A trusted advisor helps me answer last week’s questions…

Last week, I posted about a McKinsey report that projected workforce demographics into the year 2030:

  • 38 million to 40 million fewer workers with tertiary education (college or postgraduate degrees) than employers will need, or 13 percent of the demand for such workers
  • 45 million too few workers with secondary education in developing economies, or 15 percent of the demand for such workers
  • 90 million to 95 million more low-skill workers (those without college training in advanced economies or without even secondary education in developing economies) than employers will need, or 11 percent oversupply of such workers

In that post I raised some questions:

  • How does a company like IBM need to set its strategic objectives to survive and thrive in what promises to be a highly chaotic work environment?
  • How does the IBM Corporate Service Corps fit into such a strategy?
  • The report presents this evolution as inevitable.  Is it?  Are there any new, disruptive approaches that could stave off this impending gap?  I’m thinking in particular of disruptive education policies and the rise of freely available primary curricula along the lines of Kahn Academy; how can we leverage this kind of approach to make the size of the gap smaller?
  • Finally, and most importantly, what does this mean to me as a parent?  How do I advise my children as they decide how they want to shape their own lives, and help them plan their future?

I am still ruminating on the first two questions; my gut tells me I won’t have an intelligible answer until I go out in the field, gain some first-hand experience, and have a chance to learn from other people doing the same.  But I have made some progress on the second two, after consulting with one of my closest, most trusted advisors:  my eleven-year-old son Artemis.

Artemis guides a robotic arm through an obstacle course at the Farnborough Air Show

I gave Artemis a copy of the McKinsey report to read and asked him what he thought of it.  He told me that the answer was obvious: if there are 45 million too few workers with secondary educations and 90 million unskilled workers without jobs, then if we educated at least half of those 90 million workers we would solve one problem and halve the other.

Socratic dialog being the norm in our household, I then asked him how we go about achieving that goal.  He thought about that for a while, and then told me that it would be very expensive to educate all the children in African villages, and that the dictators in those countries would just take the money.

Then he asked me the million-dollar-question…  “what difference do you think I can make?”  I had been hoping for that question.  I talked about disruptive strategies, ways to get education into the hands of people directly, bypassing corrupt governments entirely, and making it free so that anyone could afford it, no matter how poor.  I must have been overbearing in my passion, because he got a worried expression on his face and said, “That’s a lot of pressure, dad.  I don’t think I could ever live up to your expectations of me.”

That threw me for a loop, because he was absolutely right.  Any idea that started with me, would instantly be taken as pressure, and had the potential to turn what could be a grand adventure into a living hell.  And talking further, Artemis and I realized there were really a million different ways a child might act on the information in that report, and use it to shape life choices.  Some of the ones we came up with together:

  • Being able to access free educational content like Khan Academy requires speaking English or one of the other languages it has been translated into.  Working on a way to make language instruction itself available globally would be a huge enabler
  • A child with an interest in engineering might direct his energy to concentrate on a way to distribute free access to a browser and an internet connection, so that all this magnificent content would be truly accessible even to the most impoverished.
  • Finally, along a very different line of thinking, that many unemployed, unskilled laborers is a certain recipe for political unrest.  A child who cared about protecting her family or country might well be inspired to serve in her country’s police or armed forces.

And it was over the course of this conversation that my role as a parent became clear to me.  My son and my daughter have to decide what future they will make of their lives.  What I have to do as a parent is make sure they understand enough about where the world is heading so that they can make decisions that are relevant, well-informed, and directed towards bringing about the sort of world they want to live in.  I ran this thought by Artemis, and he informed me that was the right way to do it.  And then he asked if he could play Assassins Creed II on the Xbox.

There are some days where being a parent is the best job in the world.

Corporate Philanthropy: A Walk on the Dark Side

By now I have had the opportunity to talk with most of my colleagues on Team China 18.  We are quite unanimous in our excitement about the upcoming adventure, and there is a shared bond of understanding between us about what we would like this to mean:  to IBM, to the organizations and communities we will be working for, and to ourselves.

But a question has been nagging at my brain for the better part of a month now: if doing this is such a positive thing for everyone involved, why is it new and innovative?  If it benefits everyone as much as it seems to, why hasn’t it been established procedure for every major corporation worldwide?

