Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet and IBM's Stanley Litow discuss public-private partnerships and corporate efforts to tackle global challenges.
VOGT: Good afternoon, everyone. Good afternoon. Please take your—continue to enjoy your lunches. And I want to thank you, everyone, for coming today. We’re going to have a terrific conversation today, I hope.
I thought I’d just start things off by—before I introduce our guests, by just saying that I hope that this conversation today, we can think of it as a reminder that there are—the United States is blessed with people in public service and private service who really believe in the power of technocratic expertise and know-how, and technocratic know-how, and bring that to bear on public issues, and who see American engagement with the rest of the world as something other than a zero-sum game and actually maybe as an opportunity to create win-win situations.
We are very lucky to have two of those people with us today. I’ll get to their introductions in just a second. Let me just remind everyone that today is an on-the-record event. And I’d like to ask everyone to turn off your phones so we can all hear each other.
Without further ado, let me introduce our speakers today. To my immediate left is Carrie Hessler-Radelet. Carrie is the nineteenth director of the Peace Corps. Prior to this she served as the agency’s acting director and deputy director from 2010 to 2014. She’s a member of a four-generation Peace Corps family, which is really—that is very cool. And she began her career in international development as a Peace Corps volunteer in Western Samoa. Or is it Samoa? You said Samoa, didn’t you?
VOGT: Samoa. OK, Western Samoa, from 1981 to 1983. She taught secondary school there with her husband, Steve Radelet, who, by the way, is another considerable expert on these topics of development. We’ve been happy to publish him in Foreign Affairs. She went on to spend more than two decades working in public health, focusing on HIV-AIDS and maternal and child health. You have the rest of her impressive biography here.
To her left, Stanley Litow is IBM’s vice president of Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs and president of IBM’s Foundation. Under his leadership, IBM has been widely regarded as the global leader in corporate citizenship and praised for societal and environmental leadership and labor practices and civic leadership.
Under Litow, IBM has developed innovative voice-recognition technology to help children and adults learn to read, a humanitarian virtual supercomputer to speed research on cancer and AIDS—and win at Jeopardy, right?—and a new digital imaging technology to improve water quality.
So I’d like to welcome you both. Thank you so much for coming to talk about this. This is a really interesting and new kind of topic, not the usual thing that everyone’s heard about, although probably most people in this room are more familiar with it than I necessarily was before I looked into this.
I’d like to actually just start—Stanley, if you can maybe tell us—you know, we’re all familiar with corporate social responsibility, corporate philanthropy. But I think maybe what’s new here is this kind of international element, and also the specific sort of corporate reach-out to a public agency, which, you know, that’s sort of new. And IBM and the Peace Corps obviously have joined forces in a couple of ways.
Can you just tell us, sort of very briefly, when did this start? This is sort of a new phenomenon. When did it start? And what is the current scope and scale of it? How big a deal is this now?
LITOW: Sure. Well, first of all, I think it is a big deal from the standpoint of large companies’ interest in doing things that aren’t restricted to the U.S. borders. That’s not necessarily new. In 1986, IBM contributions outside the United States represented 50 percent of all the contributions of all U.S. companies put together.
So the interest in doing something internationally in a company like IBM isn’t new. The question is what you do and whether or not it is sustainable and scalable. And that is two things. First of all, what you do, I think, from our standpoint, is we’re in the process of transitioning from an international company to a globally integrated company. And that means that your staff has to have a set of skills that really provide them with the ability and the experience to operate across a variety of different cultures around the world. And your leaders need to be leaders who understand all of those skills. And they can’t get it by going on a business trip to a particular geography, whether it’s in Africa or Asia or Latin America.
So we recognize that to build those skills within the company, our employees, especially those who are young and who are likely to be the most successful employees within the company, needed to build those skills from a company standpoint. And that’s how we built the idea that a significantly large number of our employees needed to have team assignments, problem-solving assignments, in the growth markets, having an opportunity to work in a team on the ground over a period of time to actually solve a problem, and then build the skills that would be valuable to them and valuable to the company.
So we select about 500 of our top talent every year. They are the people who we’re most interested in retaining, the people with the highest level of skill within the company, and we have sent them out on over a thousand assignments around the world in about thirty-seven different countries and have built a cadre of skilled professionals within the company who have the broadest possible skills.
Now the question is, to make that scalable and sustainable, you can’t do it alone. You need to do it in collaboration and partnership with others. And that’s what the partnership of the Peace Corps represents to us, the idea of combining the resources and the interests of a company with an entity in the public sector that has similar kinds of goals, and we can work together to extend the reach of what we’re doing, and, by the way, also open it up to other companies so that our clients and other professionals from a variety of other companies, including JPMorgan Chase or Dow Chemical, can also understand the value of this kind of model.
So we don’t think that it’s about a single island of excellence and just doing something that is valuable to one company. We see it as something that can go to scale, be sustainable through public-private partnership, and also partnership in a broader set within other private-sector entities.
VOGT: So that’s how your—the company kind of came to this, right, because what we’re really talking about is a sort of juncture. How did a public agency like Peace Corps sort of find itself at the same place? What was the trajectory there?
