At verynice, we’re on a mission to inspire and support companies in incorporating pro bono into their business models. We aim to spread awareness of the benefits that pro bono can provide to both the practitioner and the recipient as well as the impact it can have on communities, both local and global. About one year ago, we had the opportunity to work with a client who could demonstrate the affects of pro bono on a major scale: Google— in a project that is currently nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
Google had partnered with a nonprofit called PeaceJam for their initiative, Billion Acts, to provide pro bono support. Led by Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, Billion Acts aims to inspire individuals across the world to perform acts of peace in 10 key focus areas, which include protecting the environment, advancing women, and alleviating poverty. Google’s role was to build a brand and digital platform that would allow Billion Acts to become a global movement.
So, where does verynice enter the picture? Google asked our Founder, Matt, to join their Billion Acts team to lead brand strategy and serve as an advisor for usability testing, marketing, and product development for the Billion Acts platform. While Google brings all the expertise, efficiency, and staffing of a global technology giant, verynice brings something different to the table: a wealth of experience creating effective brand and product strategies for non-profit organizations, and leadership in the management of pro bono client relationships.
Instead of recapping this collaboration ourselves, we thought it would be more interesting to hear it from Google’s perspective. We chatted with Aldis Ozolins and Jay Castro of the Google Billion Acts team to find out how our knowledge of the nonprofit space and experience with pro bono engagements benefited this incredible project.
Hi Aldis! Hi Jay!
How has the Give-Half model inspired your work with Billion Acts and at Google in general?
A: I’ve had the pleasure of working with Matthew Manos on several occasions before and the give-half model was something that inspired me to seek out projects that held a deeper purpose. Working at Google has allowed me to be part of a community of creatives who share this strive to (as cliché as it sounds) make the world a better place through technology. And when I discovered the Billion Acts initiative, I saw it as the perfect space to bring verynice in and execute the spirit of give-half at the scale that only Google can provide.
J: I was raised in a big family— a big, tribal family— so my brother and I are great examples of “it takes a village to raise a child.” Because of that, it's in my core to care and give back to my community. The Give Half model has inspired me to do exactly that: give half. Before reading the book and working with verynice, I gave what I could, when I could, and where I could. Since implementing the Give Half model, I've found that my time and skills are more valuable to my pro bono work, and I've seen significant, positive increases in my personal capacity and time management. The Give Half model was the "proof in the pudding" to what I've always wanted to do, and created a simple framework for me to follow.
How did verynice's insight into brand strategy help inform and push forward your work with Billion Acts?
A: Verynice was integral in leveraging their expertise in this space to provide additional perspective on the nonprofit world. Their trend analysis helped give us a clearer picture of the current landscape. As a result we were able to uniquely position the Billion Acts rebrand.
J: First and foremost, verynice knows the nonprofit world from many different perspectives; this knowledge has helped shape our interactions with PeaceJam, and the many nonprofits we engage with. Additionally, verynice has implemented a user focused research and feedback loop to our development process that's helped to quickly gain and implement validated findings.
What was one of the biggest takeaways from our collaborative usability testing work?
A: Having design decisions proven wrong through usability tests is how you know you are doing your job. The tests really shed light on what parts of the app were working, what parts weren’t, as well as what was missing from the app. These tests really help us build empathy for the user and see our concept through unfiltered eyes.
J: The biggest and more important take away from the collaborative usability testing is that no matter how right or how amazing I might think one design or feature may be, the usability testing can (and usually does) prove me wrong. I've learned functionality is more important than features and there's no better feedback than the reaction from our users.
Can you talk a little bit about your engagement with verynice and how this work in general may have informed or even changed your perspective on pro bono?
A: I’ve always had the desire to work on projects that give back. But it wasn’t until I met Matthew and began collaborating with verynice that I discovered pro bono work doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive from what I do for a living. I think the piece of inspiration that has always stood out to me is not thinking of pro bono work as a side quest or temporarily fulfilling distraction but rather something that anchors everything I do professionally. In the sense that it is not about the individual projects but embracing a new philosophy of life, one that says, “I want to put others first and I want my work to reflect that whether or not it is pro bono.” That is a world-changing ideal.
J: Previously, most of my pro bono work (in the tech industry) has been very high level and strategic. Engaging with Matthew and the verynice team on high level strategies as well as the fine details of a design has inspired me to "roll up my sleeves and get dirty" every once in awhile. It's healthy and inspiring. Furthermore, this engagement has literally inspired me to roll my sleeves up and get dirty with local organizations in my community, away from a WiFi connection, with my phone on airplane mode. Through this experience, I've learned that, with proper time and capacity management, I can give back to my community via technology in the cloud and shovels in the ground.
What is the relationship between pro bono and professional development? What opportunities for growth do pro bono engagements open up?
A: To me, one of the fascinating things about creative work is the inverse relationship between creativity and money. As a project gets bigger with more of a financial burden attached to it and more relationships to manage, the creativity generally seems to suffer. On the other hand working on a pro bono basis means that not only are you working with smaller budgets, you are also working with people that have a passion for the project. I’ve found that this tends to lead to a more creative output. So as it turns out, pro bono work is not only good for your soul it’s also good for your creative development.
J: The relationship between pro bono and professional development reminds me of my days as a rugby player. Rugby doesn't come naturally to many Americans; it's a sport that requires time on the training pitch, learning the fundamentals of the sport. In 13 years of playing rugby, I've come across very few great rugby players that did not require training to get to their level of play. In many cases, with training, any athlete can become a great rugby player.
The same circumstance can be applied to pro bono work and professional development. For instance, becoming a product manager at Google, or any tech company these days, requires years of on the job experience. So how does an aspiring product manager succeed if their dream job requires years of experience? This is where pro bono work comes into play: as in rugby, pro bono work can be an extremely valuable training pitch for one to learn new skills, develop relationships, and gain the practical experience that is attractive to future employers.
Pro bono experiences and professional development can be very similar to internships. In my case, pro bono has opened up a new network of do-gooders and taught me new skills in product development, user research, and team management. The skills I've learned in my pro bono work are not required in my current role at Google, but are skills that I find extremely valuable in my professional development. All in all, I'm extremely thankful and fortunate for my training pitch. =]
Thank you, both!