The New Realities of CSR for Global Businesses

Local beneficiaries of IBM's Project Hope
By Amanda MacArthur 

Over the past several years, we have seen several new realities emerge for global businesses that can greatly influence the CSR landscape:

  1. The traditional model of CSR is often not enough to justify its cost over time, which limits its impact and actually has the potential to cause harm. For a CSR program to be sustainable, it must have benefits across the business with a positive, measurable impact.
  2. Participation in emerging markets such as Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe is critical for continued profitability, as is an understanding of how to operate and market services in these environments.
  3. Recruiting and retaining top talent for large corporations is increasingly competitive. This requires out-of-the-box thinking that builds on the growing expectations of the modern workforce.

Companies that can link these areas while simultaneously doing “good” will be the best prepared to not only survive, but thrive in the future.  One way companies such as IBM, FedEx and PepsiCo meet each of these objectives is through International Corporate Volunteer (ICV) programs – a relatively new form of volunteerism. ICV is defined as:

“Any program in which employees cross international borders to provide services to local clients based on skills they use in their everyday jobs. Though not always volunteerism in the traditional sense as participants may or may not receive their salaries, employees engage in activities outside their normal responsibilities. The projects are non-revenue generating for the company and provide economic/social benefits to local organizations and communities.”

As a lead designer of ICV programs at CDC Development Solutions, I’ve had the opportunity to see firsthand how ICV can benefit several areas of a business at once. While each program is designed with a company’s strategic goals in mind, there are also broader business benefits – including marketing and brand awareness, innovation and R&D, and leadership development. Over the next several months, we will look at what this actually looks like for companies, beginning with IBM’s program in Nigeria, which evolved into a commercial engagement stemming from market partnerships built over time.

A Gateway into Nigeria
IBM | Marketing and Brand Awareness

While generally not the first topic that comes up in regards to an ICV program, marketing and brand awareness should not be overlooked. For a company looking to enter a target market, what better way to announce your presence than by first introducing your greatest asset – your people. I’ve seen this strategy work effectively through IBM’s ICV program, Corporate Service Corps.  

In 2009, CDC Development Solutions placed several teams of IBM employees to work in Cross River State, Nigeria with the Ministry of Social Welfare, a state-level government agency. The IBM team was asked to develop solutions for a range of challenges, including the issue of infant mortality. At that time, one out of every four children in the state did not reach the age of five due to poor health care and rampant disease. To address this, Cross River State initially launched Projects Hope and Comfort to provide free health care and education to those who needed it most. IBM’s Corporate Service Corps team provided pro bono support to ministry staff during the early phases of the projects’ implementation. Over the course of two, month-long engagements, the IBM teams developed recommendations to improve services and efficiency. Among these was the recommendation that  the state use stronger databases to more effectively monitor patients’ health. The IBM teams–some of whom specialized in marketing–also recommended a communications strategy to build trust among local communities unaccustomed to support from their government.

While IBM’s presence in Cross River was initially in a corporate citizenship capacity, the state gained a perspective on what could be achieved and eventually asked IBM to take on Projects Hope and Comfort as a commercial endeavor. Infant mortality in the area has been drastically reduced. Prior to these ICV engagements, many Nigerians considered IBM simply a “computer company.”  In 2011, however, IBM won its first-ever contract for services in all of West Africa. Today, IBM provides technology consulting that gives hospitals and doctors the intelligence to make life-saving decisions.


As vice president of CDC Development Solutions, Ms. MacArthur leads the Global Citizenship and Volunteerism practice area, including responsibility for the International Corporate Volunteer programs, MBAs Without Borders and the MBA Enterprise Corps.  In this capacity, Ms. MacArthur designs and implements corporate social responsibility programs for the public and private sectors focused on skills-based volunteerism in emerging markets, leadership development, and sustainable economic impact. Most recently, Ms. MacArthur played a key role in designing IBM’s Corporate Service Corps, while overseeing International Corporate Volunteer programs for FedEx, PepsiCo, Pfizer, and several others. She has also contributed to the design of the Center of Excellence for International Corporate Volunteerism (CEICV) – a first of its kind public-private partnership between USAID, IBM and CDC Development Solutions. CEICV is an innovative forum that promotes best practices in international volunteerism while preparing companies with the tools to create employee volunteer programs that focus on emerging markets.

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