Anyone who thinks that CIOs are one-dimensional specialists whose dreams and visions don't extend outside the data center could learn a very great deal about life, commitment, vision, business, and giving back to our communities by getting to know NPower and its superstar roster of CIO supporters.
Some of the world's most powerful CIOs are throwing their weight behind NPower, a national nonprofit that's connecting the disparate worlds of corporate IT prowess and untraditional tech trainees to deliver effective and affordable IT expertise to hundreds of nonprofits across the country.
Along the way, Brooklyn-based NPower has been the catalyst for transforming the lives of almost 500 disadvantaged young adults through 22-week IT training classes that yield not only certifications from Microsoft and Cisco but also deep and hard-earned senses of achievement, purpose, dignity, and opportunity.
Backed by primary support from Accenture, JPMorgan Chase, UBS, and other major corporations, NPower is now turning out about 100 graduates per year and says 87% of its graduates are now fully employed or attending college.
I wanted to share the story of NPower's remarkable success—and its vast potential—because in our frantic world of work and family and kids' activities and always-on gadgets that sometimes make us wonder just who's the slave and who's the master, it serves as a reminder that compensation and ROI can take many forms.
I also wanted to share the NPower story because as I drift into my dotage, I'm becoming more of a sentimental sap and, doggone it, this is just one of those feel-good stories about which lots of people need to learn because (a) it'll bring a smile to your face and (b) you just might decide you want to get involved in some way as well.
JPMorgan Chase CIO Guy Chiarello is a long-time supporter and member of NPower's board, and at a recent NPower event I had the chance to chat with him, UBS group CIO Michele Trogni (also an NPower board member), Accenture managing director Chris Wearing (a founder and chairman of NPower), and NPower CEO Stephanie Cuskley. (For a great overview of NPower, check out this video featuring CEO Cuskley.)
There was some talk of how public-cloud technology could be a driving force behind unleashing new productivity within nonprofits, and about the power of shared services and such, but most of the conversation centered not on technology transformation but on the transformation of young people who, were it not for the grace of God or NPower or both, might very well not be alive today.
"Have you ever met somebody who rides the subway at night to sleep because they don't have a home?" Chiarello asked. "And who then shows up in a Fortune 100 company and has a technology job and a growing career?"
With more than a touch of reverence in his voice as he spoke of his JPMC colleague who works in tech support, Chiarello added, "I've watched this woman since the day she came into the place—she can now compete with most of the new hires we bring in from a range of pretty impressive colleges.
"When you see Darlene [the NPower graduate who had to sleep on the subways] and speak with her, you would think that that story was from some life from a hundred years ago rather than what it really was: from just three years ago."
A few weeks after that conversation, I had the privilege to attend the graduation ceremony for NPower's most recent group of IT specialists, and I'd like to share with you a couple of their stories:
Graduate Errold Augustine said that shortly after he enrolled in NPower's Technology Services Corps training program, he also took on an even more daunting challenge: "While at TSC, I took on the responsibility for raising my twin nephew and niece, and I had huge help from the TSC leaders. I don't know if I could have done it without them," said Errold after receiving his graduation certificate.
Errold's now an intern at Hewitt Associates (he was also offered an internship at Deloitte), and also holds down a part-time IT position for the ACLU's New York office.
AND he's pursuing graduate studies at Brooklyn College.
AND he's still helping to raise is twin nephew and niece.
Another graduate, Isiah Doctor, became a father during his 22-week training program and said, "NPower taught us that we have the power to turn our dreams into reality."
Isiah's big dream that he plans to turn into a reality? He plans one day to have his own IT consulting company.
Many of the other young folks told similarly inspiring stories, and they all seemed to buy unflinchingly into the bold expectations that Accenture's Wearing laid out for them.
In his opening remarks at the graduation ceremony, Wearing said, "You came in with a common desire: to succeed and change the world. . . . For the 10 years we've had this program, every graduate says TSC has changed my life—and in return, all we ask of you is that after you graduate, you go out and change the world."