With that in mind, I trolled the web to find people who thought that what we are doing is a bad idea.  And the web being the magical place that it is, it should surprise no one that I had little difficulty in finding some.  The main theme of this critique appears to be that corporate philanthropy is no more or less than direct theft and malfeasance of funds from shareholders.  Some specific examples:

On 21 July 2010, Jamie Whyte wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “When Corporate Theft is Good”.  He points out that were a corporate manager to give $100,000 to an outside party that has not provided the corporation with commensurate goods and services, in most circumstances that manager would be guilty of embezzlement.  But if the outside party happens to be the manager’s favorite charity, then for some inexplicable reason it is not only legal but encouraged.

Earlier the same year, Daniel Indiviglu wrote an article in The Atlantic criticizing Glaxo-SmithKline for donating a large body of anti-malaria research into the public domain.  As quoted by the National Conference on Citizenship in one of their featured discussions:

Indiviglu questioned the integrity of this decision, stating the intellectual property had been financed as an investment by the company’s shareholders. He made the argument that the “Glaxo management decided to take investor dollars and donate the profit that may come from it”—the profit that shareholders had perhaps invested in hopes of receiving. Ultimately, he states that without “explicit shareholder approval, [it is] unclear how this is different from taking investors’ money and misappropriating it.

My emotional reaction to this argument is immediate; I feel contempt for such rapacious small-mindedness.  But however much I may dislike it, I am forced to admit that the logic behind the position is not only sound but compelling.  The only possible refutation available to a corporate manager is that corporate philanthropy is a sound business investment – in other words, that an investment in charitable work produces more shareholder value than the cost of that work, at rates of return better than would be available if the money were spent some other way.

This is serious business.  Our headlines are awash with examples of corporate management squandering shareholder money.  Where is the evidence that we are not doing the same?  The good news is that such evidence abounds.  And since I assume that anyone reading this blog has an interest in the subject, I would encourage you all to acquaint yourself with the evidence, because the burden of proof us on us.

Without it, we are nothing more than thieves.

References:

Is Corporate Philanthropy the Same as Stealing? National Council on Citizenship, 23 July 2010

Making the Business Case for Corporate Philanthropy.  Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, 20 August 2011.

