The Corporate Service Corps was launched in 2008 to help communities around the world solve critical problems while providing IBM employees unique leadership development opportunities. By sending groups of 10 – 15 individuals from different countries for community-based assignments in emerging markets, the program has helped over 140,000 people since its inception.

The Project

As part of South Africa 14 Subteam #3, I worked with the Mathematics and Computational Science Department at the University of Limpopo to help them create an implementation strategy for a Human Language Technology (HLT) Centre of Excellence (CoE). The purpose of the HLT CoE is to provide speech to text and text to speech services for students and the community at large to lower the level of sophistication required by ordinary South Africans to access information services, and thereby contribute towards the establishment of a fully inclusive information society.

Over a four-week period our IBM CSC team conducted an assessment to identify key challenges, gaps, and critical success factors in the establishment of a Human Language Center of Excellence.  The results of the analysis were then used for the creation of a strategic plan in support of HLT CoE vision. Through interviews, the IBM CSC Team gathered input from 10 stakeholders, both internal and external to University of Limpopo. The initial analysis uncovered some key challenges which were further segmented into four categories – People, Process, Technology, and Environment.  Based on the analysis, the IBM CSC Team recommended focus areas, priorities, and timelines that HLT CoE should consider incorporating into their strategic plan for implementation over the next several years.

The Impact

The expected impact is the sustainability of the Human Language Center of Excellence., which would have both financial, strategic, and political impact on the University of Limpopo and could result in additional funding, visibility, and increased student retention.

My Experience

The Corporate Service program represents not only cutting-edge leadership development assignment but also a major advance in the practice of corporate social responsibility. It is a valuable way for IBMers to develop leadership skills as we are encouraged to work independently on challenges which we may not get exposure to in a typical work situation. By participating in CSC, I undertook a challenge with the intent of finding an innovative solution for IBM and the larger community as a whole. In the process, I got an opportunity to understand the people I worked with, their strengths, their differences, how they performed, and their values which helped to develop and transform my cultural and marketplace literacy and deepened my societal engagement and career direction.

The experience helped me broaden my capabilities and allowed me an opportunity to reconcile personal experiences which I have gained over the years and sense of disequilibrium that helped me gain a new understanding and perspective.  It reminds me of an interesting quote – Challenges can also be opportunities: they allow you to see things differently and to do things in a different way: perhaps to make a fresh start.