IBM's Corporate Service Corps: A New Model for Global Leadership Development

When 700 future world leaders gathered today at IBM's centennial conference, THINK: a Forum on the Future of Leadership, they heard some of today's leaders from government, business, academia and science make provocative statements about what it will take to lead successfully in the first truly global century.

IBMers think about these issues every day. We're constantly experimenting with new ideas about how to renew our enterprise. One of our most successful experiments in recent years is the Corporate Service Corps. Through the three-year-old program, IBM sends teams of from eight to 15 high-potential employees to work with government, business and civic leaders in emerging markets to help them address high-priority issues. The program is designed to boost our efforts to be more global and to help enable progress by using advanced technologies to make a smarter planet. Indeed, the CSC has emerged as a new model for leadership development and social engagement in the 21st century.

So far, 1,200 people from more than 50 countries have participated in the CSC, serving on more than 120 teams in more than 25 countries. The host countries range from large economies such as Brazil, China, and Russia to emergent ones such as Kenya, Egypt and Vietnam. In the latest expansion of scope, IBM has pledged to double its CSC activities in Africa, sending 600 people there over the next three years.

The CSC and its offshoot, the Executive Service Corps, have produced rich dividends for IBM, its employees and the communities in which it does business. Communities get their problems addressed--free of charge. IBMers receive leadership development and have life-changing experiences. And IBM develops a new generation of global leaders and gains footholds in emerging markets.

IBM has helped a half-dozen other companies put together similar programs, including FedEx, Deere and Dow Corning. In mid-2011, IBM announced a partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to encourage corporate citizenship with a goal of improving global relations. One aspect of the alliance is a Center of Excellence for International Corporate Volunteerism, funded by USAID, which will provide resources and an information forum for companies that are interested in pursuing strategies based on IBM's model.

The program could have its greatest impact outside of the walls of IBM. If it is widely recognized as a powerful leadership and social engagement platform by other companies, that could have a transformational effect on global economic development. If every company in the Fortune 500 adopted the CSC model and deployed just 100 employees per year to work on teams in emerging markets, 50,000 skilled people per year would be sent out to address serious problems in developing societies. Larger commitments would produce even larger effects.

Such activities could improve relationships between the people of the developing world and those of the mature democracies. IBM's longtime leader, Thomas J. Watson Sr., coined a motto: "World Peace Through World Trade." The Corporate Service Corps offers a new promise: If businesses share their skills and knowledge with the governments and people of the developing world, we'll all be better off.

For a recently-completed report describing and assessing the Corporate Service Corps, click on this link.

For a more detailed look at the Corporate Service Corps, click on this link.