Photographs: Stanley Quan, Sox First

An Interview With Ruth Dela Cruz, IBM Corporate Service Corps, Team Indonesia 3

When you go into a bookstore in America or the UK (yes, they still have them), you will find one rack of shelves with business books and another rack with technology books.  Most of the remaining racks, and two of the three walls, will be packed solid with varying genres of fiction.  If you ever get the chance to visit India or Singapore or China, make a point of walking into a bookstore there. You will find one shelf of international literary classics printed in English, another shelf of the same works in a local language, and a third shelf of literature native to the country.  The rest of the store will contain books on how to succeed in business, technology, a foreign language, or some other capitalist endeavor.  These cultures are driven to succeed; they don’t have time to indulge in fiction
As an American, I always have a certain amount of envy when I encounter someone from another country who can rightly claim to be one of those directly responsible for their country’s future.  Don’t get me wrong, there is no country in the world I would trade my passport for; I am deeply proud to be American.  But there are so many bright and talented Americans, people who are making bold innovations in every possible field of endeavor, that the times I feel directly involved with my country’s success are few and far between.  But in many of the places I have traveled:  India, China, Thailand, and Singapore to name a few, I routinely get the opportunity to work with people who are critical to their country’s success every day.  The passion such people feel for their country, and for the importance of their own role in their country’s development, is truly humbling.
Ruth Dela Cruz is one of these people.  She is an IBM’er from the Philippines, clearly identifies outsourcing as one of the chief mainstays of the Philippine economy, and obviously derives great satisfaction from being a part of that success.
Not that Ruth is all work and no play.  Her blog Ruthilicous is a chick-lit romp through the bustling halls of Philippine retail excess, and she haunts those halls with unholy glee.  And the blog has clearly struck a chord; she sports hundreds of thousands of hits, and I am left with the impression that retailers sometimes try to curry her favor by sending her samples of their wares to evaluate.
Ruth served in the IBM Corporate Service Corps as part of Team Indonesia 3 in Makassar, and is now an IBM CSC facilitator in the Philippines.  And somewhere between the office and mall, I was fortunate enough to chat with her and get her to tell us a bit about her experience.  So here then is my interview with Ruth.  If you enjoy meeting her, be sure to pop over to her blog and say hello.  As before, my questions are in plain text and Ruth’s responses are in green.
How long have you worked for IBM, and what is your role?
I have been with IBM for 4 and a half years. My current role is a Mobility Practitioner. Basically, I assist IBM US employees and executives during their assignment/relocation to another country (mostly Asia Pacific). I provide them guidance on the assignment policy, their entitlements and allowances, and I also authorize third party vendors to assist them in immigration, taxes, settling to the work location/country and shipment of their goods. Most of the people don’t understand the work that we do, but let’s just say that we are here to ensure that our assignees can focus on their jobs during the start until the end of their assignment.
What made you decide to apply for CSC?
I always want to do something meaningful but because of busy schedule and all other things that I do, I just couldn’t find time to do it, So when I found out that a manager in our team was sent to Tanzania for the CSC, I got interested and applied. Luckily, I passed and I was sent to Indonesia with 9 other IBMers from different countries.
Was it hard to win the support of your management team, given that they would lose you for a month?  How did you go about convincing them that this was a good idea?
My manager is very supportive, from the time that I told her about my interest, to the time I applied and accepted the assignment offer, up to when I was already in the host country and got back home in Manila. I moved to a new role in the same organization and I received the same support from my current manager. Even the Geo Lead of our organization was excited about this journey. When I shared my experience to the whole team, a lot showed interest and plan to apply in the next cycle.
Tell us about your deployment project.  What was your team asked to accomplish?
There were 10 of us in the team, and we were grouped by partners. I and Cheryl (USA) were assigned in the local hospital. We helped them in designing a project plan on how to implement a green hospital. The others were assigned in the Transportation Office, Marine & Conservation Team, Education Department and Local Library of the city of Makassar.
Were your day-to-day job skills of any use?  Did you have to learn new skills?
Yes, especially effective communication, collaboration and time management, as well as creating and conducting presentations. I learned new skills such as consulting and understanding cultural differences.
What were your team’s finished results?  How were those results received?
We created a project plan for the hospital, including recommendations on how they can implement the goal (green hospital), Change Management and creating a Mission Statement that would be their guide including establishing short-term and long term goals.
We saw that the hospital employees are very interested because they asked alot of questions. They are forward thinkers and passionate about the program…
What was the most surprising thing that you learned from your CSC project?
It is about cultural differences. There were perceptions in my mind regarding certain religion or race but by interacting with the people I met, I got to better understand the differences and appreciate one’s unique culture and tradition.
Do you remember anything in particular that touched or moved you?
Our visit to the Juvenile Detention Center where we taught the kids how to use computer and search information in the internet. They were so happy to see us. Their lives were probably changed because of our visit, but they never know their stories changed our lives forever.
And what was your single most rewarding experience?
IBM helps me reach my goal – that is, to show people that one need not be a celebrity, executive or in a top position to be influential and make a difference. The whole experience is rewarding. It was my first time to travel alone in another country and to live with people I just met. It was amazing that despite differences in religion, skills, age and race, we got to  understand and support each other to reach the same goal. If there is one thing that is common among us, it would be the IBM values. But we discovered new things, swam in the deep sea, sang songs, and traveled together. I learned to enjoy each moment of my life. Oftentimes, if I think of the IBM CSC Indonesia 3 assignment, I wonder if everything was just a dream – a beautiful dream. I wonder if I would see and be with those amazing people from Brazil, US, India, Mexico and Austria. The IBM CSC is one experience that I will never get tired of sharing. 

what makes a good candidate for the CSC?

I think a good candidate, or should I say, a good IBM CSC volunteer is someone who understands that his/her responsibilities doesn’t end after the assignment. He/she has to live with the learnings and values he/she has embraced from the experience. Oftentimes, it is not about how good you are in your current role, but how you relate to people, and how you adjust in the new environment, with different people you just met (and probably would not see again). A good IBM CSC volunteer knows how to embrace change and appreciate differences. 
Thanks very much for sharing your time and insight with us Ruth!
Time allowing, there are a number of things I’d like to get done here on the blog in the coming week.  I did a third interview with Delaney Turner, but this one was done over the phone and I need to transcribe it.  I want to talk more about the DOT and some of the other work they do.  And finally, I’ve started reading about Kunming in history and would like to share some of the things I’ve found with you.  So I hope to be talking with you all soon.