Wearing also emphasized the importance of the broad and deep—and perhaps unprecedented—support from major IT companies that NPower has been able to pull together . And while Wearing didn't say so specifically, it's clear that Chiarello and Trogni and the other 30-35 world-class CIOs closely aligned with NPower have used some of their considerable leverage to encourage more than a dozen major IT firms to support NPower as well.
Referring to NPower's unique and broad-based blend of IT supporters as "the ecumenical factor," Wearing said, "I think what's really differentiated here is that while there are lots of nonprofits in technology, there aren't any that have such deep-rooted affiliations with Accenture, and IBM, and Deloitte, and Cisco, and CSC, and others.
"You look at the names of all the people coming to our annual gala and it's really a who's who—there are no other organizations that can count all those companies as core partners. And when you think that on top of that there's also the power of a JP Morgan and a UBS and the deep commitment of their CIOs, well, there isn't a problem with any nonprofit in the country that that team couldn't solve."
Wearing, who speaks at ultra-high speed and with a smooth British accent, underscored how rare it is for big IT companies that battle against each other aggressively in the market to come together to serve a higher purpose such as that of NPower:
"This power of competition coming together to solve these problems is key," he said at the graduation ceremony. "Let me put it this way: if I can spend four days every November celebrating Thanksgiving after having spent the first 40 years of my life in England, then I have no problem introducing the gentleman from Deloitte who is our next speaker."
Chiarello said the CIOs supporting NPower's mission are able to offer opportunities for members of their management teams to get involved as well in what he called a self-sustaining effort.
"All of a sudden you get this community," he said. "We have a community of senior technology leadership that's now bringing in the next layer—so a board member like Randy Cowen, who was the CIO of Goldman Sachs for many years, is a member of our board and spreads the good word. We've set up a CIO Council that will have 25-35 top CIOs and that will enable us to continue to spread the mission and the services."
And that CIO network is indeed impressive—at the company's annual gala fundraising and recognition event, here's a partial list of the companies whose CIOs were in attendance: Avon, Blackstone, Bank of America, Booz Allen, Chubb, Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Korn Ferry, NBA, NBC, New York Life, NYSE Euronext, Spencer Stuart, Verizon Wireless, and Xerox.
I asked Chiarello what convinced him to support NPower so vigorously, and why he chose it from among the dozens or hundreds of groups that request his time and interest and advocacy.
"For me, it was about leverage," he said. "I could help anybody in need across any non-profit sector by helping enable the technologies. And that could be anything: that could be enabling someone to raise money, to provide aid, to create foundations—it doesn't matter what the need was; we've structured a managed-services offering, and we've structured a software program and a services program to deliver services, in addition to the portal.
"But for me personally the real appeal was leverage. What's the common theme? Technology expertise matched up with technology need really, in the end, delivers. And some of it is for-pay, and some of it is not for-pay. Volunteerism combined with the professional services and the product set really is an enabler."
And while Chiarello emphasized that he feels that all manner of public-spirited volunteerism is a great thing, he was also quick to point out that IT leaders can have a disproportionately huge impact within the NPower model.
"I'm not good at painting fences, or schools, or houses!" Chiarello said. "But when it comes to technology services, we all know they're pretty expensive and I could probably do a lot better in eight hours working on something like that instead of painting a fence.
"And as I think about it, maybe that's the other key attraction: technologists can help people with technology problems and it really, really matters. We like to paint fences too, but we could get 10-fold the leverage if it's a technology problem because they could never get the talent that we hope to make available."
In closing, a few more details about NPower:
** In the last few months, NPower's four charter underwriters (JPMorgan Chase, Microsoft, UBS, and Accenture) have been joined by four additional national underwriters: Bank of America, CSC, Cisco, and Cognizant.
**NPower's matchmaking portal is the enabling force behind its Community Corps, which provides the talents of skilled corporate IT volunteers to nonprofits in need, and the Corps is undergoing a major expansion that will allow the online platform, for the first time, to reach even more nonprofits including libraries, schools and NGOs. The expansion provides new features, enhanced user interfaces, and customizable program options, and is supported by a $500,000 pro bono donation from Accenture. Since its official launch in November, TCC has connected hundreds of IT volunteers and nonprofits and already has 150 pro bono IT projects in the works.
**For more information, check out the NPower website.