The Peace Corps Goes Corporate

24 Mar

Business WeekThe World Is IBM’s Classroom

IBM has set up a Peace Corps-like program that aims to turn top management prospects into global citizens

When 10 IBM (IBM) management trainees piled into a minibus in the Philippines for a weekend tour last October, the last thing they expected was to wind up local heroes. Yet that’s what happened in the tiny village of Carmen. After passing a water well project, they learned the effort had stalled because of engineering mistakes and a lack of money. The IBMers decided to do something about it. They organized a meeting of the key people involved in the project and volunteered to pay $250 out of their own pockets for additional building materials. Two weeks later the well was completed. Locals would no longer have to walk four miles for drinkable water. And the trainees learned a lesson in collaborative problem-solving.

While saving a village well wasn’t part of the group agenda for that trip, it’s the kind of experience the architects of IBM’s Corporate Service Corps had in mind when they launched the initiative last year. Modeled on the U.S. Peace Corps, the program aims to turn IBM employees into global citizens. Last year, IBM selected 300 top management prospects out of 5,400 applicants. It then trained and dispatched them to emerging markets for a month in groups of 8 to 10 to help solve economic and social problems. The goal, says IBM’s human resources chief, J. Randall MacDonald, is to help future leaders “understand how the world works, show them how to network, and show them how to work collaboratively with people who are far away.”

The program is growing rapidly. This year some 500 people will participate, and the list of countries will expand from five to nine, including Brazil, India, Malaysia, and South Africa. The teams spend three months before going overseas reading about their host countries, studying the problems they’re assigned to work on, and getting to know their teammates via teleconferences and social networking Web sites.

Read the whole article.  I have to say this is a neat idea.  It’s a great way for people in the corporate world, who tend to be highly focused in their own spheres, to discover how their abilities can translate into social good.  Having spent some time in the technology sector I know so many individuals whose sense of self and understanding of the world could be greatly impacted by sharing their managing or software skills.  Now if only we could more frequently see this energy and imagination in the Church.  As a North American Christian it pains me that some where between the typical short-term mission project and long term mission personnel who take years to be trained, we seem to be struggling to find a medium to harness the wisdom and knowledge of diverse skill sets of people and direct it at social development issues around the world.  As the Gospels say, “the harvest is plenty, the laborers are few.”

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