I have just returned from what was one of the best experiences in my life. I had the privilege of being selected for the IBM humanitarian¬†Corporate Service Corps (CSC) program. CSC is a total win-win-win initiative because (a) it positions IBM in emerging markets, (b) brings real value to the local communities and (c) is excellent leadership training for us, the employees. Since 2008 CSC has sent out around 2400 employees in teams of 10 to 15 all over the globe. Our team was the twelfth team deployed to South-Africa, We were 13 strong with people from 8 different countries. Forging such a diverse group of leaders in a short time into a team is a challenge. In practice it works like a charm because all of us share common values of respect and professionalism. It has reminded me once again that there are in fact ‘IBM values’ which allow us to work together globally.


Our client was the Ikamva National e-Skills Institute (iNeSI), an organization in the national ministry of Communication of South-Africa. Their mission is to broadly promote the knowledge and usage of ICT skills to help the South-African society benefit from the e-economy. To that end they have already established Colaborative Laboratories (CoLabs) in six provinces. These Centers of Excellence are a catalyst for collaboration between universities, governments and private stakeholders. For our mission we were split in four sub-teams, each with a clear objective. One team worked on the funding question on a national level, i.e. how can the available seed money from government be pooled in an e-readiness fund. Another team focused on best practices for the CoLabs. A third team worked on the definition of performance indicators and a dashboard for monitoring and evaluation.

North-West University Mahikeng campus

My own team worked primarily on the establishment of a seventh CoLab in the North-West province. Our main objective was the search for the core focus area for the CoLab, what should they specialize in, given the specific challenges of the province, the government priorities and the strength of the university. We worked for three weeks from the Mahikeng campus of North-West University. This setting gave us access to the university staff who were very willing to collaborate with us, even though they were in the middle of grading exams just before the winter break. We also talked to representatives of the incoming government and were even mentioned in the new Premier’s provincial address. In the end it was clear that the focus should be on agriculture and tourism as areas where most impact and benefit can be realized. Our second objective was the definition of a strategy for collaboration between all iNeSI stakeholders on a national level. To that end we proposed the usage of social business techniques to create a platform for communication and innovation.

What we delivered are a set of recommendations and international best practices. The next step of course is to operationalize the CoLab. After the final presentation we had a sit-down with iNeSI to do an evaluation. We were very pleased to learn that they are planning to follow through on 90% of our recommendations. The discussions with the North-West university around a memorandum of understanding are already under way and in November iNeSI will organize their bi-yearly conference where our report will be refined and further translated into action.

After four weeks on-site I clearly see that South-Africa is a country of contrast. On the one hand there is the overwhelming beauty of the land and its innumerable riches. On the other hand there are serious challenges with poverty, inequality and healthcare. Many problems stem from a lack of education. We learned that only 30% of students actually finish their basic education, that there is 57% youth unemployment. I believe that our work with iNeSI to further the promotion of eSkills is a step towards a more competitive South-Africa. Once touched by this country and its people it is simply not possible not to act so I am looking forward to follow through on our project and to contribute where I can.

(this post also appeared on the IBM smarter planet blog)