Where business goals meet social gains

More IT companies are leveraging their core capabilities, as well as urging employees to exercise corporate social responsibility.
Written by Sol E. Solomon, Contributor

While profit remains the fundamental target of any business, IT companies the world over are also tapping their core expertise to fulfill their responsibilities as good corporate citizens.

For example, Satyam Computer Services' corporate social responsibility (CSR) arm, Satyam Foundation, leverages the outsourcing company's core strength--the use of technology and processes--to transform the quality of life for India's underprivileged. The company looks at how IT can be deployed to bridge the "digital divide" and open new opportunities for success and prosperity.

India's largest corporate volunteering program, Satyam Foundation hails its successful incubation of the country's "1-0-8 Emergency" as the company's "technological triumph".

The free emergency management service was initiated in 2005, when Satyam's founder and chairman Ramalinga Raju, his brothers and their families, contributed land worth 200 crore rupees (US$42 million) and 120 crore rupees (US$25 million) as seed funding. Their vision was to provide free emergency response services--similar to 911 in the United States--for medical, police and fire emergencies across India, with the aim to save 1 million lives annually by 2010.

Today, the Emergency Management and Research Institute (EMRI) delivers the service through state-of-art emergency call response centers located across Indian states Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Goa, Chennai, Rajasthan and Karnataka.

We believe that it is relatively easy to give money, but it is when you give of yourself that you receive the greatest benefit.
Gary Baty, EMC Asia-Pacific and Japan

Venkat Changavalli, CEO of EMRI, said in an interview that during the first two years of operation, the emergency service was predominantly funded by the Raju family. The Institute's achievements have since encouraged state governments to now pay for the running costs, while Raju continues to serve as an advisor.

According to the EMRI, over 4,500 emergency calls are handled daily, resulting in more than 108 lives saved each day, and 99.8 percent of calls are answered within the first two rings. Its ambulances, which are equipped with GPS (global positioning system) capabilities, take an average of 14 minutes to reach an emergency scene located in urban areas and 22 minutes in rural areas.

One aspect of EMRI's education drive includes life-saving techniques, which are taught to "first responders" such as police officers as well as members of the general public.

Changavalli told ZDNet Asia: "Satyam employees, too, volunteer as first responders and they provide assistance to the education program in colleges and schools."

The IT vendor also brings its technology partners and staff together to develop software that include databases, voice logs and maps for EMRI, as well as integrate its computers and telephone systems, Changavalli said.

Expertise for emerging markets
Another IT company that leverages its core expertise to help society is IBM.

Judy Lee, corporate citizenship manager at IBM Singapore, said the creation of IBM's Corporate Service Corps (CSC) lets the company fulfill some of its responsibilities by providing much-needed skills, talent and expertise, aimed at increasing global economic growth and societal development.

CSC, which runs as a volunteer program, is part of IBM's Global Citizen's Portfolio announced by CEO Sam Palmisano in 2007. The initiative aims to develop leadership skills while addressing socio-economic challenges in emerging markets, Lee said in an e-mail interview.

At the same time, the program gives promising IBMers a chance to develop their leadership skills as they perform community service in developing countries, she said.

The CSC brings IBM employees and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) together, to work in select developing and emerging markets for one month, on "some of the world's toughest societal problems" such as environmental challenges and access to educational resources.

Lee added that IBM provides the resources, manpower and senior management support required to host the participants in the recipient countries. Employees contribute their leadership and project management skills, as well as expertise.

Any full-time IBM staff with at least two years of service, who has demonstrated a sufficiently high level of performance at work, may apply for the CSC. Applicants are evaluated rigorously by regional review committees comprising representatives from IBM's Corporate Citizenship and HR sections, various business units and its corporate headquarters, Lee explained.

The CSC recently sent a team each to Vietnam and the Philippines. In Vietnam, the team collaborated with the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Danang, and helped produce a program for small and midsize businesses to do market analysis, financial forecasting and operations management. The goal was to strengthen community and economic ties, and enable global growth.

In the Philippines, the CSC team partnered The Australian Business Volunteers to evaluate the needs of government agencies and NGOs in Davao, Mindanao. One project involved the Davao Tourism Association, which needed help to develop marketing, strategic and communications plans to promote tourism in the Philippine city.

R. Selvi, IBM Singapore's communications country manager, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail, her visit to Davao was "truly enriching". "I have seen the power of perseverance despite all odds," she said. "The people of Davao have many challenges. Despite it all, they are constantly striving to raise their living standards. I admire their spirit and passion. I have also learnt the true meaning of sharing without any expectation of return. Dabawegians are warm and their hospitality peerless."

On a professional level, Selvi said the experience helped her develop a deep understanding of conditions in an emerging market.

"I experienced the importance of being passionate about all that we do, collaborating with people who are widely different in terms of culture and the ways of doing things, and the significance of patience in dealing with people with different perspectives and mindsets," she said.

Employee involvement encouraged
At EMC, getting more staff involved in the community is also a key initiative.

Gary Baty, human resources vice president at EMC Asia-Pacific and Japan, said the storage vendor earlier this year formed its own CSR team, dubbed The APJ Guidance Team. His team works closely with CSR teams in each of EMC's business regions.

For 2008 and 2009, the company is focusing its community involvement around the theme "Youth Education", Baty told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail. It supports projects that facilitate and drive employee volunteerism in local communities, employee contributions for special appeals, and planned funding for local community projects.

"A requirement for funding is that there needs to be employee involvement," he said. "We believe it is relatively easy to give money, but it is when you give of yourself that you receive the greatest benefit."

EMC currently funds over 14 projects across India, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, China, Hong Kong, Australia, Korea and Japan.

Its employees are involved in various volunteer work including tutoring programs for pre-teens in Singapore, and training on basic computer applications to underprivileged women and children in Bangalore.

EMC and its volunteers also provide "special experiences" to children who would otherwise not normally enjoy these activities, such as hosting them in a movie or a visit to a science museum.

During the company's "Need-for-Speed Go-Kart Power Race 2008" held in September in Singapore, 26 boys from Boys' Town--a Singapore-based charity for children from challenging home environments--were treated to a go-kart demonstration. The event included an autograph-signing session by Panasonic-Toyota Formula One drivers Jarno Trulli and Timo Glock, and an auction that raised S$12,000 (US$8,000) in funds to support Boys' Town's operational expenses.

"Through EMC's CSR initiatives, not only would employees be able to make a significant difference in the lives of people in the local community, they would also stand to gain a life-changing experience for their personal development," Baty said. "This would then create a culture of goodwill and teamwork within the organization."

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