An edited version of this article was published on the IBM website on April 2013

15 IBMers from 12 countries for 4 weeks in Pretoria.
One of the most incredible experiences of our lives! 

The Corporate Service Corps (CSC) was launched in IBM in 2008 to help provide high-performing employees with quality leadership development, while also delivering quality problem solving for communities and organizations in emerging markets. Since its launch in 2008, the CSC has sent about 2000 participants on to more than 20 countries around the world. This makes a CSCer part of an elite group of 0.5% of IBMers, globally.
The CSC SA-10 team stayed in Pretoria – the administrative capital of the Republic of South Africa (RSA) and worked on four projects:  
  1. Fair Trade in Tourism: The team had to design the architectural framework for a database tool to collect monitoring and evaluation information of tourism businesses.
  2. PEN: Help develop a business plan and strategy for the Inner City Pre-school Forum Village (who assist and support informal nursery schools in the city centre area).
  3. UN Women: Design an MIS (Management Information System) to monitor and evaluate the progress of small and medium businesses owned by women.
  4. Education: My project - We had to develop an operational model and proof of concept for a large scale, mentored mobile learning project. Our client was a government entity.   

Our team, much like the rainbow nation, was a diverse one. Different countries, backgrounds, years of experience at IBM - and only one month to get the work done (and get to know each other better). Regarding my project  - my extensive experience with learning and knowledge projects gave me a fair idea of what a learning project would encompass - or so I thought! Little did I know that the challenge posed to us was gargantuan.
Consider this: Unemployment is a serious problem in South Africa (we are talking 30% of the total population) and this often leads to high rates of crime. Our project's vision was to provide young, unemployed South Africans access to reading comprehension, maths and work readiness skills, via a simple mobile phone on a basic 2G network. A blended online education model was the recommended solution as we saw that it had the potential to reach a large number of learners and eventually help them get jobs. A large scale project no doubt, and if it succeeds in South Africa, chances are, it will replicate across Africa.
In short: One month - to educate Africa - using a mobile phone - via a basic internet connection.
Challenging enough?

While it was extremely exciting to work at the start-up phase of such a large-scale project, we also had to bear in mind what best we could deliver in a month’s time. Our clients initially expected us to plan, test and execute a pilot for this project. What we eventually promised and delivered, was an operational model as well as a list of recommendations for the pilot. All in all, it was a huge learning experience for me as I had never worked with a government client, or with IBMers who have been in the organisation for more than 25 years! 

Our schedules were hectic, but there was always time for fun! On weekends and holidays, our team visited an orphanage, interacted with the children at the IBM SA Africa Saturday School, went on a safari, played with big cat cubs, shopped at the local craft market and did the usual sightseeing. I even got my hair braided in cornrows for the very first time - that was fun! (despite the three day headache that followed!)

If I had to choose one "unforgettable" moment during my stay in South Africa, it was my visit to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. Depicting an emotional and provocative history of the racial segregation that plagued the country for years, its powerful message “apartheid is exactly where it belongs – in a museum” had a profound effect on me. 

A common phrase you will hear from a lot of CSC participants is how their CSC experience was a "life-changing" one. I used to view this phrase with some amount of cynicism - can a month long assignment really change your life? I mean...c'mon!
Well, I was proved wrong. My assignment may have been short, but the experience was certainly a life-changing one. The skills I used to be (over) confident about had to take a beating when I met people who were so much better than me. I also realized that I was not so bad in areas where I had a tendency to under-estimate myself. The best part about the CSC experience was the close interaction with 14 other people from different countries - living, working, cooking, dining, partying together - and learning from each other.  At the end of the assignment, I think know I have a better insight into my personality, and a much better understanding of the world.

It has been a month since we parted ways and I still miss my SA-10 team!  I am glad we all keep in touch with each other and exchange notes every now and then.

The CSC is no doubt a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If you are an IBMer and have not yet applied for it - you have a chance to do so next year. DON'T MISS IT! Smile
 (Top Row L-R) Diane, Tiffany, Dima, Osvaldo, Moses, Jakub, Elena, Keiko, Tony
(Bottom Row L-R) Julie, Jade, Alejandra, Me, Pia and Arturo 


  • MEI YU DANG | June 17, 2013 4:21 PM

    Chitra, It was really a memeorable experience~ we learn from project, learn from each other, learn from the communication....... Miss all of us also~

  • RANJEET SANKAR | June 17, 2013 4:21 PM

    Wow..looks like you had a great time over there!

  • Pooja Kumar | June 17, 2013 4:22 PM

    Love it ! such an excellent story Chitra - excellent work and well done!

  • MEERA N. MANIGANAHALLY | June 17, 2013 4:22 PM

    Cool Chitra :-)

    I was always wondering, why Chitra has not yet ventured into CSC, you did it & seem to have completly enjoyed it too. Nice write up, keep in touch.

  • Thomas, A (Abraham) | June 17, 2013 4:23 PM

    Chitra, thank you for this insightful article. I am glad that all of you came to South Africa and contributed to enhancing IBM's image in this country. You are always welcome back here..

  • Sarah Siegel | June 17, 2013 4:23 PM

    Chitra, I play with the beads of the bracelet you kindly gave me from your South African CSC assignment all the time while on teleconferences. Helps me focus on what I'm hearing.

    My fave lines from your post: "The skills I used to be (over) confident about had to take a beating when I meet people who were so much better than me. There were also situations where I realized I was not so bad in areas where I had a tendency to under-estimate myself." IBM is getting its leadership development "money's worth" if even a proportion of CSC'ers have similar insights.

    Hard to choose my fave pic. from among the final three here! Thanks for taking the time to post your post-CSC reflections. You're tempting me to apply in the future.

  • Sanjay Patil | June 17, 2013 4:23 PM

    Wow, Very nice! Thank You for sharing your experience Chitra. I hope I will also get a chance to participate into CSC opportunity.

    Chirta: What is your advice for those who are also going to be a part of CSC program? Is there anything which you would like share which you think would have helped you, if you could have done it or acquired it before joining your SA-10 Team at CSC?

    Thank you once again!

  • PRASHANTH BALARAMA | June 17, 2013 4:24 PM

    CSC definitely helps you discover yourself. It is undoubtedly a life changing experience!!

  • Anshu | June 17, 2013 4:24 PM

    Thank you Chitra for sharing your experience. Inspired :-)

  • Geetha Prasanna | June 17, 2013 4:24 PM

    Thanks for sharing Chitra. This is so inspiring.

    I have applied for a CSC assignment this time :)

  • Tushar Pant | June 17, 2013 4:25 PM

    Excellent feat...must have been a great experience, I also fancy having this experience in my tenure here. As always its great to see people from India also participating in this..infact I heard the no. of applications are humongous...very heart-warming to hear that!!

  • Vaibhav Khandelwal | June 17, 2013 4:25 PM

    Chitra, great to meet you briefly at the Apartheid Museum...what were the odds of meeting another IBMer there at the same time! ~ and I ran into the whole CSC group. Good Blog entry and definitely makes me keen to apply to the next CSC opportunity.

  • See Bee | June 17, 2013 4:25 PM

    Hi Vaibhav,

    I agree with you - what a coincidence it was to bump into an Indian, an IBMer and an IBMer from Bangalore in Joburg of all places!! It goes to show the powerful impact of IBM if nothing else!

    I urge you to apply for the CSC next year - who knows - we may bump into each other again and I will get to meet your CSC gang :)