Reflecting on “Work For Humankind” – and what’s next

Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate to have been part of several impactful, beautiful and market-leading campaigns. At the time, each has felt as important to me as the next. 

But it has to be said - few have delivered quite the same impact as the Work For Humankind project we kicked off just over a year ago at Lenovo. Everything about it, from conception, to the research insights, to the preparation and planning, the stories, the flighting, and beyond into the post-event phase - has challenged us, made me hold my breath, made me smile, made my heart skip, brought tears to my eyes and taught me new things.

Honestly, it has been a game changer. We have talked about the project on our channels before, most recently in this beautiful mini documentary - but as the significance of environmental, social and governance factors reaches fever pitch for 2023, and as it’s the one-year anniversary - I wanted to revisit Work For Humankind, and share my POV on what it feels like to run a marketing campaign that delivers not only on its marketing communications objectives, but also embeds lasting ESG objectives through innovative technology solutions.

An absurd idea

Like a lot of big ideas, Work For Humankind started with a hunch - a hunch that was backed up in a global study we ran surveying over 15,000 people, across 10 different markets. The study was based on the growing importance of remote and hybrid work since the pandemic, how younger Millennial and Gen Z knowledge-workers feel about it, and how technology plays a role.

Some compelling insights came out of the study. Specifically, an overwhelming four in five people aged 18-40 think working from anywhere is beneficial to society, communities, employers, and employees. 61% deem giving back and making a positive impact on the local community as ‘very important’ (rising to 68% of Gen Z and 67% of Millennial respondents). And most conclusively - 91% of Millennials say it’s highly important to stimulate the local economy when “Working from Anywhere.

It raised some interesting questions. Was there a way for us to take everything we’ve learned about being productive, collaborative, and working in totally new and unexpected ways during the pandemic, and take that one step further? What if smarter technology could empower us to work really, really remotely while simultaneously giving back to a community that may have been underserved, and start building a bridge across the digital divide?

A land of opportunity

The remote and diverse Robinson Crusoe Island sits in the Juan Fernandez Archipelago, 400 miles off the coast of Chile. It is a UNESCO designated biosphere reserve thanks to the rich, native wildlife and plentiful plant species above and below its waters.

With an open-minded mayor and a forward-thinking NGO partner, Island Conservation, the island was aware of its own limitations. Critically it also had a curiosity about how developing its connectivity and maturing its technological capabilities could create positive impact, prevent the extinction of endangered species and support the local community too, as it works toward achieving sustainability.

It was the perfect partner with whom to explore the opportunities afforded by tech enablement and a little innovative thinking.

The Idea

Work For Humankind is a bold initiative inviting volunteers from around the world to make a long-lasting difference to the communities and ecosystems of Robinson Crusoe Island, while working their own current jobs remotely, by using some of the most powerful, versatile and high-quality technology Lenovo could provide.

Working closely with the local NGO Island Conservation, we deployed a small but mighty team of volunteers with specific skills (and flexible day jobs!) from across the globe. The team included a travel writer from India, a marine conservationist from the US, a veterinarian from Mexico, an adventurer and athlete from France, a travel photographer from the UK, and more.

I’ve spoken about my personal appetite for risk before, but sending these skilled and adventurous people out to one of the most remote places in the world was a stretch even for me. The list of possible problems seemed endless. Despite all the time we spent scenario mapping and crisis management planning, not to mention all the health checks and quarantining, there were several sleepless nights. I found myself questioning whether it was all worth it on more than one occasion.

The Impact

Turns out, it was worth more than we could ever have imagined.

Through the power of technology and with activities such as building greenhouses for the community and removing invasive vegetation, consulting and working with local organizations on marine conservation, wildlife protection, waste disposal, art and culture programs, energy and supply chain issues, pollution and more, our volunteers were able to seriously accelerate the island’s journey towards sustainability and embed critical infrastructure to help it continue.

By bringing new technologies to the local art gallery, teaching music and sports to local students, transcribing and digitally preserving poetry written by island locals, and creating social media content for the island’s marketing department, we have been able to foster meaningful cultural practices and ensure they are shared, supported and recognized farther than ever before.

All this was amplified by Lenovo’s multi-market, integrated communications campaign, but the impact went far beyond our own KPIs and right into the hearts and minds of the wonderful people of Robinson Crusoe Island. For me as an Equestrian too, there was no better indicator of this than the baby foal that was born during the time of our volunteers on the island, whom the local community named “Lenovo” in honor of the Work For Humankind project.

It isn’t only our community projects making a long-lasting difference. The conservation efforts that were bolstered with the newly developed internet connectivity and our AI server capabilities have been transformative for our NGO partner, Island Conservation. Prior to Work For Humankind, local conservationists on Robinson Crusoe had no estimate of the invasive species population size and were 6 to 12 months behind in analyzing data due to limited internet connectivity (meaning the data had to come off the island for analysis). Now, Island Conservation can generate monthly estimates of invasive species presence and population by using our digital tools and edge computing, informing how the team directs its conservation efforts. 

Together with the volunteers, Island Conservation and Lenovo’s smarter technology, our vision of implementing a community-led, island restoration was made possible.

To Chile and Beyond

Right from the get-go, we were keen to avoid Work For Humankind being merely a transactional, one-off sponsorship of sorts that would end with the departure of our volunteers. We were conscious to work with the NGO in a collaborative partnership that would empower the local communities and provide Lenovo technology to build sustainable processes that enabled them to continue the work we’d started. We set up a fund and a foundation to drive this.   

We’re setting out to be the first technology brand in the world to build on the ultimate “evergreen” marketing project (in both senses of the word) and expanding into the next phases.

While I can’t yet reveal the details for what to expect from Lenovo, I can tell you that our teams are going to continue to stretch themselves, keeping the core values of Work For Humankind at the fore. This will focus on leveraging volunteerism by seeking out community and nature conservation-based projects, all the while harnessing our smarter technology as a platform for the greater good.  

Lenovo’s vision is to lead and enable smarter technology for all. We believe everyone deserves access to technology that can be used to improve and enrich their lives and make the world a better place too. That’s why we’re so passionate about searching for opportunities where we can use Lenovo technology for good and help bridge the digital divide.

I hope you’ll continue to follow along the journey with us, so that each of us can learn exactly how we can do this, together. 

This article was originally posted as part of Emily Ketchen’s (VP/CMO – Lenovo’s Intelligent Services Group) “Ketchen’s Corner” newsletter.

Emily’s article highlights the importance of reflecting on the role of work in our lives and in our society, and considering how we can shape the future of work to prioritize empathy, equity, and inclusion.

In your own experience, what steps have you taken to cultivate these values in your workplace, or what actions have you seen organizations take to prioritize them?

How have these efforts impacted the work environment and the experiences of employees? What challenges have you faced or observed, and how have you worked to overcome them?

Share your insights, stories, and reflections in the comments below, and let's continue the conversation about building a more human-centered and equitable workplace.