HESSLER-RADELET: Yeah. So, first of all, just let me briefly tell all of you what Peace Corps is. I suspect that most of you have some idea of it, but basically Peace Corps is a U.S. government agency. It sends Americans overseas to live and work among the communities they serve.
We have three goals, and the goals have guided us from the very beginning. And the first is a goal to help address some of our world’s most complex and important issues, so food security, climate change, HIV-AIDS and other, you know, infectious diseases or lifestyle diseases, education, agriculture. So this is what Peace Corps does. And we have been at it for fifty five years. We are currently present in sixty five countries. And we have about 7,200 volunteers who are working around the world right now.
So public-private partnership is relatively new to us. In fact, for much of our history Peace Corps has been fiercely independent. I mean, part of that came from the fact that we didn’t want to be aligned with any other U.S. government agency, especially the State Department and USAID; that we felt that, for the safety of our volunteers, we had to be fiercely independent.
And so the iconic view of a Peace Corps volunteer living and working in a village out there all by themselves with their community is one that actually was the case for many, many years—decades, actually. But now it doesn’t make any sense, for the reasons that Stan, I think, so eloquently just communicated. I mean, we have a globally interconnected world.
In addition, the places that we work have changed a great deal. They now have their own universities. They have their own universities to train and educate their people. They are held accountable by their citizens in most—in many cases, most cases now, to deliver on their development goals. And even the villages where we work have their own development plan.
And so Peace Corps as an agency now has to communicate to those countries and to the U.S. Congress how a dollar invested in Peace Corps is going to help our country achieve our goals, but also we have to be able to communicate that same thing to our partner nations.
So it doesn’t make any sense to work independently, because we are all interconnected. And so now the best strategy for us is to work in partnership with those partners who make sense. And so that is what brought us to the, you know, public-private partnership.
What we get out of it—and we get a great deal out of it—is really important. I mean, first of all, we’re able to bring a talent pool into the Peace Corps, and not actually to the Peace Corps, but really to the communities that we serve, communities that we really care about; talent that we would never be able to recruit through the Peace Corps, talent that wouldn’t have two years available. So the most—you know, the highest-skilled Americans are now able to work alongside our volunteers in communities to work on these complex development challenges.
In addition, they are not necessarily American. In fact, most of them are not American, because IBM is a global company. And since Peace Corps is an American organization, because they carry a U.S. passport, we have really been able to benefit from the expertise that IBM has brought through Corporate Service Corps to work alongside our volunteers. And we’ve now done it in three places—in Ghana, the Philippines, and Mexico. And it has been really successful. Each one is a slightly different model because we’re testing. We’re doing operations research as we go. And it’s been phenomenal.
So, number one, it brings more talent. Number two, it helps—it exposes our volunteers to the corporate partners and helps IBM, I presume, but also other partners, because we also have partnerships with other corporate organizations, helps them to recognize the value that Peace Corps volunteers bring to the workplace. They’re the same skills and qualities that you just mentioned. I mean, they speak another language. They understand another culture. They know how to lead or be part of a multicultural team. They know how to deal with ambiguity. They are cultural ambassadors. They understand deeply the markets, emerging markets, in their country of service.
So there are many reasons why Peace Corps—returned Peace Corps volunteers should be attractive to corporate partners. And, through our partnerships, our corporate partners, are exposed to our volunteers, and then they want to hire them. And we want people to hire our volunteers because that’s a great recruiting tool for us.
VOGT: So we know—so that’s—we know what a company like IBM can get from a partnership like this. We know what an agency like the Peace Corps can get from this. Maybe you could both sort of describe a little bit what about the people on the receiving end of this development aid. You know, you could talk maybe about one of these programs. One of them is called Let Girls Learn. I think it was in Ghana you mentioned.
What kind of—if I were to see this happening, what exactly are these folks doing? Maybe just—you could describe one of these projects in a little bit of detail.
LITOW: Yeah. Well, to set some kind of context, the kinds of projects that we were doing through our Corporate Service Corps is you identify a project in one of these countries around the world where a team of top talent from IBM, a global team, with somebody who’s a tech expert, somebody who’s a software developer, somebody who’s a legal person, a finance person, somebody who’s a communications or marketing person, all assembled on a team with all the skills that you need would have the ability, as a team on the ground, to be able to move the needle in terms of solving a critical problem.
So, for example, we sent a team into Nigeria to work with the government on creating the infrastructure to run their health-care program. They had great leadership from the top interested in providing health care to poor women and children. What they didn’t have was a management plan to implement it. The IBM team on the ground developed it. And as a result, tens of thousands of women and children who didn’t have access to health care got it because of that essentially pro bono consulting operation. So that’s the framework for Corporate Service Corps.
In the partnership with the Peace Corps, we include the same kind of skill on an IBM team. But the lasting benefit of having a Peace Corps volunteer, part of the effort, and able to take it to the next level after the team leave, and working in—whether it’s the Philippines or in Mexico or in Ghana, the team can take on a project that’s going to be focused in on providing opportunity for girls and young women and creating the technology infrastructure that’s going to improve that through Web-based pools and other kinds of things, and then deliver the product to a Peace Corps volunteer, who is part of the team effort and would be available to be able to take it to the next level.
