By Alekhya Telekicherla
As part of the Corporate Service Corps (CSC) every year, IBM selects top employees and deploys them to emerging markets around the world on assignments related to society. Participants spend four weeks in groups of 10 to 15 to help solve economic and social problems. Teams work collaboratively with their government and community counterparts to understand how to implement socially responsible business practices with measurable results in a global context.
This is what I knew about CSC when I applied for it in 2015. I knew that the selection process was tough and that it took at least a couple of attempts for most people to get selected. I gave it my best and eagerly awaited the results. When I got the mail about selection to CSC in my first attempt, I was understandably on cloud nine. A few months later, I got my assignment location as Vietnam. Ever since I received the mail about the assignment, I was in a state of euphoria. But I had no clarity on what I was going to do there, and how exactly I will make an impact.
Coming together for one goal.
Our team to Vietnam (10 people from 8 countries) finally met in Ho Chi Minh City after 3 months of virtual pre-work. All of us were out of our comfort zones in every sense of the phrase. Consider this – we were all from different countries, working with each other for the first time in a different culture to what we have been accustomed to in our lives, and on a project that is completely different from our regular work. For me, that made the project even more exciting and challenging. Over the course of the next few days, we all became good friends, and being with people of great passion itself was quite motivating.
Our sub-team also had diversity in terms of culture, with one member each from Brazil, India and Ireland. Our translator from Vietnam quickly became a crucial and indispensable part of our team as our fourth teammate. We worked with Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DONRE).
Collaborating to save communities
DONRE collects environmental data and analyze it to generate actionable insights. Anomalies in environmental behavior are dealt with mitigation plans to prevent damage to the community.
In this context, let me narrate a small incident about how their work touched us deeply. We went on a field trip to a beach nearby to understand their process, except that we’ve already been to that beach several times during leisure, but this time we were looking at it with a different lens. What never crossed our minds was to question the quality of water in the beach that we visit so often. We became extremely concerned when they were measuring the water quality. Fortunately, the water quality of the beach turned out to be good and we sighed a huge breath of relief. I began to admire the efforts of DONRE and personally felt glad and thankful to them for their dedication towards environment.
After spending couple of days with the key stakeholders, we realized that the analysis was being performed manually and data management was also not centralized, increasing the delay and affecting the quality of reports, thereby leading to delay in decision making. This is where they were mainly looking for help from us.
We interacted with employees from the department on a regular basis to understand their work, and then came up with the main use cases where the delay is happening. We tried to address the reasons behind the delay, the main one being the lack of basic software skills that is being used by them.
So, we had to train ourselves on the software that is being used by the department and then work on generating automated solutions for the use cases. In this complete process, we adopted an agile methodology by regularly involving the employees of the department and taking continuous feedback from them, to understand if we are actually on the right path to address their issues.
We were pretty clear on the fact that we should equip them with the required skills, so that they would be able to do it on their own, once we leave. That was our priority rather than just solving the problem.
So, we came up with an action plan and delivered hands-on workshops to enable the staff to automate their processes and also provided them with the latest available software recommendations that can address their issues effortlessly. The workshops were quite different from regular ones, as we had to present them in the simplest possible manner, for our translator to communicate it to them in Vietnamese. It was a great learning for us, communicating to people who don’t understand English.
Making an impact with passion
We had seen an active participation in the workshops and a tremendous involvement and response to that. One workshop which we had planned for a half-day, got extended to the complete day on the department request, as the employees are very keen to learn more things from us. We were equally excited to answer their questions and it was such a fulfilling day for every one of us.
With our efforts, we believe that DONRE’s capacity to translate data into knowledge has been strengthened, thereby improving high-level decision making to prevent and minimize environmental consequences.
Forming lasting friendships
Apart from our work, we have also interacted with other sub-teams and learnt about their work too. We exchanged ideas and learnt from each other. We had a lot of cultural exchange during dinners and weekend trips. We learnt a lot about Vietnamese culture and food from our translators and clients. We became an extended family.
I had really high expectations from CSC before going to Vietnam and I can confidently say that it easily surpassed even my best expectations.
In all, it was a very fulfilling experience for me. I felt grateful to IBM for giving me this opportunity to not only make an impact on the society, but also to improve my professional and personal learning.
Alekhya Telekicherla is a software engineer with IBM
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