Combining Philanthropy and Market Openness to Make a Difference

Joanne Fortin was one of the IBMers selected in 2008 to participate in the newly created IBM Corporate Service Corps Program. Joanne served in Romania with 11 other IBMers from across the globe. In this edition of the IBM Corporate Service Corps blogs series, Joanne takes us back to her time in Romania and shares some highlight about how the experience gave her the opportunity to share her expertise and contribute to addressing real life challenges.

The IBM Corporate Service Corps (CSC) is a highly competitive leadership development program that sends IBM employees to countries in emerging markets to address high-priority issues such as education, health, and economic development. This philanthropic initiative enables them to share their business expertise with not-for-profit organizations, entrepreneurs, small business owners and governmental agencies in markets globally.

By Joanne Fortin

Joan Fortin

Globalization has radically transformed the way we work and exchange information, goods and services. Continuous advances in information technologies have opened the door to endless frontiers. The speed of data exchanges means now that, regardless of the context, geographical location or time of the day, we have all become “global citizens”.

Becoming ambassadors – the IBM Corporate Service Corps

With this openness to the world in mind, I enrolled in an IBM program inspired by philanthropic and commercial aims in 2008, the IBM Corporate Service Corps. I was captivated by the fact that it offered participants the chance of gaining professional experience overseas, putting personal and professional baggage to good use in organizations addressing societal issues.

The program’s vision appealed strongly to me and I was selected from some 5,000 candidates to be part of the first contingent of 100 IBMers. My destination: Romania where I was joined by a multidisciplinary team made up of 12 IBM specialists from varied areas of expertise and countries: the United States, South Africa, Australia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Taiwan and Japan.

Discovering Eastern Europe

Before discovering the project that each of us had to take charge of, IBM introduced a three-month preparatory program designed to make all participants aware of major issues concerning the host countries. The program included training sessions, reading, and discussions on numerous subjects such as cultural and economic realities, politics, project management and interpersonal relations. As part of the process, each participant had to share his professional knowledge in order to serve as a specialist in his own project and become a resource person for other participants’ projects.

Like my colleagues, I made use of the international experience I had acquired with previous employers to prepare for the four-week mandate I was given. The mandate was to develop a communications and public relations program for the Oil and Gas University of Ploieşti in Southern Romania, an institution that specialized in the petroleum and gas sector – a field in which I had knowledge because of the areas of business I was covering then at IBM.

Demonstrating how to monitor gas and petrol emissions from oil rigs

In designing the program, I had to focus on the following objectives:

(1) Increasing the number of places available for student exchanges and teaching positions through the programs of the European Union;
(2) Promoting undergraduate and postgraduate study programs in collaboration with similar institutions in Europe, through shared projects;
(3) Increasing the institution’s visibility in the European educational arena.

Adopting a pro-active approach to share knowledge

To ensure that the communications plan would be in line with the university’s objectives, a tightly scheduled action plan was quickly implemented with regular meetings and discussions so that results could be measured at the end of each week.

The great majority of teachers and administrators participated with interest in the gathering of quantitative and qualitative data that was to be collated to give a better understanding of the context and challenges under which the University was operating. Interviews with department heads and administrators, together with an analysis of the press content, surveys and investigations, were also used to gather data. My colleagues also greatly appreciated the analysis stage in which issues and opportunities were identified, giving rise to proposals for communications and objectives. But the stage in which communications approaches and tactics were developed to meet the requirements of target groups gave rise to spirited discussions, because the approach was not customary for them. We focused on simple, achievable short and long-term initiatives to create the momentum under which changes could be implemented to meet the University’s objectives.

Because my stay was for a short period, only the strategic component of the communications plan was completed, although the plan contained recommendations for subsequent implementation. I also recommended to retain the services of a communications resource to act as a facilitator, providing communications and public relations support and knowledge.

Giving something of yourself as you communicate

On a professional level, this experience was very enriching since I was able to make use of the skills set I had acquired at IBM and elsewhere and act as an international consultant. As a result, I addressed various issues related to the field of communications and public relations, including communications management, communications tools, media, press releases and speeches, marketing campaigns, national and international events.

On a more personal note, I created lasting friendships and shared moments of my life in Canada as well as our lifestyle and our political and economic issues. Exchanges with my university colleagues gave rise to special moments, and I was often a guest at family gatherings, dinners and birthdays.

Overall, the experience allowed me to reinforce my interest in intercultural exchanges and how to take in consideration the differences of perception in terms of cultural values and customs. It strengthen also my ability to listen well and be able to determine the best course of action when faced with challenging situations.  Years have gone and since then, I have taken the responsibility of managing our Corporate Service Corps Program in Canada to help grow the program and share the lessons with my peers while supporting education-related initiatives in various parts of Canada with our existing community programs. It served me well for example in 2016 when I introduced a STEM related program in a school in Jamaica in collaboration with our local team that I still oversee with the aim of expanding it to the Caribbean Islands eventually.

I have continued my journey in several other missions taking place in other parts of the world, either as part of my function at IBM or on a personal basis with NGO’s in Africa. In all cases,  each one allows  me to share my spirit of openness towards others, expertise in good practices and social responsibility.

Combining a philanthropic approach with new professional experiences – a formula I can wholeheartedly recommend!

Joanne is Corporate Affairs/Corporate Citizenship & Responsibility Manager for IBM in Canada.

 Take some time to read the experiences of some other IBMers during their #IBMCSC assignment across the globe here.

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