IBM has a long tradition in Corporate Citizenship and launched the pro bono Corporate Service Corps
(CSC, https://www.ibm.com/ibm/responsibility/corporateservicecorps/) programme in 2008.
Teams of mostly around 14 colleagues partner with government, business and civic leaders in
emerging markets to address high-priority issues such as education, health and economic development.
In each case, the CSC programme management team works with one of four NGO partners to plan
In its 11th year, meanwhile over 4,000 IBMers - coming from 62 different countries - have served on
CSC assignments, in more than 1,400 projects and being deployed to meanwhile over 44 countries.
The idea is that of a threefold benefit. The communities we serve for get their problems addressed.
The IBMers in the projects learn to work in cross-functional intercultural teams and in project topics
which while outside their usual areas of work, often touch latest strategic areas, like data analytics.
And IBM as a company benefits from developing new markets and from the increased cultural awareness
and knowledge of their employees.
The CSC programme is highly competitive; for me, my 5th application was successful.
When applying, I could give a continent preference (Asia), but which country and city it would be,
I didn't know at that time. Early May 2018 I got notice that I was signed up for the team "India 39", to be
located to Bhopal, which is a 1.8M city and capital of the state of Madhya Pradesh, in central India.
The whole state of Madhya Pradesh is about as large as Germany, in terms of population and
geographical dimensions, but with a major part of rural areas.
What then followed was a 3-month period of intensive education for our group, including
a few things we had to solve in small teams. We not only got to know each other already
remotely during that time but also got high-level advice on logistics and visa, medical issues
and vaccination, economical/legal and security aspects, and even another refresher course
on how to apply consulting methodology, as well as design thinking, in the upcoming project.
The project and client itself I learnt about only two weeks before our flights.
Our group of 13, with colleagues from 8 different countries (Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Germany,
Israel, Japan, Mexico, United States), got divided into four subteams. One subteam worked
with a non-profit NGO that improves education by delivering teaching materials, books and
magazines to schools. Here, the IBMers, being also HR and marketing colleagues, assisted
with a comprehensive sales, marketing and branding strategy.
Another subteam helped an organisation which supports women groups in poorer communities
through micro-credits. Here, the IBMers documented the existing processes, which were mostly
on paperwork, and came up with a Data Management System concept to digitise these.
Then we had a subteam of colleagues who worked for UNICEF (unicef.org). 9% of the children
in the state of Madhya Pradesh (MP) are "Severely acute malnourished" (SAM), meaning a
life-threatening condition requiring urgent treatment - classically, hospitalisation.
Their project objective was to review the current procedures for a pilot nutrition project for
Acute Malnourished children, which is community-based. The colleagues came up with 24
recommendations how to improve the procedures in this project and the situation for acute
malnourished children, many of which were immediately started implementing by UNICEF.
At the village health centre - getting explained how to detect malnutrition at small children
My subteam was with the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI, https://clintonhealthaccess.org).
CHAI started 2002 with programmes for HIV, TB and malaria, for instance enabling affordable
antiretroviral treatment, or vaccinations. They are now active in 36 countries, with around 1500 employees.
In Madhya Pradesh, CHAI supports the MP state government on large-scale programmes to end
childhood and maternal mortality due to malnutrition, anaemia, diarrhoea and pneumonia.
CHAI works across all the 52 districts, through field staff and implementation partners with
defined strategies to achieve the laid-out goals and objectives. They collect data from multiple sources,
but have issues getting timely and efficient analysis of this data, both related to individual programmes
and across different programmes. CHAI are looking for a way to evaluate indicators across multiple
programmes, and assess their impact. The deliverable for CHAI was a roadmap for a dashboard,
including concepts to define data strategy, data structure and data visualisation, that can facilitate
tracking project progress against goals to support performance evaluation and decision making.
The plan for CHAI is to assess how well programme commonalities contribute to the organisational
goals, and drive programmatic decisions in order to improve the performance of the programmes.
Such a fully integrated Health Management Information System also enables measuring the impact
of CHAI interventions in addressing child and maternal health, and assess and evaluate additional
My flight then was in late August - still monsoon time. First thing on the weekend after we landed
was to get your own new cellphone number. Mobile telecommunication is so cheap in India,
and present even in very remote places: Each of us got a new SIM with 1.4 GB data traffic
per day, for over 80 days, for less than 10 €, and with all national calls included.
After our first day in office (flowers! :-), we started with a deep-dive into the various individual
health programmes, getting an insight into the treatment of the various diseases, the hospital
structure in India from village level up to the medical colleges, and treatments by the private sector
(=people selling medicine and giving medical advice, outside the hospital system), vs. the public (state-run).
On a field trip, we also learnt about the vaccination cold chain and how vaccines are transported
on motorcycles up to remote rural villages, even at over 40°C, and how the routes and the cooling
process for this are optimised and monitored.
Field trip: School class, listening to the doctor from CHAI teaching on health issues
CHAI is collecting lots of statistics here and also draws data from the state Health Management
Information System. Given a close cooperation with the Ministry of Health, they are allowed to
assess hospitals and medical staff for their infrastructure and their knowledge levels, and pulling
all these data together including health records, give advice to the ministry whether to best invest
in additional hospitals, in streets, in more staff or in better knowledge of existing staff, or in a better
logistics when distributing vaccines or pharmaceuticals; and check which parts of the state are
in most need for what.
Janmashtami Hindu festival: Our host from CHAI took us out to the temple
We then evaluated how CHAI is collecting these data, what partially involved lots of manual steps
and the data as a result being scattered and difficult to integrate, with additional issues on data
consistency and cadence, redundancy, data quality and stratification. After some workshops
with the various programme SMEs at CHAI (which also involved Design Thinking), we came up with
some concept for an integrated database and then a dashboard to use it. This involves on one side
a higher degree of automation in the data collection process and on the other side then some integrated
and holistic view for working with these data, like doing a geographical drill-down and seeing combined
health index KPIs for a certain area which derives from all the various health programmes.
Such indices would also allow to draw correlations between various aspects, as well as doing
investment decisions based on these.
Community Service Day, at the Tribal Museum
One afternoon during our four weeks in Bhopal was our Community Service Day where we
partnered with the Parvarish Museum School (http://parvarish.weebly.com/) to provide some education
for and interaction with underprivileged children, outside the classical school system.
It was two different age groups. After an introduction to our 8 countries and then to us and our jobs,
we organised a few small group projects with them like some handicraft work around building towers
out of stationary material or creating some origami pieces in various degrees of difficulty, which on
one side we hoped are appropriate for their age levels but also would give them an idea of doing
engineering or scientific things together in a small group.
On a final meeting the four IBM subteams as well as the client representatives came together again
and presented to each other the outcomes. Before, we had some longer internal meeting with CHAI
on our results which also an exec from their Delhi head office attended, along with the local director
and management staff. They acknowledged that our proposals are the right steps to go ahead and
are the way for them to go forward.
Final project meeting and farewell
All in all, this CSC project was a deep experience not to miss in a lifetime and that I can only
recommend to everybody who ever gets such an opportunity.