So that’s the model. And in the geographies that we’re talking about, I’ll use an example that just completed in Mexico where the team looked at a water-quality issue that was being—the barrier was a particular kind of weed in a particular kind of water system that was impeding the ability to have water quality for the citizens or for commercial enterprises, and came up with a strategy and plan to not just remove the weeds, but then market them and create an economic benefit that would provide the incentive to be able to clean the water and enrich the economy. And that’s a classic way to use IBM’s skills the best and have the Peace Corps team take it up and take it to the next level.
HESSLER-RADELET: Yeah. I mean, so basically in that example the Peace Corps volunteer is going to remain on the ground. And so a strategy was developed by this team, this IBM team, along with our Peace Corps volunteer. But now the Peace Corps volunteer and the community can take it on to make sure that it actually is implemented.
VOGT: Implemented, yeah. That’s really interesting. It’s an interesting model. So that gets at what I was going to—another question I was going to ask is just about when I think about the Peace Corps, what I know about it—and, you know, the experience you described earlier was you have somebody, they sort of become immersed in this place. They’re there for two years. Some of them already know a little bit about the place to begin with, or they develop those skills.
One sort of potential problem that it seems to me there is with these arrangements is the question of short term versus long term. But it sounds to me like this is sort of—you thought of that, obviously. And there are kind of mechanisms for dealing with the fact that some of these corporate volunteers are going to be coming in for very brief periods compared to what you’re doing. But, you know, that sounds as though that’s kind of dealt with by—there’s a built-in fix for that, I guess.
HESSLER-RADELET: Yeah. I mean, I think—what we now see our volunteers as is the last-mile partner to make sure that the development investments of others, like IBM or like USAID or like, you know, other partners, the host government, that those innovative solutions are owned by the community. So the community feels that they need them, that they want them, that they’re part of it, that they are properly implemented, that they are monitored and evaluated, and that they are sustained over time, so that they are actually implemented well and sustained.
HESSLER-RADELET: That’s our part of it.
VOGT: Right. Let—
HESSLER-RADELET: And then continued training as necessary.
LITOW: What I would add is, if you are sort of thinking about a team of IBM top talent, eight to twelve people on the ground over a one-month period, working 24/7, if you were billing for it, it would cost about $400,000. But this is provided totally for free to be able to focus in on a project that has a beginning, middle, and end. The team works two months before they go on the project, to be able to frame it, be fully briefed, so that they hit the ground running. They work together on the ground to deliver a product and a solution. And then they have subsequent activities to make sure it’s moving to the next level.
The addition of the Peace Corps is the continuity of the project. And from a company standpoint, it’s sustainable if it is a one-month period, because if we’re sending our best, you know, researcher out of a research lab to work on a technology product, if we sent that person for six months, it wouldn’t be viable from the company’s standpoint to free up your top talent for that period of time.
So structuring it so that it is one month means that the person doesn’t have to be replaced. It means that the benefit of their work accrues to the entity that receives the service, but it doesn’t disenfranchise the managers of the company to be able to get their work done during the period of time that they’re gone. And, by the way, our managers, you know, feel that the benefit that they get from having somebody on this kind of a learning experience is something that benefits them, so they’re more than willing to pay their salary over that one-month period for the benefit that they get.
So, as I said, we select about 500 people for this project a year. We have about 2,000 applications that we sit, you know, go through, to be able to select the best people for that enterprise. We could obviously do more. So the benefit to the company is critically important here, because that’s what allows you to sustain it, not as something that’s your generosity or philanthropy. It’s something that has a benefit for the individual, a benefit to the company, and a benefit to the community.
HESSLER-RADELET: You know, the other thing is, is in the experience that we have, which has been (three now ?), the volunteers in the communities do stay in touch with the IBM team as well. They just naturally have created a relationship. They continue to be supportive of each other. So even though it’s a one-month term in-country, it is really a much longer term—(off mic).
VOGT: And you—and you guarantee that sort of sustained presence that way.
VOGT: Yeah. You know, famously—there’s a famous sort of statistic from Pew Research, and this has been—goes back on Pew surveys going way, way back—that shows that Americans tend to vastly overestimate the amount that their government spends on foreign aid. You know, the typical average response of an American, how much do we spend on foreign aid, it’s like 26 percent is actually the typical average response. Of course, we know that it’s less than 1 percent.
But the interesting twist there is that when you ask people—or when Pew asked people how much should the United States spend, how much of this federal budget should be spent, oh, somewhere between 5 and 10 percent. So, in other words, most people think we ought to be spending about ten times as much as we do on foreign aid.
The question I have for you is that when I think about this whole issue of what the two of you and your companies or your agency are working on, it strikes me that, well, this would be a natural way or another way that IBM could contribute or companies like IBM could contribute to these types of problems would be to say, hey, we need to try to get Congress and the federal government to spend more on foreign aid and, maybe just as importantly, get public support, you know, improve—get there to be more public recognition that this is important. We should be spending more on this, not less.
