Bringing business smarts to Africa
Ottawa Business Journal StaffWed, Apr 16, 2008 4:00 PM EST
IBM's new leadership program gives on-site experience with emerging economies
Ottawa resident Fred Logan is one of eight IBM employees selected to work and live together for a month in a small village near the town of Kumasi, Ghana.
"I am excited to be part of Ghana One, the first team to be going over ... interacting with people from a different culture, we learn a lot about a different way of life and I am sure this will be a shared experience for all of us," said Mr. Logan, a business unit executive for IBM's software group.
But this isn't a corporate version of Survivor. Mr. Logan is one of 100 employees selected to participate in the company's new Corporate Service Corps program to develop leadership skills while learning about socio-economic challenges in emerging markets.
Mr. Logan said he plans to learn just as much as he teaches while helping business owners in Ghana.
"The point behind this program is deeper than just the philanthropic level. We are transitioning to a global marketplace," said Dave Robitaille, manager of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs for IBM Canada.
"What we're aiming to do is train the next generation of global leaders and the way we're doing that is by exposing them to diverse cultures, different policy environments."
This round, 100 employees will be grouped in teams of eight and sent to different countries. The 12 teams will be sent to Romania, Turkey, Vietnam, the Philippines, Ghana, and Tanzania to work on projects with local businesses.
In order to identify the best place their employees' skills could be used, IBM teamed with three non-government organizations to develop the program: Citizens Development Corps based in Washington, D.C., Canada-based Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT), and Australian Business Volunteers.
The fact that IBM is making this investment says a lot about its commitment to training employees to deal with partners in emerging markets, said Janet Longmore, president of DOT.
"DOT has worked with many private partners and in my opinion, IBM is unique in that ... they are taking a long-term, strategic view to address very critical economic and social issues ... It says that they are taking leadership in addressing critical issues in a collaborative and smart way and providing a huge benefit of IBM expertise," she told the OBJ in an email from Nairobi, Kenya.
"And obviously (there will be) a huge payback for IBM in terms of developing their executives and leaders, who will be able to understand first hand the issues and the realities of emerging markets and developing economies."
Already, the program has had an amazing response from employees. More than 5,000 applied from all over the world and over the next three years, 600 employees will have the chance to participate in the Corporate Service Corps program.
Employees are chosen based on proven leadership skills, as well as a previous interest in international charity work. For example, Mr. Logan has been active in the organization Helping Other People Everywhere (HOPE), which hosts the popular HOPE Beach Volleyball tournament in Ottawa every summer.
The IBM teams have also had three months of prep work to learn about local customs, culture, language, project goals and the socioeconomic and political realities of their destinations.
Mr. Robitaille believes this program can significantly help local communities in emerging nations better participate in the global economy by focusing on real problems and solutions. Some projects deal with entrepreneurship, governance, working with marginalized groups like women and unemployed youth, and of course, small and micro-enterprise development.
For example, in Ghana, Mr. Logan will be working with a network of small, independent business owners, which is structured like a chamber of commerce.
Also, deployments will deal with developing technology solutions like integrating IT where possible. "(That is) in huge demand in the developing world," according to Ms. Longman.
"For Ghana, the project is to improve business and provide training for the Association of Ghanaian Industry to help them use their newfound capabilities to access financing and training. We want to leave them with training modules and business models and with new expertise to better network in the established market that is there," said Mr. Robitaille.
"To me, it really speaks to the essence of what a public-private partnership is all about. There are huge issues out there and we really need to come together so let's leverage each other's expertise," said Ms. Longmore.