal candidates to learn and benefit from project management basics. PMIAK was well-positioned to help and lend support.
With that objective in mind, Josiane and her team of chapter volunteers have set up a training program for nonprofit staff members covering project management essentials. By leveraging the chapter community, the volunteers established a robust starting point. In addition, Josiane connected with fellow PMIEF/PMI Chapter Liaison Paulo Camargo of the PMI Southern Alberta Chapter. Paulo was able to share a useful organizational tool that the nonprofit partners could take back to their organizations.
PMIAK delivered two six-hour training programs in the cities of Juneau and Anchorage. Volunteers marketed the events to nonprofits directly, and received tremendous interest.
“We actually had so much interest during the registration period that we had to ask agencies to validate their nonprofit status,” explains Josiane. Though the program had just started, already an important “lesson learned” emerged: “We realized that one easy step to incorporate into the next event registration period is to ask agencies to share their EIN numbers with us so that we can validate their nonprofit status immediately.”
PMIAK’s commitment to the project was underscored when PMIAK VP of volunteers and PMIAK president joined in the two training sessions. PMIAK’s president-elect also joined the group at the Anchorage session.
The chapter plans to continue delivering programs to their local nonprofit organizations, following glowing training feedback , assuring volunteers that the sessions were helpful, timely, and well worth the effort. “We have received requests to bring a similar program to native Alaskan communities,” says Josiane, energized by the early success. “By reaching out to share the importance of project management with a large industry like [the nonprofit sector], we also have the opportunity to bring new members into the chapter community,” she adds of an additional and noteworthy benefit.
PMI Keystone, PA Chapter
Can sixth graders in Pennsylvania complete a project management simulation designed for professional project managers? Myles Miller, PhD, MBA, PMIEF/PMI chapter liaison for the PMI Keystone, PA Chapter, believes they can. And students prove him correct.
Myles, owner of LeadUP, a training and development company, along with a team of chapter volunteers, introduced project management to students at Eyer Middle School in 2016. “We began with 24 students and 12 training sessions,” says Myles. Training was to culminate with a capstone simulation program to test students’ knowledge. But programs geared to that age group were hard to find.
“We approached the distributor for SimulTrain, a Swedish software program created for college-level students and project management practitioners, and asked if it could be used with sixth graders. They hesitated and said, ‘No. What sixth graders understand terms like risk management?’” The answer: sixth graders trained by the PMI Keystone, PA Chapter. “We decided this would be the first time in the history of the world that this simulation product would be tested on middle school students,” beams Myles. The result? “An overwhelming success. Our kids scored better than most college students or professionals who use the program. This has viability for middle and high school students.”
The multiday simulation required students to manage a soccer event. Seventeen tasks spanned a simulated 11 weeks. Student teams were given a US$500,000 budget. “This simulation was as ‘real world’ as it gets. Day-to-day issues came up; kids had to make decisions on the fly. At one point, half of their simulated workers got the flu and students had to scramble to reallocate work. Imagine sixth graders capable of doing this! They hit it out of the ballpark.”
So impressive were the results from the initiative that a teacher wanted to expand the program to the entire sixth grade—more than 300 kids. “It was a case of ‘go big or go home,’ so we went big,” says Myles with a chuckle.
He adds that Pennsylvania schools are now required to include career education and workforce development starting in third grade. “Project management training aligns beautifully with that mandate, and can provide a valuable resource to schools.”
The school program now leverages about 40 volunteers and has expanded, with another 10 schools and younger grade levels in the works this year. “Next steps include training teachers to do training within their own schools, because in reality it would be an unrealistic undertaking to have enough volunteers for every single school in our chapter area.”
Myles sees this effort as an all-around win—students learn skills, volunteers earn PDUs (professional development units), schools gain required career curriculum. Myles says he, too, wins. “I have a personal mantra, which is to make a daily positive impact on someone that will last them for a lifetime. When I go back to a school like Eyer, I inevitably run into a former sixth grader who says, ‘I remember you and that experience. It has really helped me.’ Mantra realized. That’s when I know we made a difference.”
PMI Delaware Valley Chapter
PMI history runs deep within the greater Philadelphia area known as the Delaware Valley. “PMI was incorporated in the Media Courthouse here in the Delaware Valley on October 3rd, 1969,” says Marie Hegarty, PMP, a board member of PMI Delaware Valley Chapter (PMI-DVC) and PMIEF chapter liaison.
Marie fondly recalls working alongside one of PMI’s original five founding members, Jim Snyder, as they and fellow chapter member Jerry Pearson lead the development of the Managing Life’s Projects (MLP) program. “We sat at the same dining room table that served as the original ‘office’ for PMI nearly 50 years ago,” she laughs. When the three mentioned their idea of a training program for school, civic, and community groups at a February 2016 chapter meeting, 11 volunteers signed on to the effort and a core group was formed. By December 2016, the program was unveiled. “It took off and went all around the world. MLP has succeeded beyond our wildest imaginations,” says Marie.
Retirement has given Marie a chance to follow her life’s passion. “My heart and soul are in project management. I love PMI, and I love PMIEF,” she says, noting that PMI-DVC supports many community partners, including Habitat for Humanity, where they help prospective home owners create a plan for home ownership.
“We also work with the Boy Scouts of America, helping prospective scouts to plan Eagle Scout projects,” says Marie. “These are very involved and they require a great deal of documentation.”
Another youth-related project, innovative in design, involves working with The Monkey & the Elephant café in Philadelphia, a coffee shop created specifically to train and employ at-risk youths who have aged out of the city’s foster care program. “This is a new project, just getting under way. We will be providing two training sessions using the MLP resource,” says Marie.
A more mature and equally compelling project has been undertaken by PMI-DVC with The Veterans Group (TVG), a nonprofit organization operating two veterans’ homes in Philadelphia. TVG provides a roof over veterans’ heads, cooks them warm meals, and gives a variety of programs and services developed as individualized plans for each resident in a familial community of support and care.
Marie says PMI volunteers have committed to helping veterans with computer lab upgrading, training, consulting, and mentoring. They are also collecting household items and snacks at chapter meetings, which will be donated to the veterans. The chapter will also support TVG administration in board expansion and training, fostering partnerships with various public and private organizations, fundraising, and website refreshment.
“It feels great, just wonderful, to help people with our skills,” says Marie sincerely. “We believe in this structure, this framework, of project management. Some of us do it naturally, almost intuitively. It’s in our blood. We see how it helps people break down issues and take a load off their shoulders.”