Do you see it that way, Stan? And if—either way, does the company see it that way? And what do you do—what are you doing along those lines to have that outcome?
LITOW: Yeah. Well, I guess I would start off with the fact that it should be a given that this is a benefit both to the company and to society. So, from our standpoint, retention rate of our top talent is up the roof as a consequence of their participation in a program like this. The building of skills that we didn’t have within the company that we didn’t have is something. So the benefit to the company is clear. The benefit to the community sort of, I think, is clear, because the value of this kind of work is something that could not be achieved if you just simply wrote checks.
Now, when we formulated this program and set it up and began to run it, very often we described it as the corporate version of the Peace Corps, long before we entered into this, you know, formalized partnership with the Peace Corps, so that people would understand this was modeled after a problem-solving activity that began in the public sector. But to get the private sector engaged and involved in it, you had to customize it so that it would need—meet the needs of a company and be sustainable.
So now the question of where does it go. State number one is to get other companies involved. And that’s why we’ve opened this up to other companies that can join an IBM team. So Dow Chemical can join an IBM team and has; FedEx, JPMorgan Chase, you know, other companies, Unilever, et cetera. And many of them have them took the lead in developing their own programs, either globally or in the United States or elsewhere.
So I think we see the potential is not to have a dozen companies involved. Just imagine if, you know, a hundred companies did what IBM is doing. And instead of having 500 people a year, you had tens of thousands of people doing this kind of problem-solving activity, benefiting the company but also benefiting the society. Imagine the ancillary benefit of people and communities being able to see that a private-sector team could actually help you solve their problem and change your view about what the private sector could represent in terms of solving problems.
The connection to the government, I think, is particularly important, because we have an infrastructure of international-development agencies that are operating under slender budgets. And the opportunity of pooling our resources means that you can achieve more, and it also means that you can create a constituency that stands for these kinds of programs but doesn’t only see it from the standpoint of a philanthropic or a generosity element but sees it more from the standpoint of providing a variety of different goals.
So if you’re sort of looking at this into the future, wouldn’t it be great if, you know, Fortune 500 companies saw this as a core element of their work and the partnership with the Peace Corps was not only sustained but expanded and other agencies, not just in the United States but globally, could get behind this kind of a goal? I think it is something that gets to solving some of the more critical problems that we’ve got, and doing it in a way that’s economically sustainable.
HESSLER-RADELET: You know, this has not been lost on the government. And the same benefits that accrue to corporations also accrue to our country, because the kind of citizens that we need to develop for our—you know, to make sure that we maintain our position in the world, the same characteristics of people that you have seen in your corporate leaders who have gone on service trips.
So, with that in mind, President Obama last year created a new program called Employers of National Service, which is really a partnership. It’s a pipeline from service to employment. It’s a program to encourage employers of all kinds, in both the public and the private sector and nonprofit, to hire people who have served their nation, believing that the qualities that someone who has served bring to the workplace will help that workplace to grow, and grow our economy.
So we now have 500 corporate leaders. We are partners in that endeavor along with the Corporation for National and Community Service, CNCS, which administers AmeriCorps. And there are 500 partners. Some of our nation’s leading employers—Delta Airlines, Xerox, many, many partners, UPS, and then small ones too. I mean, the smallest one has, like, five employees. But it’s basically the recognition that the people you want to hire are people who are culturally sensitive, people who have language skills, people who can think outside the box, people who have understanding of emerging markets in the case of Peace Corps, people who have served their nation.
These are people who have skills and talents that the private and public sector want. And so the importance of national service is movement, and I’d like to invite all of you to participate in this. It’s really easy. The only thing you have to do is ask on your application form whether or not someone has served their nation apart from the military.
So right now probably every single one of you on your application forms has a little, you know, question about have you served in the military. And basically it means adding one more question that says have you served your nation in another way—could be AmeriCorps, could be Peace Corps, could be Jesuit Volunteer Corps, could be Corporate Service Corps. And that allows you then to have a conversation with that candidate about the qualities that they would bring to the workplace that are based on their service.
VOGT: That’s interesting.
LITOW: Well, seated on my left is my colleague who is running the IBM Corporate Service Corps, Gina Tesla, who’s an alumni of the Peace Corps. And we have lots of employees within the company who have done community service, national service. And it is something that is valued in the workplace.
I think the Corporate Service Corps, which is entering in its tenth year at IBM, this is something that’s not going away. And as I said, we’ve done over a thousand projects across thirty seven different countries. The value of it is in the tens of millions of dollars if this were a commercial engagement; has also formed the basis of two succeeding programs at IBM.
One is called the Smarter Cities Challenge, where we send teams of people around the world working with a city to resolve a critical problem that the city would have. And that is not only open to the growth markets, developing world, but we’ve had teams in the United States working in cities, coming up with creative solutions to a city’s problem. And just this year we launched something called the IBM Health Corps, which is grounded in the Watson technology that you mentioned, which won the game show Jeopardy. But the Watson technology is a lot more than a game. It’s a way to use artificial intelligence to solve a critical problem.
