ARN recently ran a series of features on corporate social responsibility (online version can be read here) in its print magazine. We spoke to a number of ‘good’ businesses in the process of putting those features together, and in the interest of giving more detail about the philanthropic work of these companies, and what drives them to do it. As an added online-only bonus, we are putting up a series of profile interviews with each of those companies. First up is IBM's local head of its corporate citizenship program, manager of corporate citizenship and affairs, Andrew Hocking.
IBM’s major citizenship program is in providing its staff to NGO work in developing countries. It’s a major investment that is a six month training, execution, and debriefing process for any staff member that participates, but as I found, the value it brings IBM is many times the raw investment.
So what is the goal in regards to IBM’s corporate citizenship program?
Andrew Hocking (AH): The whole goal of the program is mainly a development of future and emerging leaders program and it’s a very involved process. We take teams of anywhere from 10 to 14 from diverse geographies and they then go for a period of one month in what we would call an emerging market to work with a range of community partners around economic, social and environmental type projects.
And it’s about making an impact with those locals by receiving consulting expertise and services, but it’s also about our employees enriching their skill sets working in those unique geographies with diverse cultures and going to a country which is very different from your own.
And also, from IBM’s perspective it gives insight into those new markets, it gives us a footprint in those markets where we develop relationships with a whole range of different partners, and creates hopefully new relationships and potentially new business opportunities for the company in that new footprint.
How many Australian IBM staff have gone through the program?
AH: It’s probably around 40.
How does the selection process work, in regards to what projects IBM will involve itself with?
AH: We work with our NGO partners and we use our business insights to identify where there is a real community need and where there is a potential opportunity to enter into new markets. We also work with our Australian business volunteers to look for those partners that are reliable, respected and we know that we can identify meaningful projects and utilize our people to get the best outcomes.
What are some of the challenges that the staff can come across when they are working in these regions?
AH: All sorts of things. A person from Australia might be used to broadband internet, electricity 24/7 and an environment where the hotels are of good standard, but not perhaps like home.
There the electricity might go off for three hours during the day, internet access is minimal in spots, public transport can be a challenge, there are all of those kinds of issues that pop up and that is where we work very closely with our partners to obviously you know, circumvent and as part of the education process to get people going.
There’s also the cultural issues and just getting used to the new culture. For instance, There’s a lady who went to Nigeria and found there’s different classes of VIP’s, there’s very important people and then there’s VVIP; they are very, very important people, and there’s very, very, very important people. Now there’s a hierarchy which you need to understand to get things done.
When it comes to dealing with NGO’s, is it different with a typical engagement as I a commercial business partner?
AH: Yeah, and in dealing with the different types of sectors it might vary within themselves too. Government often varies from around a small or not-for-profit, to a Chamber of Commerce type organisation, so there are definitely a different way of approaching things. We’re not trying to sell them anything, we’re trying to work with them to accomplish something, so that’s always a different experience.
So what would you say would be the best way to go about effectively engaging with an NGO?
AH: Having the reputation that a company has in a country makes a huge difference. The not-for-profit knows that IBM has a long history of being a good corporate citizen, they’re not a short-term partner that we are a reliable organisation with integrity that really helps us build up the trust. And that’s why investing in corporate social responsibility is really important because it gives you the reputation, your brand and your record, which gives you the right and the privilege to have conversations with a range of not-for-profit partners.