Friday, March 28, 2008

Volunteering Abroad To Climb at IBM

Many multinational companies insist that promising executives do stints in their overseas offices. And many will free employees to do pro bono work at community organizations. But I.B.M.’s program, which it calls the Corporate Service Corps, stands out on several counts. It uses the volunteer ethos to bring together employees who might otherwise never meet, even as it gives I.B.M. a high profile in countries where it does not yet have a significant presence.

“As a development tool, this is a four-for-one,” said Allan R. Cohen, dean of the Olin Graduate School at Babson College, near Boston. “It’s stretching to work in another culture, to work in a nonprofit where the measurement of accomplishment isn’t clear, to take a sabbatical from your everyday routine and to learn to accomplish things when you can’t just bark orders.”

Clearly, the Service Corps concept sits well with the I.B.M. employees. More than 5,500 of them, from more than 50 countries, applied for the program. I.B.M. narrowed the pool to those who had been designated as fast-trackers, who had familiarity with volunteerism and who submitted the best short essays on how participation would help them develop as leaders.

The final list comprises 100 people from 33 countries, who will form 12 teams that will be deployed to projects in Romania, Turkey, Vietnam, the Philippines, Ghana and Tanzania. I.B.M. said it would select another 100 before the end of the year and have a total of 600 participants over the next three years.

After their four-week trips, the participants will go through two months of intensive debriefing to discuss what they learned about leadership — and about the countries they visited.
Interesting. I have never heard of using a volunteering program as a way of building the leadership skills of those on the fast track in a corporation. Sounds like a good program to me, although I wonder how much good you can really accomplish in just 4 weeks.

via NY Times

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