We just had a Health Corps team that completed its work just this month with the American Cancer Society, working on the ground to come up with a way in sub-Saharan Africa to take the cancer crisis and to be able to examine the intricacies of that problem across sub-Saharan Africa and come up with a way, using artificial intelligence and mobile technology, to help match the problem with the right kind of medication, to be able to intervene with people who have a serious problem.
The cancer scourge across sub-Saharan Africa is huge. And this is something IBM, in cooperation with the American Cancer Society, that will actually put in place a problem-solving tool in the matter of weeks that’s going to be able to resolve this problem. And it’s not to say that the American Cancer Society doesn’t have skills and resources and IBM does, but working on this problem in a very focused way, working in sub-Saharan Africa, will save lives. And that’s a way—it’s the same kind of model of this problem-solving team.
And I would tell you, having heard from the people at IBM who work on this project, the common theme is they say it’s an experience of a lifetime. They like their work. They love the work that they’re doing. But having had an opportunity to be part of a team that made such a difference on a problem in that way is life-changing for them, and it helps make them more productive employees.
VOGT: I’d like to open things up to questions if folks have questions. All I would ask is that you identify yourself, let us know who you are and where you work, and also that you do actually ask a question. Anyone who would like can just raise your hand or put your card on the side like that. And just so you know, the microphones here, in order for you to be heard, you just have to push the button.
Q: My name is Craig Charney. I run Charney Research, a research firm that focuses on the developing world.
I want to follow up on the point that Stan was just making, because IBM has historically been seen as a company where people make careers. But in the tech world in general, people talk about changing employers almost as often as they change clothes. So you talked a little bit about the impact on retention and so forth. I’m wondering if you could talk a little more about that, because I think that was one of the most interesting and unexpected points of your presentation for me.
LITOW: Well, I would say there’s two components to it. One is recruitment, and the other part is retention. So if you sort of look at the top-talent millennials who are the best-skilled and looking for a place to work, the fact that IBM has this opportunity that isn’t separate from your work but is part of your work is a way for us to recruit top talent. We know that millennials are interested in working for a company that has core values that align with their own values. And being able to say that the company values your ability to be a problem solver on a community-service assignment is a way for us to recruit top talent.
The second thing about the retention thing is that your number one performers, your top 10 percent of a company, are the people that you’re most interested in hanging on to and least interested in losing to a competitor, who might come in at year five or six or seven, when they’ve been, you know, well trained and are at their most productive, that’s the point that your competitors are most interested in picking them off.
And as we look at the Corporate Service Corps model, it helps us retain the top talent and it helps us recruit the top talent. If you sort of thought about, you know, what you would pay if you had somebody who was a number one performer in a geography and they had the best skills in technology or at legal or finance or marketing, and a competitor offered them fourty (thousand dollars) or $50,000 more, you’d probably meet the offer, right.
And when you think about that overall within the context of a company that has 400,000 employees, that’s a lot of resource that you’re spending. And if you’re smarter about committing your resources, you’re committing a lot less resource and you’re accomplishing your goal in a more effective way. And you’re meeting another need that the company has, which is to demonstrate to communities around the world that you’re an entity that really cares about their success as well as your own.
So I think, in terms of the recruitment-and-retention issue of top talent, it’s clear. Take an education institution like the Harvard Business School. There are more students in the Social Enterprise Club at Harvard Business School than all the other clubs on campus put together. That probably wouldn’t have been the case twenty years ago, but things have changed. And if you’re looking to recruit the best talent, money is never going to be a non-issue, or the geography or the job is never going to be a non-issue. But the core values of the company and the ability to do this kind of work integrated into your work, not on your own time, is something that’s going to be a differentiator.
VOGT: Yes, sir.
Q: Stan, I commend you. I wasn’t aware of the program. I mean, I’ve worked for a couple of international corporations. It’s just hard for me to visualize them willing to let people go for a month at a time, and first the people wondering if they’re going to have a good job when they come back. So you’ve obviously built an incredible, commendable program.
When you talk about sustainability, however, I understand the link to the Peace Corps and how that works. But if I remember correctly, the average Peace Corps assignment is two years. So at some point it’s transferred over, hopefully at the beginning of their assignment. But sustainability is a very long-term effort. How does that work once, you know, IBM is gone and you’ve got your person there for two years?
HESSLER-RADELET: That’s an excellent question. Actually, we have a model now where we make a commitment to a community for six years. So that’s three cycles of volunteers. And we recruit our volunteers based on that. They’re either at the first—the beginning year, where they’re the—they have to be the innovator; they have to go in and get community acceptance for the idea and the innovation; they have to really build trust.
Then the second tranche of volunteers comes in. They’re the ones who do the scale-up. They’re the ones who make sure that the project program is taking hold in the community, that it’s really being owned by the community, that it’s being expanded perhaps to new areas around, you know, the village and to other villages, or what have you.
And then the third generation of volunteers is—they’re the sustainability volunteers. They are the ones that make sure that the people who are in the community are trained, empowered to do the work and to continue it.
