Miriam Friedman, Senior Consultant
Ian Lever, Management Consulting Manager, Corporate Citizenship and Public Service
Ludo van Alst, Data Scientist
Robin Boggs, Managing Director, U.S. Corporate Citizenship
Accenture partnered with the Arolsen Archives – International Center on Nazi Persecution, which is part of UNESCO’s Memory of the World and maintains the world’s most comprehensive archive on the victims of Nazi persecution.
The Center holds 110 million documents and objects, spanning more than 16 miles of shelving, with information on 17.5 million people. Making this archive accessible online is a massive and complex challenge. These documents are used to trace victims and survivors, reunite families torn apart, and support research.
When relying solely on the manual indexing of documents, volunteers can only transcribe about four documents per hour – a rate that could take decades or longer to make the collection entirely available.
Working alongside volunteers and historians, Accenture enables the Archives to accelerate the extraction speed by nearly 40x when implementing patent-pending artificial intelligence and optical character recognition solutions.
Accenture has facilitated processing of 1.5 million documents with an estimated 2.09 million names. Over 3,000 Accenture volunteers from 139 cities and 39 countries have participated by validating the metadata and training the AI. We estimate that without the AI, Accenture volunteers would have only been able to process an estimated 6,400 documents.
What motivated Accenture to support this initiative?
Accenture and its people are motivated by the company’s purpose – to deliver on the promise of technology and human ingenuity. As a company, Accenture aspires to be the best workplace for innovators, a place where people can make a difference for their communities. We strive to implement the latest technologies to address some of the world’s most challenging problems.
For the Every Name Counts project, one Accenture employee, Ian Lever, began volunteering virtually to index documents with information on victims of Nazi persecution, documents housed at the Arolsen Archives. He recruited a group of similarly passionate and enthusiastic employees in the Jewish and Interfaith Employee Resource Groups, many of whom had family members who were Holocaust victims.
After seeing the tedious, painstaking, and manual indexing process, Ian thought that a company like Accenture, deploying advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions with some of the world’s largest clients, must have technology that could accelerate this effort. Ian teamed up with Accenture’s Processing.AI team, who adapted an AI and OCR technology to index the documents. The Processing.AI team built advanced solutions that were up to the challenge of working with documents that had passed through generations and institutions – including some that had survived World Wars, making them difficult to read.
Combining the AI-based solution with a human component enabled the Accenture team to process more documents faster while creating a moving experience that encouraged people to remember, learn, and reflect. The experience of adapting the AI technology for this use speaks to the “truly human” value of the firm. In these volunteering experiences, individuals from every background come together to learn about this important history and reflect on what it means for them today. This purpose-led collaboration, fueled by technology, has made it the most popular volunteering activity globally this year at Accenture.
How did you structure and implement this volunteer activity?
In the early months of the technology implementation, we kept the groups of volunteers small so that the discussions could be personal and intimate. Our team soon realized we should meet people where they are and tailor the experience to what works best for the independent volunteering group. This meant that each experience was unique and that group sizes varied.
For example, in volunteering sessions with a small group of our executives serving Health and Pharmaceutical clients, we educated people about the role some of these companies played in the Holocaust in murdering innocent people by developing and distributing poisonous gasses.
We highlighted Denmark’s unique role in saving 90% of its Jewish community for a significant Scandinavia event. This enabled people with little prior exposure to the Holocaust to better understand the topic and its relevance for us today.
Our team was fortunate enough to have immense support from leadership in this process. Our North American CEO hosted a session for his entire leadership team, which helped many others learn about the experience.
We soon began embedding these volunteering events within the fabric of the company by leading sessions anywhere, and everywhere we could do so responsibly and meaningfully. This included new joiner orientations, leadership retreats, training programs, and culture days. With each session came both the opportunity and challenge of engaging people on an essential topic in unique and personalized ways.
To what do you attribute your strong participation rate?
A vital dimension of the volunteering approach is that we engage volunteers – mostly employees – to share their family stories at the start of the sessions. This was an outlet employees desired but did not have, giving the listeners a heightened sense of empathy. It also encourages people to talk about difficult and important topics about belonging, mental health, and respecting people from different backgrounds.
One of the most common pieces of feedback volunteers share is that this activity gives them a sense of purpose. In listening to family stories and recording names, people have a clear awareness of how their effort contributes to the larger goal of preserving the memory of the victims.
Another component of success is that volunteering is also easy. Our volunteers need no prior knowledge of the technology and feel comfortable with the tool in a matter of minutes. Each card on the tool can be completed with a simple review, and each card reveals something new, preserving a unique story.
Our volunteer base is passionate and motivated, and we have an active network of trained facilitators. Our top volunteer has submitted more than 3,000 individual documents. Some volunteers have a family story tied to the events; some do not. Some join at 3 am to participate; some join for a few minutes during a lunch break. All the volunteers share a desire to preserve history for good.
But beyond leadership support, a chance to engage with cutting-edge technology, or even a virtual outlet of community, the special ingredient that makes this project powerful is that sense of meaning and purpose. Every. Name. Counts. Each volunteer submits a document, and in it, they have an opportunity to record a name and begin to bear witness to a story.
Can you share some of the results and impact metrics from the initiative?
Accenture’s solution has enabled documents to be indexed 40X faster than the manual method. We have indexed 1.5 million documents and preserved an estimated 2.09 million names.
We have hosted over 125 events with volunteers. In a post-event survey, 97% of respondents classified the event as “great and meaningful.”
Do you have suggestions or best practices to share with other companies who may want to support similar initiatives?
One of the most humbling aspects of this initiative was giving people a voice and a platform to learn and engage with each other. Our team learned quickly that creating a safe environment for people to ask questions and share reflections was important. This allowed our volunteers to feel at peace despite the heavy nature of the topic. The space that is created is critical to the success of every initiative.