From Boardrooms to Alleyways – The many ways my IBM CSC experience helped me provide solutions to societal and cultural challenges

Zsofia Boldizsar, recently completed her IBM Corporate Service Corps (CSC) assignment in Beijing, China. In this blog, she shares why she considers it among the best and most intensive work experiences in her life.

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.

By Zsofia Boldizsar

In April 2017, I was in Beijing for my CSC assignment and on returning to work, my peers and colleagues were wondering what my experience was like. Some would ask “So, how was your CSC assignment in Beijing?” and others would say “You have a new glow on your face. What’s this about? Tell me more.”

I could go on talking about the experience for hours, but I simply say “My CSC assignment was amazing, fun, challenging, humbling, and life-changing. The best and most intensive work experience ever in my life so far that I never wanted  to come to an end.”

That is the short answer that summarizes my exciting experience but to those with a bit more time, I tend to tell more, so read on for my full CSC story.

My IBM CSC story

We were a team of 14 IBMers from nine different countries across the globe (Brazil, Canada, France, Hungary, India, Portugal, Poland, Spain and the USA) who deployed from April to May 2017 in Beijing, China. We were the 35th CSC team sent to China, but the very first team deployed to the capital city, Beijing. One could ask the question – if CSC sends teams to mainly rural, under-served, developing parts of the world, then what were we doing in one of the most developed and advanced megacities in the world. That’s because our project team focused on some of the societal and cultural challenges and focus areas that the rapid growth, technical and economical advancements caused to the city and its inhabitants – these are:

  1. Women enablement,
  2. Corporate Social Responsibility for Chinese non-governmental organizations (NGO),
  3. Sustainable community development.

We were divided into 5 sub-teams, each working with an NGO. I was part of a team that worked with Beijing Dongcheng Qiaoniang Workshop Development Association who help the vulnerable women section of the community (handicapped, laid-off, migrant labor, retired women) become self-reliant by imparting them with skills on traditional Chinese handicrafts. We also had excellent Chinese university interns helping us with everything – from translation, food, logistics to sightseeing!

sub team
Our sub-team cycling to work in Beijing

Our project had four objectives –

  1. Help improve the operational efficiency of the organization.
  2. Help with the proposal process for soliciting government funds
  3. Recommendations on fund raising
  4. Recommendations to improve branding and organizational awareness.

We used many tools (SWOT, IBM Design Thinking, and Fishbone) and an iterative approach to understand the organization in detail, the issues they are facing, and provide solutions & recommendations. I very much enjoyed the process of bringing our deliverables and recommendations day by day closer to exactly what our NGO wanted from us.

We delivered tangible productivity templates to manage their administrative day to day operations and templates to help them with the proposal process, and we gave recommendations on fund raising from enterprises, individuals, other entities and recommendations on creating awareness about their NGO including social channels. These outcomes will provide the association better insights to grow their operations further. It was immensely gratifying to see the potential impact our work together could create, and we believed that our collaborative work over the four weeks was the right step forward for the association to create a bigger impact on the community they serve.

Design Thinking
After an IBM Design Thinking workshop with the members of the organization

Learning about Chinese culture and traditions

Our community service day was held at British House in Beijing, where our team joined hands with students, social organizations, local community families to creatively interpret Chinese architectures, hutongs (narrow lane or alleyway), prominent personages and handicrafts with the aim to probe into new ways to develop, promote and carry forward traditional Chinese culture. It was an amazing way to immerse into the Chinese culture and traditions, and exchange different points of view with Chinese people on societal and cultural challenges the city is facing.

Hutongs
Inside one of the narrowest hutongs in Beijing

New friends, fun and sightseeing

Along with work, we also had lot of fun, we made new friends, came across and solved new challenges and did lots of sightseeing and cultural immersion programs. Beijing is an excellent mix of modern and traditional city. I am extremely grateful to IBM for providing such an opportunity and my family for their encouragement and support. It was indeed the best work experience so far in my life.

You can check out our team experience video here that captures our four week journey. Hope you enjoy it!

Zsofia is a communications specialist from IBM Hungary.

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

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