And so we have been able to work with our host nations to develop, like, a twenty five-year plan in some cases where we will literally hit every region of the nation with these six-year programs, where volunteers can really demonstrate a development impact. So we work closely with the host government to make sure that we are monitoring and evaluating along their same indicators, and we can really demonstrate how our volunteers are contributing to the achievement of their goals.
LITOW: The other thing that I would say from the company standpoint is we also do multiple number of teams over a period of time in particular kinds of geography. So if we sent a team in to do a particular project in the geography, that doesn’t mean that we won’t send a follow-up if there’s an opportunity to extend it.
And in addition to working in collaboration with other companies and the Peace Corps, we also work in collaboration with international-development organizations from civil society. So Pixera, that’s represented here, or Digital Opportunities Trust, they work with us on creating the assignments. And some of those involve nongovernmental organizations on the ground that will also continue and follow up the activity.
So I think it’s all about preparing which assignments you’re going to do and making sure that it’s structured in such a way that you can actually deliver in that one-month period a benefit, and also get the subsidiary, which is the ongoing benefit. But when we look at a project, what makes it the most successful is that if, in the structure of it, it was clear that you actually could deliver significant amount of benefit during that period of time that they could put in place a set of recommendations that are actionable and will actually make a big difference in that period of time.
Q: I’m Jenny Eisenberg with the U.S. State Department.
And this is for Stan. I was curious about whether, in evaluating impact of your programs, you were able to see a difference before and after you started working with the Peace Corps.
LITOW: Yeah, without question. I mean, I think that we do an assessment of the Corporate Service Corps program. We do an assessment and evaluation of benefit to the individual employee. We look at is it more likely that you will complete your career at IBM. Did you feel that the skills that you got significantly will help you do your day job? Specifically break down those specific skills in a variety of different areas. And that evaluation tells us what, if any, modifications we want to make year to year in the way in which we structure the program.
We also work with our partners to be able to evaluate what was the actual benefit in the field from the team on the ground, and what could we learn about similar kinds of projects or ways that we could structure the theme, or did it have the right skills on the team, and what could we do differently?
Very often a project will be structured, and when the team gets on the ground, they will understand that they need a skill that you wouldn’t have thought they needed when the team was put together. So sometimes it’s important to have a finance person or a marketing person. Even though it wasn’t clear when the project was put together that was part of the skill set to do the job, that is a skill that’s often valuable. And there have been examples where it’s, you know, led to a higher-quality product.
We also know that when the team gets on the ground, they don’t end their work when the team assignment is completed. They could turn it over to the Peace Corps. But as Carrie said earlier, the people are available online to be able to assist the people on the ground. So they mentor them. They work with them on other kinds of projects. And they build those relationships over a longer period of time. So, I mean, I think it is something that is—you know, we always characterize some success as win-win. But this actually delivers it.
HESSLER-RADELET: You know, I would also say that we deliberately set it up so that we were testing three different approaches. The first approach was we had an IBM employee who enrolled as a Peace Corps Response volunteer. And I didn’t mention Peace Corps Response, but let me just mention it quickly.
Peace Corps Response is a program that’s twenty years old this year. And it’s a program to bring in highly skilled individuals who can’t give two years but could give anywhere from about—well, one month, really, to a year. But most of our assignments are between three months and a year. And these more highly skilled individuals are recruited just like you might recruit a consultant for a specific job, and they complement the work of our two-year program, so not unlike the relationship we already have. And every year we have about 500 (jobs ?) in all sorts of different disciplines.
So the first model was that we had an IBM employee who actually enrolled as a Peace Corps Response volunteer and then worked collaboratively with ten other, I think, Corporate Service volunteers from all over the world on an education program to let girls learn in Ghana. So that was one model.
The second model was we had a Peace Corps volunteer—and this was in the Philippines—where we had a return Peace Corps volunteer who was also an IBM employee who stayed in the Philippines, worked again with the Corporate Service volunteer program, and then left at the end.
And then the third model now is to have a Peace Corps Response volunteer who’s going to actually be there for a whole year; no relationship formally with IBM, but who worked very closely with the Corporate Service Corps volunteers, the larger group of volunteers, and is now going to be staying on the ground and working with—continuing to work with that community. This is where we had the water—highest in water quality program.
So we—you know, and each time we’re evaluating—and it may be that in some places one model is going to be preferable to the other—but in general, the one that seems to have the best chance for long-term sustainability is the third model, where the Peace Corps Response volunteer can be there for a year, along with other two-year volunteers who are in the area working on water quality and, you know, environment.
So we are ourselves doing the evaluation, tweaking the model. And I really have a lot of reason for hope and optimism in the future.
VOGT: Yes, sir.
Q: Thank you. (Off mic.)
LITOW: Yeah. Well, I would say that in terms of the projects that are most successful or the projects that have the most structure and clear advanced thought in terms of what is the realizable goal and objective, and can you measure it, you can get the result out of that one-month period. And those things that are more general in scope—improved access to skills for small entrepreneurs, if it’s not structured and it’s not focused, so that when the team begins their assignment, they hit the ground running. So the projects that have the least structure are the projects that are the least successful. And the most pre-work is important.
