This is the first in a six-part series highlighting innovative trends in skills-based volunteering from pledge companies of A Billion + Change, a national campaign to mobilize billions in pro bono and skills-based volunteer services from corporate America
by Amanda MacArthur, VP, CDC Development Solutions
Skills-based volunteering is on the rise. In 2011, four times as many companies sent employees to volunteer professional skills in countries such as Ghana, India and Nigeria compared to just six years ago according to the CDC's 2012 International Corporate Volunteer Benchmarking Survey. Volunteers – and their employers – often call the experience life changing. NGOs, nonprofits, government agencies and other organizations say expertise in areas such as technology, supply chain management and marketing allows them to advance in ways they otherwise never could.
Over the past few years, companies such as IBM, Pfizer, PepsiCo and Dow Corning have sent employees on skills-based, pro bono, short-term volunteer assignments in emerging markets for leadership development, product innovation opportunities and to better understand emerging markets while providing much needed assistance and enabling skills transfer. Now, companies can also send their employees on volunteer assignments that link directly to U.S. global development goals that help solve some of the world’s most pressing issues – clean water, education, food security and healthcare.
The Center of Excellence for International Corporate Volunteerism (CEICV) is the result of a new partnership between the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and IBM, which operates the largest skills-based International Corporate Volunteer (ICV) program. CEICV, which is implemented by CDC Development Solutions, enables companies to learn how to create and manage International Corporate Volunteer programs and highlights the potential for these programs to support broader development goals in critical emerging markets around the world. The aim is to help build the capacity of beneficiary organizations in emerging markets through short-term partnerships with highly-skilled corporate volunteers.
Ghana: The First Team
Last year, Ghana was ranked the world’s fastest growing economy. Yet, services in some areas of the country are not advancing as quickly as needed. Ensuring basic, quality healthcare remains a challenge, especially in rural areas.
Each year, millions contract malaria – the country’s leading cause of death in children under five, and infant and maternal mortality is high. While treatment is available in certain areas, the infrastructure does not yet exist to provide this same level of healthcare country-wide. Thus, what are otherwise treatable illnesses can become debilitating and can hurt Ghana’s economic growth.
Ghana’s Ministry of Health, supported by a USAID-funded DELIVER project, laid out a five year Supply Chain Master Plan to ensure access to medical care to the families who need it most. The plan calls for a new Ministry agency to manage drug and healthcare distribution country-wide.
But before initiating such a plan, a number of questions need to be addressed. What information system can be put in place to track medical supplies across the country? What are the associated costs? What are the risks of changing the existing structure within Ghana’s Ministry of Health?
Last April, IBM assembled a team of 12 employees to help answer these questions on what would become one of the first USAID/IBM Partnership supported trips. Drawing on their expertise in finance, project management, sales and technology, the employees travelled to Ghana for one month and consulted on a pro bono basis.
First, they met with public and private healthcare providers and the Ministry of Health, in Ghana’s capital, Accra. Then they travelled to rural areas in the Ashanti, Eastern, and Volta regions to meet with local health practitioners and administrators. They asked strategic questions to gain a sense of the needs, the challenges they faced, and how the system could be improved.
A Roadmap Emerges
Drawing on what they learned in these conversations and their collective expertise, the IBM volunteers designed a recommendation for the Ministry, including the tools needed to help lay a foundation as the initiative is rolled out. This includes a high level roadmap for an information system that will track drug supply and health services across the country and bring more visibility to the healthcare system and a cost analysis of the new system. Finally, to prepare the Ministry for unforeseen challenges, the volunteers outlined the risks associated with the proposal and conducted training to address these moving forward.
Now that the IBM team has returned home, the real work begins.
These recommendations outline strategies to improve the system, but change can be difficult. To encourage the plan’s success, the USAID DELIVER team and the Ministry of Health will carry out an advocacy plan to get buy-in and help the different stakeholders across the country understand the benefits of the agency. Ghana has the potential to serve as a model for countries across Africa and other emerging markets that face similar challenges in healthcare.
Innovation through Strategic Skills-based Volunteering
Today, A Billion + Change held a forum at the White House, where nearly 200 companies who have pledged to create or expand a skills-based volunteer program, convened to recognize and discuss skills-based volunteering as an innovative strategy to solve urgent challenges facing our communities. Leaders in industry, policy and civic engagement will also discuss how skills-based volunteer programs, like the USAID/IBM program in Ghana, can help address global development challenges.
Stan Litow, Vice President of Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs at IBM, a Leadership Committee member of A Billion + Change and a pledge company, spoke about the business case for pro bono work, and the need for skills-based International Corporate Volunteer programs, particularly as a way to cultivate emerging leaders within companies.
To learn more about International Corporate Volunteering and how you can launch a program at your company, contact Amanda MacArthur at CDC Development Solutions or take a look at CEICV.
About the Author:
As Vice President of CDC Development Solutions, Amanda MacArthur leads the Global Citizenship and Volunteerism practice area. She 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.