An interview with John Fredette from CSC Team Kenya 2

One of the things I wanted to do with this blog from the start is to tell not just my story but the stories of the people I encounter.  One of the ways I’ve been doing this is by interviewing some of the people who have already completed their CSC experience.

I’d like to introduce you to John Fredette, who works in Corporate Marketing.  John worked as part of Team Kenya 2, and has a great blog which you can see here.  I’d encourage you to take the time and pay it a visit; I really enjoyed reading his insights; he does a good job conveying how he connected with his team, his clients, and with Kenya in general.

Here is our conversation.  My questions are in plain text; John’s replies are in green.

How long have you worked at IBM, and what is your role?

I have worked at IBM for 15 years, and have been fortunate to have worked in many different roles, primarily in marketing communications. Currently, I work in Corporate Marketing on the global advertising team. In this area, I manage the US media team – which is responsible for the paid media strategy and execution for all our advertising – including television, print and digital.

What made you decide to apply for CSC?

I was very interested in the CSC from the first time I heard about the program. The idea of deploying with a diverse team and work in an emerging market is alluring to me – and coupled with my love of travel, this was an opportunity I did not want to pass up.

Was it hard to win the support of your management team, given that they would lose you for a month? How did you go about convincing them that this was a good idea?

They were very supportive, as they understood the opportunity presented – and the business/skills value that would come back with me as a result. That said, I did have to come up with a coverage and backup plan, and had a lot to catch up on when I returned to the office. It was well worth it, though!

Tell us about your deployment project. What was your team asked to accomplish?

There were 12 IBM’ers assigned to our group – and we were split up into 3 groups, working with different divisions within the Government of Kenya. My group was assigned to work with the national postal corporation – who, like many other postal entities around the globe, were suffering from declining revenues and an antiquated business model. Our task was to provide recommendations for improvement – from adding government services, to creating partnerships with banks, to organizational restructuring.

Were your day-to-day job skills of any use? Did you have to learn new skills?

It was interesting – I was the one true ‘marketing’ person on the Kenya team, so the majority of marketing & communications responsibilities were mine to own. From developing market research, to planning awareness initiatives, I brought my everyday skills to the table throughout the whole project. The challenge was the setting – you could not take the same tactics from a mature market like the U.S. and immediately apply them to an emerging market like Kenya. The principles remained the same, yet you had to be flexible in the approach.

What were your team’s finished results? How were those results received?

We ended up providing some very forthright recommendations to the client team. These involved not only new services and potential restructuring, but looking at a whole new strategy for how they operate. The team recognized the situation they were in, and were very receptive – and I’m pleased to since our deployment, they have rolled out many of the initiatives we recommended. There was some press about this recently, which can be seen here.

Article in Business Daily Africa

What was the most surprising thing that you learned from your CSC project?

Not really surprising – but I was amazed with the people of Kenya – from the government leaders to people on the street. Everyone was friendly, passionate about their country and eager to help us out in any way possible.

What was the single most rewarding experience?

Working with my amazing CSC team. We were 12 people from 9 countries, representing various backgrounds and skill sets. But once deployed, we immediately became a seamless team, working around the clock and each contributing our own unique skills. I keep in touch with all my team members today, and will always have a special bond with them.

Thank you John for taking the time to share some of your adventure with us.

John runs an active Twitter stream; I have frequently found his articles to be both interesting and useful.  You can follow him here.

The world at work: Jobs, pay, and skills for 3.5 billion people

Last month McKinsey released a report entitled: “The world at work: Jobs, pay, and skills for 3.5 billion people”. It looks at both global and regional job growth by education level, and maps those against regional population growth.  The patterns that come out need to be taken seriously.

  • 38 million to 40 million fewer workers with tertiary education (college or postgraduate degrees) than employers will need, or 13 percent of the demand for such workers
  • 45 million too few workers with secondary education in developing economies, or 15 percent of the demand for such workers
  • 90 million to 95 million more low-skill workers (those without college training in advanced economies or without even secondary education in developing economies) than employers will need, or 11 percent oversupply of such workers

So in short, there will be an enormous oversupply of unskilled workers and a similarly sized undersupply of highly edcucated workers, and both of these effects will be felt most keenly in developing economies.

