By Amanda MacArthur, Vice President, CDC Development Solutions
In the 21st century marketplace, innovation and the need to constantly seek out new ideas is critical – as we’ve seen across industry sectors, stagnation is the one of the fastest ways to lose customers and forgo potential profit. This is true in the mature markets for that require either completely new products or adaptation of existing ones to meet emerging consumer demand – whether it’s repackaging products to reach the market at the base of the pyramid or it’s redesigning a battery to withstand power surges and disruptions.
Consumers in emerging markets increasingly demand – as they should – products designed to meet their specific needs rather than ones patched together or retro-fitted from existing ones. For companies with US or Western Europe headquarters and R&D divisions, unless one can get its people into that particular country, this presents a very specific challenge. In the past, it often meant long-term placements that required moving entire families for years at a time. It was expensive and thus reserved primarily for employees on the fast track to the C-Suite. But what about those who will never sit in the corner office? Companies who don’t provide these employees – those who design, build and sell products on a daily basis – with the opportunity to experience a slice of life in the critical emerging markets are missing a major opportunity.
International Corporate Volunteer (ICV) programs are a cost effective way to provide employees from across the business with a short-term opportunity to experience life and business in an emerging market. Usually lasting 3 – 4 weeks, but some up to 6 months, this gives them at least a snapshot understanding of how a company’s products or services can be adapted to meet local needs.
Companies develop International Corporate Volunteer programs for a variety of reasons. There are relatively few capturing innovative ideas at the forefront. One such company, however, is Dow Corning Corporation of Midland, Michigan.
Dow Corning + Volunteering = Product Innovation
As a specialty materials manufacturing company, Dow Corning must be prepared to adapt its products to the needs of markets like India and across Africa where conditions are dramatically different. Realizing this type of experience is likely not to be forthcoming in the Upper Midwest, Dow Corning, under the leadership of their Director of Corporate Citizenship, Laura Asiala, and the guidance of CDC Development Solutions, designed its Citizen Service Corps program. The program’s aim is to give high performing employees not just an opportunity to come up with innovative ideas through skills-based volunteering, but a mandate to do so.
Citizen Service Corps teams receive pre-departure training in market ethnography (market research through observation) and how to catalogue the insights for innovation and future business development. At the end of their 4-week assignments, the team then participates in a workshop to further catalyze these ideas. This ultimately leads to sessions with the company’s business and technology development group.
As a result of two teams who travelled into rural India, Dow Corning collected dozens of product, application, and business ideas. These insights help inform the company’s business and product development portfolio, which is actively being pursued. Although the company does not disclose the specific nature of their business development areas, the most interesting and relevant ideas are in the areas of affordable housing, renewable energy, and sustainable agriculture.
While Dow Corning as a company is reaping the rewards of these ideas, the local organizations are benefiting too. Companies such as Envirofit, SELCO, and Ashoka received expertise from volunteers they would not have otherwise have access to, which will inform their work for many years to come. The employees themselves receive an immersive experience that stretches not only their technical skills, but impacts their cultural acuity and leadership abilities as well.
Third Annual ICV Conference
CDC Development Solutions welcomes you to join Dow Corning and others at the Third Annual International Corporate Volunteerism Conference on April 11 and 12. This Conference draws a rare combination of leaders from Fortune 500s, small to medium sized companies, government agencies, as well as some of the world’s largest nonprofits and NGOs. Addressing the intersection of corporate citizenship and development through volunteerism, the Conference will share best practices and learnings by Dow Corning, IBM, PepsiCo, GlaxoSmithKline, USAID, Business Civic Leadership Center, and others. You can also tune into the Conference live on Twitter at #ICVConf.
Vice President, CDC Development Solutions
As Vice President of CDC Development Solutions, Ms. MacArthur leads the Global Citizenship and Volunteerism practice area. Ms. MacArthur designs and implements corporate social responsibility programs for the public and private sector focused on skills-based volunteerism in emerging markets, leadership development, and sustainable economic impact.