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IBM Staff Develop Leadership Skills in Emerging Markets

March 26, 2008
Roslyn Docktor spent two years in Africa with the Peace Corps in the mid-1990s. While in Zambia, she worked on water, sanitation and health education projects.

Now a governmental programs executive for IBM, Docktor is returning to Africa in July. Her upcoming stint in Ghana may feel similar to her previous trip, but this time she’s being sent by her company to develop leadership skills and help extend the technology giant’s reach into emerging markets.

Docktor is one of the first 100 IBM employees from 30 countries who will participate in the IBM Corporate Service Corps, a program designed to plug top performers into the global economy by exposing them to different cultures. 

During the next three years, IBM will send 600 staffers to developing countries and spend $2 million annually on the initiative, which the company announced Wednesday, March 26.

The service corps is part of the IBM Global Citizen’s Portfolio, a program that includes matching accounts for training and education and company help for workers seeking to transition to a second career.

The goal of the service corps is to prepare employees to thrive in a business environment that stresses global integration while planting the IBM flag in new corners of the world, according to IBM officials. The company generated 65 percent of its fourth-quarter revenue outside the United States.

“It’s about the development of our people,” says Karen Calo, IBM vice president of global talent. “It’s about innovation and doing good things for the world, and it’s about developing business opportunities for IBM.”

In addition to Ghana, the company will send teams of eight to Romania, Turkey, Tanzania, the Philippines and Vietnam for one month. In each country, they will work with local businesses, government, nongovernmental organizations and educational institutions to foster economic and social development

They will apply IBM technical expertise that also might help the company secure new business. For instance, the Romania team will assist the country in building an IT infrastructure for tourism, while the group in Tanzania will create a micro-financing program for local crafts makers.

In Kumasi, Ghana, Docktor’s group will help small and medium-size companies improve their operations and grow. “I hope I can help the [businesses] integrate into the global economy,” Docktor says.

Knowledge will flow in both directions, Docktor says. Through its ambassadors, IBM will gain a better understanding of how developing countries function and how to spot opportunities in them.

“We get to gain and get to give at the same time,” Docktor says. “That’s a wonderful yin and yang of growing, learning and sharing together.”

Putting IBM employees in such an atmosphere will give them a better feel for the world than they would receive through traditional business trips.

“You can travel around the globe, but this is a whole different experience,” Calo says. “This is an opportunity to broaden their skills. It’s learning to get work done in a culture that’s new to them.”

The program has sparked high internal demand. More than 5,000 employees applied during a three-week period for the first 100 service corps openings. Selections were made based on employees’ performance history, growth potential and background, especially in IT project management.

Before departing, the IBM teams will spend three months learning about their assigned countries. When they return, they will make presentations to colleagues about their experience.

“People are excited,” Calo says. “I’m expecting that it will be a real winner.”

—Mark Schoeff Jr.