Unemployment around the world will continue to grow, but there will be huge unmet demand for highly educated professionals in developing economies.  At the same time, those economies — with hordes of unemployed, and presumably angry, young adults — will be hotbeds of political instability.  Presumably the world will be a far more dangerous place then than now.

This raises a lot of questions in my mind.

  • How does a company like IBM need to set its strategic objectives to survive and thrive in what promises to be a highly chaotic work environment?
  • How does the Corporate Service Corps fit into such a strategy?
  • The report presents this evolution as inevitable.  Is it?  Are there any new, disruptive approaches that could stave off this impending gap?  I’m thinking in particular of disruptive education policies and the rise of freely available primary curricula along the lines of Kahn Academy; how can we leverage this kind of approach to make the size of the gap smaller?
  • Finally, and most importantly, what does this mean to me as a parent?  How do I advise my children as they decide how they want to shape their own lives, and help them plan their future?

None of these answers are particularly easy. But quixotic as it might be, I will have a go at it in the next post.

I strongly encourage you to read the article and download the full report, which provides additional detail on the regionalization of the issue.  You can find them here:

The world at work: Jobs, pay, and skills for 3.5 billion people

orld at work: Jobs, pay, and skills for 3.5 billion people

IBM Corporate Service Corps – Terms and Conditions

Today I received a pair of emails from the CSC program leadership.

The first email was a request to complete a standard format CV/resume and cover letter. These will be sent to the NGO we will be working with in Kunming so they can figure out how best to make use of each of us and our respective skills.

The second email came with an attached Participant Agreement that I was to sign and return. The tone of this email was stern, almost admonishing.  It reminded us that the CSC experience begins now, and advised us that, if we felt we could not handle the demands the program would be placing on us, we should let the leadership team know as soon as possible so they could give our slot to someone else.

The participant agreement we are asked to sign and accept is a four page MS-Word document.  Here are some of the details…

  • There will be activity both before and after the deployment we will be expected to complete, including the development and delivery of a presentation about our engagement
  • During the three months leading up to the deployment, we will be introduced to our NGO (non-government organization) partners in Kunming, and to the actual work we will be expected to perform
  • Our team will be living together in shared lodging approximating that of normal Kunming citizens, rather than in the separate rooms in high-standard hotels that is the norm for IBM business travel.  The purpose is to get us closer in mindset to the people we are working with for, and also to add to the immersive nature of the experience, facilitating the close bonds that inevitably form when a team works together in close quarters over a tight schedule
  • We are expected to eat as locals, and our per diems will be sized in accordance with this. Also, we are reminded that the variety of choice we often take for granted as business travelers may not be there for many CSC locales.  Having lived in China before, this is not news to me, but some team members will never have been outside their home country before, so this is welcome advice I think
  • Our partner NGO will provide us with cell phones, but phone charges, internet, etc. are our own responsibility, with some provision being made within the per diem allowance
  • In addition to the NGO partner, there will be a local IBM manager who will work with us and advise us
  • We should not expect the standard business support provided by the IBM infrastructure, such as printing, high speed dedicated internet, etc.

I wonder if this admonishment was developed because the program may have had people who went in expecting something much more posh, luxurious, or vacation-like. This was certainly not my expectation.  In fact, in perusing some of the blogs other people have made, I would actually say that I was expecting accommodations to be even more sparse than they actually are.

At any rate, the intent here was clearly to drive home that the Corporate Service Corps is a serious commitment, not a summer vacation, and make sure we were up to the challenge…

What a shiny gauntlet someone seems to have thrown down at my feet.  I think I’ll take it up :-)

One final note.  This email was the first that was addressed specifically to my team, referred to officially as Team China 18, and it had everyone’s email.  A couple of people from the US, along with Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Australia, Italy, Germany, India, and Slovakia.  I’ve sent out an email to the rest of the team saying hello.  Can’t wait to meet them.

Welcome @ruthilicous #teamindonesia3

A warm welcome to Ruth dela Cruz from IBM Philippines, whose delightful blog Ruthilicious is my first exchanged blog link.

Ruth recently completed her service in the IBM Corporate Service Corps as part of Team Indonesia 3, and is now part of the CSC selection committee for the Philippines.

Soon Ruth will be sharing her experience on the island of Makassar with us.  Until then, pop on over to her place and say hi!