So getting the project clear so that the two-month period, while people are doing their day job before they actually go out, can be a process where they’re getting a lot of pre-work done on what’s the project all about, what’s it like in that geography, who are the other members of the team, what are the skills that they have, so that they can walk in as prepared as possible when they begin the assignment to have success.
We’ve had successful projects in the environment area, in health care, some of them in education, a lot of them in economic development and sort of environmental kinds of areas. But the success depends upon the amount of preparation in advance. And that’s where we work—I mean, in many of the geographies that we’re talking about, we have an IBM country general manager on the ground. We have employees on the ground in that geography. So we’ve got people who can help us in the prep period of time.
And then, in terms of afterwards, I mean, it ought to be clear what the next goal is and how we can stay in touch, either through an organization like the Peace Corps or working on an IBM succeeding assignment or the nongovernmental organization that we work with to build their skills to be able to take it to the next level.
I would add it’s not always perfect. You know, sometimes you do pick the wrong project. Actually, you learn a lot in terms of when you’ve had a problem. There have been some geographies where we’ve had security issues that emerged, you know, where we’ve had to, you know, cut an assignment short or cancel at the last minute. So if you’re going to take risks about where you’re sending people, you have to assume that you’re going to have some of these assignments that are not going to work out.
But, you know, like with everything else within a large company, if you didn’t achieve your objective, it wouldn’t sustain itself over time. And the fact that, you know, this is a program that’s provided so much benefit for the company from a skills standpoint, it’s actually opened markets for the company. When you think about how a company decides what geographies to operate in, usually you start with having business and clients there, right? You don’t usually start with a community-service assignment. But actually, some of the most high-profile assignments that we’ve done in certain markets have created a brand for the company that has actually helped you to build a market and a geography that wasn’t sort of on your radar screen.
So the advantage—the amount of pre-work that you do comes back to benefit you later on. If you thought about it as just, you know, sending team around the world, you would—people would like it. They would say it was a benefit. But it wouldn’t be as beneficial as doing the hard work to be able to prepare the people and the assignments to get the biggest benefit.
HESSLER-RADELET: I would just add one more thing, and that is, we always think of our volunteers as being catalysts of community-led change. And I think the community-led is really important. The places where it works is where communities see the need. They’ve identified the problem. They may not have the answer, so that’s where the assistance comes from outside. But if they’ve bought in, you know, on the front end, and if we’re walking that journey alongside them, if we’re building skills as the program evolves, then it’s going to be successful. It’s going to be sustained.
I would say the other thing is that because volunteers are living and working in their community, I mean, they are neighbors with the people who are going to be implementing this on into eternity. It’s the relationships of trust and the identification of potential, people discovering their own potential. They start to believe that they too can do something differently.
Those—it’s sort of the being there that makes a difference. And that’s a big part of the sustainability is just gaining trust, helping people to see their own potential, and then helping them to figure out what their role is in keeping a good thing going.
VOGT: We had a question here. Sir.
Q: Do you have any data, other than your questionnaires, on retention and promotion?
LITOW: We do. And from the standpoint of retention, promotion, skill levels, we also ask each manager, because when you select somebody for a team assignment like this, we offer the manager the opportunity. If they thought the person could not be spared for that period of time, they can actually say don’t send this person on the assignment. We also ask them to what degree would you recommend other employees in your business unit for similar kinds of jobs, or to what extent would you recommend this to like-minded managers in other business units?
So it consistently comes back that this is something that people are not preventing their top talent from participating, that it is something that they would recommend others for and advocate within the company for other people to serve in the program. It’s highly selective. And the data that we have demonstrates the value in terms of improved skill, promotion, retention, and all those things from an internal standpoint.
And by the way, you know, many companies have had, for their employees, what they call international assignment, right? And if you sort of looked at Fortune 500 companies, the average cost of an international assignment for one year is about 1.2 (million dollars) or $1.3 million per assignment.
First of all, it’s moving and living expenses for that individual. There’s an additional tax bite when it’s a one-year assignment. Sometimes there are, you know, other kinds of supports for that individual. And the majority of people who have international assignments are the most experienced and people who are only a couple of years from retirement. So if you’re looking to build that kind of skill, why would you spend that amount of money on somebody that you’re building a set of skills and they’re mostly on their way out the door once they acquire them?
And that’s why, when we built this program, we turned it on its head and said, no, let’s come up with a low-cost model. And it is very low-cost. Second of all, do it in such a way that it doesn’t have the tax bite, and it focuses specifically on the people that you’re most interested in retaining, so the benefit that you’re providing as being part of this assignment is something that you’re more likely to accrue benefit over a twenty-year period or more.
So I think, if I were, like, explaining this—and very often I do to other companies—I don’t see the down side. And when we present to other companies, do you want to join an IBM Corporate Service Corps project, we will say we’re sending teams to the following geography, so pick the geography that you’d be most interested in sending some of your top talent or employees to. Philippines is high on your list. Mexico is high on your list. Vietnam is high on your list; Ghana, Kenya. You pick the geography, and we’ll be able to describe what the assignment is going to look like, so if you’re particularly interested in an environmental project or one that’s around small business or one that’s around, you know, a particular kind of issue that you care about.
