Vivian Chandra never forgets that a person based in a country with scant regard for democracy could get jailed for doing the job she does.
As IT manager for Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand, Chandra runs the information technology side of the human rights organisation, but is also active in their campaigns.
An issue close to her heart is the campaign against internet censorship. One of their cases concerned a Chinese national who was imprisoned for emailing the details of the commemoration of the Tiananmen Square massacre to foreign journalists.
Chandra says most Kiwis would find it difficult to relate to such fraught experiences. “You can go online right now and blog something nasty about your government, and it would not matter. I could go out and stand in the middle of Queen Street and yell out something rude about the Prime Minister and the best I can get is a disturbing the peace [charge], a slap on the wrist.”
Chandra joined Amnesty International while doing her BSc in Physics at the University of Auckland 10 years ago, and has been active in the organisation ever since — first as a volunteer worker (“placard, marches, that sort of thing”), then as an ICT contractor and now as its first permanent head of ICT.
Chandra is one of three ICT leaders active in volunteer work who are featured in the cover of this month’s CIO magazine. Two other ICT leaders featured — Danie Vermeulen, chief executive of Kaizen Institute and Aubrey Christmas, CIO of Employers and Manufacturers Association (Northern) — have always been keen to share their expertise and experience with community groups.
Both are involved in the Elim Christian Centre in Auckland. Vermeulen is chairman of the board of trustees of Elim Christian College and president of the Kiwi Roundtable of the Council for Supply Chain Management Professionals. Christmas, on the other hand, is actively involved in Omega, a group supported by the Tindall Foundation that helps migrants find work.
Vermeulen says he reconciles his work at Elim with Kaizen, the New Zealand arm of a global consultancy that delivers Lean or Kaizen projects focusing on business process improvement. “They are compatible because it is about making a difference, it is about lifting people up not only in the workplace but in life. It is looking for better ways to do things all the time.”
“We have our Christian values and we apply that in every way,” says Christmas. “You can’t separate the person from the workplace, from the community. It is the same person in there. A fine balance is crucial.”
Christmas applies this insight to his work at Omega. “It is making a difference as you never know how each person will turn out and there are many leaders out there who have been influenced one way or another by somebody who put investments into their life,” says Christmas, who also did pro bono work for nongovernment organisations in Cambodia and the Philippines.
Doing volunteer work will make you a “richer person”, says Vermeulen. “Somebody who focuses only on themselves and only taking and receiving and never giving back [is] just missing out.”