IBM Corporate Service Corps: A Mindfulness Living Laboratory

By Vicki L. Flaherty and Gina Tesla

Image: Gaziantep, Turkey with my CSC team and the local Chamber of Industry General Secretary and Staff

IBM’s Corporate Service Corps (CSC) involves global teams of IBM employees working for one month in disadvantaged, developing, or emerging parts of the world to perform pro bono work for the public and private sectors that would not typically be aware of or immediately afford IBM services. The program provides a triple benefit: IBM gains more loyal leaders with deeper skills who are effective in a global context; participants develop as global leaders; and emerging market communities obtain IBM’s best problem-solving skills, talent, and capabilities.

I was not familiar with the concept of ‘mindfulness’ when I went on an IBM Corporate Service Corps (CSC) assignment to Gaziantep, Turkey during summer 2010, although now I see that CSC was a laboratory for living and working in a mindful way. I became aware of the program because a colleague’s touching story about her experience spoke to my heart.

In hindsight, I saw how my experience with the IBM Corporate Service Corps (CSC) has allowed me to practice mindfulness. The experience was  an amazing way to grow personally, contribute to IBM, and enhance the lives of people on the other side of the world.  This kind of connection with humanity and the larger meaning of our experience is mindfulness.

Read on to see how you can practice mindfulness in various every day experiences in your life.

Mindfulness from creating meaningful experiences

Taking the time to see and understand who we are, what energizes us, and how we can make a difference through our intentions, choices and actions is mindfulness.

From the time I started with the CSC application process, I was already invited onto a powerful path of reflection and intention. The clarity I gained about what I would personally bring, how I would engage with my team and clients, and why I was interested guided me throughout my entire experience.

 Mindfulness from stretching beyond our comfort zones

Noticing when we are uncomfortable and responding with present moment awareness is mindfulness.

One of the reasons I wanted to be selected was to stretch out of my comfort zone – and I got it! The CSC experience involved engaging with unclear and changing work scope, leading projects outside of my area of expertise, communicating through interpreters, and delivering value with limited resources within a short timeframe. The keys to my stretching through these challenges were listening, looking at situations from different perspectives, and focusing what I could do in the moment to provide value.

Image: Gaziantep, Turkey, with proud owner of a small curtain making factory

Mindfulness as a Global Collaboration

Being open to differences and having compassion for oneself and others is mindfulness.

Global collaboration is the foundation of the program. The experience involves learning to understand local business rules of engagement, different sensibilities driven by cultural norms, and varied approaches and styles for addressing situations. Collaborating with people from different cultures provided opportunities to embrace openness and respect others’ views. It invited self-compassion and the courage to share my own ideas and experiences.

Mindfulness from shared experiences

Taking time to reflect, discover what we have learned, and find meaning from our experiences is mindfulness.

Turkey 3.JPG
Image: Cover of notebook from our client Gaziantep Chamber of Industry

Upon my return from Turkey, I was invited to share my experience. This encouraged taking time to reflect on my discoveries and explore how I might apply what I learned. This introspective time enable me to see how I came home with new possibilities for the way I work, different assumptions about how things can be accomplished, and deeper understanding of challenges faced by those in other parts of the world.

My experience not only demonstrates how IBMers are applying world class problem solving to challenges communities are facing globally, it also exemplifies the opportunity each employee has to apply life lasting lessons to their daily professional and personal lives. The CSC team-based assignment is an immersive experience like no other. The removal of all distractions, combined with a singular goal, provides employees the opportunity to be fully present and ultimately deliver higher value for communities, while gaining exceptional experience in the principles of mindfulness.

Try This!

You don’t have to go to the other side of the world to experience mindfulness. Try these approaches to experience more mindfulness in your day right where you are:

  • Read something inspiring or go for a walk in nature to connect with something bigger than yourself.
  • Take time to reflect on who you are, what you bring, and how you make a difference. Consider writing down your thoughts to crystallize them, and perhaps even sharing your insights.
  • Try something different and notice how you feel. It could be a new app, restaurant, exercise routine – just about anything.
  • Next time you notice that you are uncomfortable, tense, overwhelmed, anxious, or afraid, pause and take 3 deep breaths, then proceed.
  • Forgive yourself or someone else for something that upset or hurt you. Allow a moment of compassion and loving kindness.
  • Schedule time at the end of each day or week to pause and reflect on what you are learning and where you find meaning.

For more ideas about ways to practice mindfulness, check out previous posts in this mindfulness series. To learn more about CSC, visit the IBM Corporate Service Corps series

We hope you find these suggested mindfulness approaches useful for creating greater awareness in your life and work.  Please feel free to add a comment below to let us know how you have got on.

Vicki Flaherty-Color Square Social MediaVicki Flaherty is responsible for executive leadership development and leads the Mindfulness@IBM community. She is the author of Developing Leaders through Socially Responsible Service Projects in Using Experience to Develop Leadership Talent: How Organizations Leverage On The Job Development. You’ll find her on LinkedIn, Twitter and over at her Leading with Intention blog.



Gina TeslaGina Tesla is the global leader for the Corporate Service Corps. As a Corporate Citizenship Executive, she is responsible for developing strategies to demonstrate the intersection of business and society and for applying technology to problem solving with communities across the world. You’ll find her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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