On International Volunteer Day 2014, we reflect on the interdependence of service and leadership.
The word “volunteer” has lost some of its luster in recent years, and that’s unfortunate. In a world where nearly every culture celebrates selflessness and caring for others, it seems only fitting that influential organizations should incorporate service into leadership development. IBM takes this commitment several steps further – not only by integrating citizenship and service into the company’s overall business strategy, but by enabling other companies to participate in IBM’s Culture of Service, and standing as a global example of how a values-driven organization can affect meaningful and sustainable change.
To volunteer is to contribute value by giving of one’s self. And when what one gives – time, talent, innovative technologies – has the power to transform its recipient, one does more than simply serve. Deploying cloud and mobile technologies to coordinate disaster relief & recovery or enable management of essential public health issues saves lives. Developing data analytics solutions that make timely transportation possible amid the crushing populations of growing cities moves economies from second-rate to world class. Connecting people – to information, to their governments and to each other – allows us to aggregate our intelligence to preserve our humanity. A culture of service inspires the desire to serve, and provides the opportunities and tools that make service possible.
Joe Keenan, executive vice president of The Nature Conservancy’s Latin America region, leads a staff of more than 320 people based in sixteen countries. Under Keenan’s direction, the Conservancy designs innovative strategies focusing on water, food, and infrastructure: collaborates with indigenous communities to help protect their rivers and forests; and establishes partnerships with the private sector to foster sustainable business and agricultural practices. IBM’s Corporate Service Corps interviewed him in connection with our engagement with TNC in the Amazon.
In 2008, when 36 Amazon municipalities were put on the Brazilian government’s
blacklist as the country’s worst deforesters, they didn’t just have a reputational problem. The government also curtailed the ability of farmers and ranchers in those municipalities
to sell their products.
The Nature Conservancy’s Amazon team had already started working on a solution. It’s PAM– an environmental management portal designed to help municipalities enforce Brazil’s Forest Code, help landowners comply with the code, and make it possible for municipalities to issue land-use licenses much more quickly.
With its warm, wet climate and vast expanse of 2.7 million square miles of land, the Amazon River basin has the potential to become one of the world’s most productive agricultural regions — essential for feeding a global population that’s fast approaching eight billion.
Yet, at the same time, the Amazon rainforest is an invaluable — and imperiled — natural resource. According to The Nature Conservancy, no other place is more critical to human survival. The basin, which is about the size of the United States and touches eight countries, harbors one-third of the planet’s biodiversity, produces one-fourth of the fresh water and plays a key role in warding off the worst effects of climate change.
Starting this week, a team of experts from IBM’s Corporate Service Corps (CSC) and Dow’s Leadership in Action program – brought together with the assistance of PYXERA Global – will collaborate with International Medical Corps to develop sustainability solutions for the community of Wolayita, Ethiopia. Specifically, the integrated team will work with area leaders to develop recommendations related to delivering health care services, informing and energizing community action on sustainability issues, and designing methodologies to measure and track improvements in public health.
During this process, IBM and Dow employees also will have the opportunity to develop their leadership and collaboration skills while forging new relationships in an emerging market. Together, these developments – community service, leadership training, and developing new markets and global leaders – comprise the “triple benefit” of IBM Corporate Service Corps.
Read today’s press release about this latest CSC engagement, and stay tuned for progress updates on our results.
Gina Tesla is Director of the IBM Corporate Service Corps. IBM’s Corporate Service Corps team members comprise some of IBM’s most talented employees, and provide skills to developing countries in disciplines that include information technology, research, marketing, finance, consulting, human resources and law. Since 2008, IBM Corporate Service Corps has dispatched approximately 3,000 IBM employees originating from 56 countries on engagements to 37 countries – making this pro bono problem solving program among the world’s largest.
In the 1960s, the world was a simpler place. The Cold War structured the international system, sovereign states were the main international actors, physical (versus virtual) warfare was the main security threat, and economic barriers limited international trade
and finance. The news cycle was longer than 24 hours, and there was no internet. But today’s states and multinational organizations share a very different world with financial institutions and corporations, non-profit organizations, terrorists, drug cartels, even pirates. “Sovereign states” aren’t as sovereign as they used to be, and security threats include vulnerable financial markets, failed states, cyber threats, infectious diseases, terrorism
and climate change.
Today, two non-traditional actors – American private foundations and U.S. corporate philanthropies – exercise a degree of global reach and influence that once was the province of states and multinational organizations. Over just the last two decades, we have witnessed a huge increase in the number and size of private foundations and the scale of their international activities as they pursue social, economic and even political change. U.S. corporations also are increasingly global, and are involved in social, environmental, health and other public issues in the countries where they operate.
Although as many as 80 percent of Ghanaian women seek prenatal care, HIV testing is often deferred due to a lack of public awareness, limited access to diagnostic tests and cultural stigma. As a tragic result, Ghana is among the world’s 22 countries with the highest burden of HIV infection in pregnant women. But Ghana is fighting back. President John Dramani Mahama recently announced the formation of a global consortium to reduce Ghana’s mother-to-child HIV transmission rate to less than one percent by 2020.
A critical component of the success of this vital mission will be Ghana’s collaboration with researchers from the Yale School of Medicine and expert strategists from the IBM Corporate Service Corps (CSC). Using advanced IBM Data Analytics and SmartCloud infrastructure, the CSC/Yale School of Medicine team will work with Ghanaian policy makers and health care experts to design the first phase of shutting down mother-to-child HIV infection for good.
IBM’s Corporate Service Corps (CSC) celebrated its 5th Anniversary last year, so I was excited to join the more than 2,000 program participants from 29 countries who have contributed their expertise to projects in developing economies. Through CSC, I had an opportunity to work with Sentra Advokasi Perempuan Difabel dan Anak (SAPDA), an Indonesian NGO in the City of Yogyakarta that advocates for the social, educational and employment inclusion of women, children and persons with disabilities. As a deaf person,
I felt a particular affinity for this project and for the people I could help with my disability perspective and background in developing accessibility solutions for business.
My team’s specific project was to collaborate with SAPDA on an improved content and communications strategy, and research and development initiatives to support the organization’s efforts to obtain additional funding. SAPDA needed information and communications technology skills that they could integrate with their human resources and finance systems. They also needed the ability to communicate their value proposition to outside funding entities and others. Working with an American Sign Language interpreter – who, in turn, worked with an Indonesian translator – I dug in.
It’s been years since we learned that the world is “flat” and that all enterprises – whether commercial, governmental or non-profit – are globally connected. But what we’re still learning in this era of global integration is how to prepare the next generation of leaders to realize what we characterize as the triple benefit – developing their skills while solving communities’ problems and opening new markets. This isn’t just a “business” problem.
It’s an issue that impacts – and will shape the future of – almost every human endeavor
on the planet.
Running our cities, educating our children, protecting our health and sustaining our environment are just some of the world’s critical challenges that no single company or economic sector can address or solve alone. Mastering the world’s challenges requires the world’s collective intelligence and expertise and true collaboration. That’s why legacy models of top-down corporate philanthropy have become obsolete. In their place have arisen innovative approaches to transforming the ways we interact, learn and lead. At IBM, these approaches involve maximizing the value of our most important assets – the time and talent of our employees – versus merely donating our excess cash.