Corporate Service Corps

Incorporating Service Into Leadership Development

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.

HBR_CSC_blog_image (500x281)Read “Why IBM Gives Top Employees a Month to Do Service Abroad”
on the Harvard Business Review Blog

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.

IBM is a big company that has put big numbers on the board when it comes to citizenship and service. Now in its 10th year, IBM’s On Demand Community has facilitated the contribution of more than 17 million hours of skills-based service by nearly 260,000 current and former employees from 120 countries. Our Corporate Service Corps – inspired by the Peace Corps – has completed more than 1,000 month-long projects in more than 30 countries throughout the developing world. These are indeed big numbers, but the statistics only tell part of the story.

The real story centers on the interplay between culture and values. Simply having great values isn’t enough. Your employees must have a way to act on those values. That’s why so many IBMers – and so many IBM retirees – are able to give so much. They work for a company that not only encourages service, but facilitates it through specific, clearly defined programs that enable giving and service at all levels.

Another part of the story involves the extent to which a culture of service engages and retains top talent, attracts socially conscious investors and increases the value of a company’s brand. Fifty percent of IBM’s workforce participates in On Demand Community, while an overwhelming percentage of Corporate Service Corps participants praise the program’s value for developing collaboration and leadership skills. More than 80 percent say their CSC experience has increased their desire to continue their careers at IBM. Meanwhile, the CSC’s skills-based pro bono engagements address the toughest societal problems, provide entrée to new markets, and enable IBM to include partners and clients in this essential and transformative work.

This International Volunteer Day, IBM and other corporations and nonprofit service organizations will convene at the United Nations to discuss emerging issues related to global volunteerism. During this commemoration, let us all take a moment to reassess the value of service and reaffirm our commitment to our values. Let us take responsibility for what it means to lead.

Diane Melley is Vice President for Global Citizenship Initiatives with IBM Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs.

Related Resources:

HBR Blog: Why IBM Gives Top Employees a Month to Do Service Abroad

Service and the New Dimension of Leadership

2013 Corporate Responsibility Report Captures IBM’s Moment of Transformation

Read More Articles About IBM Corporate Service Corps

Read More Articles About IBM On Demand Community

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