Outside the Comfort Zone: Why Corporate Pro Bono Assignments are a “Win-Win-Win” Proposition

Outside the Comfort Zone: Why Corporate Pro Bono Assignments are a “Win-Win-Win” Proposition

by Manuel Göpelt
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Corporate #probono assignments are a win-win-win proposition for companies like IBM & @SAP: http://bit.ly/1AOn7zH @sapnews #volunteers


IBM and SAP both send volunteers to work in emerging economies, where their job is to support non-profit organizations on site and solve a range of challenging tasks. This article looks at why pro bono assignments are a “win-win-win” proposition. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015 - 8:35am

CAMPAIGN: SAP Supports Sustainable Growth in Emerging Economies

CONTENT: Article

“It was an extremely intense time,” recalls pro bono volunteer Nadine Ebert. “You have people around you 14 hours a day and you don’t get much time to yourself. It’s a very bonding experience.”

In April 2014, the 32-year-old SAP manager swapped her office in Palo Alto, California, for a refurbished factory in Porto Alegre, which is home to nós coworking, a Brazilian start-up community. Its aim is to revitalize the former industrial quarter in which it is located­ and create new jobs at the same time. The necessary funds will be channeled principally through a crowdsourcing platform: And it was for this platform that Nadine and two SAP colleagues from Bulgaria and Ireland traveled to Brazil to design an implementation concept.

The Porto Alegre project is a prototypical example of the kind of mutually beneficial relationship that socially responsible enterprises are referring to when they talk about “social impact.” These pro bono projects involve collaboration with educational institutions, non-profit organizations, government agencies, and the private sector to promote sustainable development in target countries. During their assignments, pro bon volunteers utilize precisely those skills that they are used to applying in their regular jobs back home: The difference is that they are working in a cultural and economic environment that is largely alien to them.

“Pro bono volunteering,” as it is known, benefits not only those organizations in developing and emerging economies that receive support, but also the employees who provide it. Not to mention the companies that give their employees leave of absence to take on an international skills-based volunteering assignment.

Bahram Maghsoudi from IBM is a case in point. The 37-year-old business consultant set off for Kenya in 2011, trading his home in Frankfurt for the heart of Nairobi’s start-up scene. Kenya’s Ministry of Science and Technology was searching for proposals on how best to link the country’s universities with start-up businesses. Working with colleagues from Denmark, India, and Japan, Bahram compiled a 100-page white paper on the subject.

“It summarized the findings of a month-long field research program in which we spoke to all the main stakeholders,” he explains. “The Kenyan government used large parts of our study in a government directive that has since entered into force.”

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