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New Normal, New Impact: Virtual Volunteer Work at Johnson & Johnson New Normal, New Impact: Virtual Volunteer Work at Johnson & Johnson

Born in Korea, raised in New Zealand and educated in the U.S., Soma Youm had just joined our team in Japan when the pandemic hit. But lockdown wasn't about to keep this global nomad from giving back.
No way.

A relative newcomer to the IT marketing team in Japan, Soma was still getting up to speed when the pandemic sent everyone home to work remotely. "I knew that my team had a tradition of doing volunteer work, which I was really looking forward to, but suddenly we couldn’t get together because of COVID-19," she said.

But Soma believed there had to be a workaround. She convened 40-odd teammates on a call to brainstorm all-digital alternatives.

"We gathered ideas from everyone on the team, then voted on them," she recalled. With Soma at the reins, a plan was hatched and sped into action.

At first, the team opted to stick close to home: They took time out of work to upload photos to the Donate a Photo app from Johnson & Johnson, which pledges $1 to a nonprofit for every photo shared.

"It was all about being together, taking action together and feeling connected," Soma said.

More recently, they've been dedicating their energy to the "Snapshot Serengeti" project from Zooniverse.

Soma explained what that's all about: "This group of researchers has all these photos of animals in the wild, but they don’t have the research capacity to go through them all, tag which animals are active at what time, how different animals are interacting with each other and so on. So they rely on online volunteers to help. It's good for science and good for humanity."

And it has been good for Soma, too.

"We went into lockdown almost as soon as I joined the company, and at that time I still didn't feel like I really knew everyone on the team, not on a personal level," Soma recalled. "What I wanted was a different kind of conversation, a different dimension of conversation."

By taking the lead on virtual volunteer work, she's gotten exactly that. "At first, my teammates didn't have a choice, they had to talk to me because I was the one leading the initiative!" she quipped.

All jokes aside, she added, "I've definitely gotten to know my whole team a lot better this way."

Soma's Journey to Tokyo

For Soma, living and working in Japan is the culmination of a longstanding dream, one which originated in a specific moment.

"I saw the movie Lost in Translation," she said, laughing at the memory. "The sight of Tokyo in the film gave me this strong vision of what it would be like to live in Japan."

But her journey would take her around the world first: college in Korea, an internship in London, Boston for her MBA, then Paris, Prague and Singapore for work. Even after all that, the wanderlust remained. "I still wanted to go to Japan!"

When she did, Soma, a linguistics major fluent in four languages (plus conversational Swedish and Czech), put her skills to work. "I committed to learning Japanese because to me language is more than just a means of communicating; it can also show you why people behave the way they do, why they do the things they do," she explained. "The way people work in Japan can be perceived as 'different.' It's very serious, very careful, very polite. I really like that. I think it's a very respectful approach."

Walking between worlds may be a theme in Soma's own life, but it's also very much a part of her everyday work. "Every market has its own nuances, and my role requires me go back and forth between U.S. and Japanese stakeholders, mediating between these two sometimes different cultures. I really like the role that I play."

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Johnson & Johnson encourages its employees to seek different opportunities by changing roles and provides us the avenues to work in different regions. I always wanted to have a global career—and this company has allowed me to pursue that.

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Join Our Global Team Today

Soma's initiative is only the latest link in our strong tradition of support for volunteer work at Johnson & Johnson. Our Extended Volunteer Leave Policy, for example, allows eligible employees to take up to two weeks off, one of them fully paid, to do volunteer work. Plus, we offer structured employee volunteer initiatives like our Global Pro Bono and Secondment programs, both of which pair talented Johnson & Johnson employees with charitable organizations that will specifically benefit from their skill sets.

So if, like Soma, you want to use your career to explore your passions, check out all of the opportunities to join our team today.

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