Going above and beyond: How IBM is supporting Sharjah through training and education (and all for free)

Corporations often about about giving back. The phrase corporate social responsibility is often uttered by executives. But how many companies really get their hands stuck in when it comes to providing knowledge, skills, and experience to local communities.

IBM’s remit has included encouraging ICT adoption among Sharjah’s youth

One company that I admire and respect for how it does things differently is IBM. IBM, or Big Blue as the company is also known, is a vendor to the Government of Sharjah for its e-government project. IBM did what few other vendors do, and sent a team of volunteers over to Sharjah to help develop a communications strategy that would promote Sharjah’s e-government services to the Emirate’s citizens and residents. Here’s a couple of bite-size quotes from IBM’s press memo.

An international team of 14 IBM employees chosen for the company’s Corporate Services Corps program has arrived in the United Arab Emirates to volunteer their expertise in support of e-literacy and social development in the Emirate of Sharjah. As part of the project, the team will work alongside the Sharjah e-Government Directorate, Sharjah University and the Supreme Council for Family Affairs Centers.

The team of 14 IBM experts from the United States, India, Austria, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Japan and Australia will be on the ground in Sharjah for a month. At the Sharjah e-Government Directorate, a team will help refine a national strategy for promoting e-services of the Sharjah government to residents.

At the Supreme Council of Family Affairs, an IBM team will help the council and its organizations realize an e-literacy program and move closer towards realizing its goals of helping Sharjah women and youth improve their IT skills.

IBM’s Corporate Service Corps are teams of subject matter experts who give their time free of charge for a month to help local economies, improve skills, and provide a foundation for success in a variety of disciplines to small businesses, educational institutions and non-profit organisations.

As a person who is passionate about communications, I find it interesting that IBM focused on working with Sharjah on how to promote e-services. In a sense it acknowledges the truth that having a good technical setup and list of services just isn’t enough. If you don’t know about the services and/or your habits are ingrained then you won’t use a new services. It’ll be interesting to see how IBM and the Sharjah Government will look to tackle the issue of change, to promote services that contrast with how government affairs have been traditionally run in the Gulf (think lots of office trips and paperwork).

In addition, how will the initiative have tackled internal change, to convince government employees who would have never thought about either using e-services or promoting electronic government.

I’d love to know if IBM considered the prospect of using traditional communication methods such as a majlis (usually a night-time gathering of several dozen men, or women, in one room discuss everything from personal issues to business) to talk about and listen to ideas on how to publicize e-services as well as demonstrate the ease with which one could complete a government transaction or service without having to talk to someone face to face or leave one’s house or office.

How will IBM and the Sharjah Government promote e-services to a society that is both traditional and conservative?

In a conservative society with many different cultures, nationalities and languages what tactics can be used to convey a message successfully? The thought of using centuries-old concepts and practices to make a success out of a cutting edge technology project to change how government services are requested and delivered is fascinating. Again, I wonder what IBM came up with on this project.

All in all, this is what CSR should be about. Supporting a government e-services project through communications? Providing advice and training for getting more women and youth into technology? And for free? I hope others follow in IBM’s footsteps. We all could do with more corporate love through such projects.

PS for more news on IBM’s Corporate Service Corps initiative have a look at the website http://www.ibm.com/ibm/responsibility/corporateservicecorps/ or follow the hashtag #ibmcsc!

Where’s the corporate response to #Sandy?

The response to tropical storm/hurricane Sandy online has been remarkable. There’s little anyone else is talking about, and even as far off as the Middle East people are sending their wishes to those caught in the storm’s path. To give you an idea about how Sandy has been trending on social media, have a look at the analytics graph from Hashtag.org for #sandy.

The graph, from hashtags.org, is from a one percent sample of Twitter traffic over the past 24 hours.

Everyone has been pitching in to provide help, support and comfort to those affected. According to thenextweb, Twitter has supported relief efforts by promoting the following twitter accounts @RedCross, @FEMA,@NYCMayorsOffice, and @MDMEMA. “Twitter is also listing government accounts and resources on its blog and giving #Sandy a custom page,” according to the piece by Harrison Weber on TNW.

Even celebrities have been taking to the social media space to talk about Sandy.

Aside from the danger to life posed by Sandy, the main talking points have been flooding and power outages. As a big fan of the likes of ABB (my former company) and GE, I was hoping that they and others would be talking about the disaster and lending a hand to get everything back on track. Estimations are that eight million people are without power right now in the Eastern seaboard of the US, and that utility company staffers are traveling from as far as California and Texas to help out in New York.

And what is on GE’s Facebook page?

This was GE’s latest post to their Facebook page, which is liked by over 900,000 people. There’s no mention of Sandy.

And ABB?

ABB’s latest Facebook post which was put up in the afternoon of October 30. Again, no mention of Sandy.

This isn’t exactly an empirical study, but it worries me that two of the world’s most respected electrical engineering companies are not lending their support or even making their support known by social media. While I understand that many corporates don’t want to be seen to be taking advantage of the situation, surely there’s a time and place for them to offer their support and advice publicly.

Not talking about what is affecting millions of people seems so out of place, especially when on social media and when the companies mentioned provide solutions that power our utilities.

After all, aren’t we supposed to be talking with each other via Facebook and Twitter. Or do we go on, ignoring global events? Hardly being socially responsibly on social media, is it?