So you don’t have to make a decision to invest in a program like this without having an opportunity to experience it with very little cost, because we’ll do all the pre-work planning. We’ll give access to all the people who have been part of these assignments before to do modeling, mentoring, you name it. So for another company to say, you know, I’d like to see whether or not this is something that matches up to our needs, I think it’s a no-brainer.
VOGT: Yes, ma’am.
Q: Thank you. Tracy Austin with Mitsubishi Corporation Americas.
My question is whether you have a set of criteria for choosing the projects that is somehow aligned with your business. Is it based on where you want to grow your business geographically, or is it based on the skill sets that you have to offer? Do you have fixed criteria?
LITOW: All of the above. I mean, we get requests internally from IBM business units and geographic units. Usually they want more assignments than we’re going to give them. And then we will look at what geographies we’re interested in selecting. And then, working in cooperation with our partners like Pixera and others who are in the international-development sphere, we’ll try to help structure projects that actually best meet the skills of the team that we’ve got. That’s sort of selecting the project.
Then staffing up the project is a similar kind of project activity, because we’ll say, you know, what different geographies do you want to have represented on this team? Because you want a broad range of cultures on the team. Then you’ll also look at what about the skill set to be able to get the largest amount of skill that you would need from the broadest set of geographies in the right geographies where you’re sending one and in a team that’s structured in the right way. And all of that is going on within our company concurrently to be able to get the right projects, the right team, with the right kind of result.
VOGT: OK, we have time for one more question. And it’s going to come from you, ma’am.
Q: Hi. I’m Caitlin Klevorick. I previously had been at the State Department under Secretary Clinton. So I had the honor of working with the director’s husband.
But my question is sort of the one that I think a lot of people probably have on their mind when looking at corporate citizenship and citizen diplomacy. You’re a global organization. You’re a global company. We’re about to have a populist leader. I can’t even say the “P” word, but that’s OK.
How do you think that corporations—and I’m interested too in how you think the Peace Corps and other government organizations, especially since we can imagine what’s going to happen to the 150 account, are going to have to step up in terms of projecting what we believe America is, which might not be consistent with some of incoming leaders? And I say that especially having come off of work being on the QDDR, where there was a concerted focus on moving engagement out of just the capitals, which I think now was rather prescient.
So I welcome your thoughts on that. Sorry to end on a downer note.
LITOW: Well, I’m not sure it’s a downer note. I think that, you know, all of us within the private sector—and let me just say I’ve been at IBM for a little over twenty years. I started my career in the public sector and in the voluntary sector. And there are changes that take place in all of those sectors, and there are changes that take place in a variety of different geographies.
I just had a global meeting with my team and pointed out to them that there have been leadership changes at the top in countries like Germany and Venezuela and Spain, and you fill in the blanks, over IBM’s 100-year history that have been challenging periods of time.
I think our responsibility is to figure out what’s in the best interest of the company and the geographies where we operate. And I think what we’re laying out here today in terms of this kind of a program is that it’s something that provides real benefit. It’s not, you know, just, you know, checkbook philanthropy and it’s not something that’s just throwing money at a problem. So we think it has the kind of benefit that will allow us to continue and succeed. We’re committed to it.
And the collaboration and partnership with the Peace Corps—and also we work closely with USAID and the State Department, and I think our expectation is that public-private partnership is not something that’s going to go away, because no sector of the economy and no player can solve a problem all by themselves. It’s fiction if you thought a company could solve the education challenge facing the country operating with private money and private work. We need to have partnership. And by working collegially, we think we’ll get there.
HESSLER-RADELET: Yeah. No, I think that’s right. I mean, from our perspective, we are just keeping our eye on our mission. We believe our mission has never been more important to bringing unity in this world and to creating an American citizenry that is able to engage effectively in a global economy. So that work is critically important, now more than ever. And I think you said it very well.
But we really need all stakeholders to be at the table demonstrating the importance of global engagement. You know, we think that the work the Peace Corps does in building relationships from the ground up is important. And we’ve benefited greatly from our partnership with IBM, not only in the work that we do in developing countries but in terms of, you know, advocating for our agency on the Hill and among other corporate partners. So that kind of continued partnership has to continue and maybe grow; I would say definitely even has to grow.
VOGT: Well, I’m glad we actually made that not a downer note. (Laughter.) It was a good question. It’s an important question. I’m glad you asked it. And I’m actually somewhat heartened by both of your answers to that. And I would like to thank you both—
HESSLER-RADELET: Can I say one other thing?
VOGT: Yes, please.
HESSLER-RADELET: The Peace Corps has thrived under both Democratic and Republican leadership. And, you know, I have, in the last four years since I’ve been director, acting director and then director, I’ve spent a lot of time on the Hill. And I’ve spent a lot of time with Republican legislators, and they have been really strong advocates. So I’m also—you know, I believe that our Congress has an important role to play in terms of defining our way forward, and I think they won’t disappoint us.
VOGT: OK. With that, I’ll thank you all. And thank both of our guests please.