Vishal Chopra: Hectic and Fulfilling - Life as an IBM Corporate Service Corps Pro-bono Consultant in China

By Vishal Chopra, Worldwide Marketing Manager for Mobile services, IBM India taking part in IBM CSC China 25 programme in Tai Yuan, August-September 2014.

Born and raised in Balotra, a moderate town in Rajasthan in the West of India, entrepreneurship was part of my heritage. I grew up surrounded by people who’d set up their own businesses and so when I finished my undergraduate degree in engineering I felt the call of business and made my way via advanced management studies into the IBM marketing position I now hold in Bangalore.

My father, Mr. Gautam Chand Chopra, has a strong social conscience and had helped to build one of Balotra’s first few hospitals in the 1980’s, voluntarily and for no recognition. It was this way of giving, his selfless service, that inspired me to do something more with my time and experience to help people. But I wasn’t sure how my expertise in marketing could ever be of any practical help to people in need.

Fortunately, the IBM Corporate Service Corps (CSC) programme with their delivery partner Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), provides such a platform to channel skills like mine in a meaningful way and allow ‘IBMers’ to contribute positively to communities. As one of the lucky few selected to do this programme I now find myself with nine other talented staff from around the world spending a month in Taiyuan in China’s Shanxi province where we can contribute our professional skills to this community and hopefully, make a difference.

Since mid August we have been immersed in Chinese life and tasked with helping three local social enterprises explore innovative ways of community management and social service delivery. Our sub-team is helping Taiyuan Yu Lin Community Social Work Centre, an organisation that supports the development of Social enterprises, in its work with the Shanxi Jia Fu Le Household Service Co. Ltd. that provides household support services for people in need in Taiyuan.

We approached it like a standard business consulting engagement- starting with assessing current business processes and management through one-on-one interviews with key stakeholders, visiting branch offices, and identifying best practices and potential improvement areas to come up with recommendations to help our clients improve operational efficiencies and grow their business. Yu Lin plans to share the recommendations and experiences from this engagement to help other social enterprises increase operational efficiencies, improve brand awareness and grow business.

Mind boggling

The experience has been mind boggling for me. I came here with just one expectation. In simple words, it was “MORE”. Serve more, learn more, network more and enjoy more. I must admit that the experience has exceeded all my expectations. Our team has experts from HR, IT, legal, marketing and project management from across the company’s operations in Brazil, Croatia, Canada, Finland, India, Mexico, and the US. We speak many languages and have a wide range of experiences but our company culture has helped us to come together as a team really naturally. We fully rely on our translators to be our lifeline towards the community. They have been amazing to ensure that we can communicate with our clients and locals, as well as spending time to help us learn more about the culture.

A typical day is simultaneously hectic and fulfilling. Whereas in the regular life, a hectic day would leave you tired and out of steam that’s not what happens here. Maybe it’s the sense of responsibility to work hard and serve more that is energising us, but I do know we are all trying to transfer the maximum amount of knowledge possible in this short time. We are honored to have the opportunity of working closely with Mrs Wang Jie, founder of Taiyuan Yu Lin Community Social Work Centre and with the founder of Shanxi Jia Fu Le Household Service Co. Ltd., Mr. Song Weijun. He operates 30 branches in the Taiyuan area. In order to have a sustainable impact, we even arranged a meeting for Mr. Song with an active volunteer in Canada to share experiences and ideas on business expansion run by the entrepreneurs with disabilities. We hope that this session has helped Mr. Song envisage a new way of doing things.

Flipping my perspective 180 degrees

An experience like this forces you to change your perspective. I go back to India in a few weeks changed by my experience. Apart from being overjoyed to see my 18 month old son, who I have missed a lot, I’ll also be changed professionally. I had been doing marketing for one of the best known brands in the world, but for this engagement in China we needed to provide advice to a start-up. It needed a 180 degree flip to put ourselves in the client’s shoes to provide smaller, local solutions to help them to get off the ground.

I can also see how emerging markets like China and India share common challenges. If we are able to make progress in one country, it is replicable in others. Of course, ‘customisation’ is required for every country but at a conceptual level, there are many commonalities. I am really looking forward to being able to share my experience with the new CSC team who will come to work in Bangalore next year.

Is IBM on to something?

Since the launch of IBM CSC programme in 2008, 2400 IBM staff members have gone to 30 countries, making the programme well known both inside and outside the organization as one of the most exciting corporate social responsibility projects. At its core, it’s about sending high performing teams to engage in problem solving with communities in emerging markets but I now know it’s more than that. It’s about connecting with people, it’s about the notions of selflessness and service that my Dad showed me and hopefully now I have shown my son when his time comes.

Background and Notes

Taiyuan Yu Lin Community Social Work Centre is the first social work non-government organization (NGO) in Shanxi province. The Yu Lin Centre was founded by Mrs. Wang Jie, a social entrepreneur, and its primary mission is to mobilize the caring power of the Taiyuan community to help improve the lives of others. The Centre mainly focuses on providing skill training, operating consultation and professional support for community social work service agencies. Today, the Yu Lin Centre works with approximately 400 social enterprises; their largest partner being Shanxi Jia Fu Le Corporation.

Shanxi Jia Fu Le Household Service Co. Ltd. is a social enterprise that was founded by Mr. Song Weijun in 2008. Through a network of branch offices located throughout Taiyuan City, Jia Fu Le provides household support and in-home care services for those in need in Taiyuan, including disabled people and the elderly. Jia Fu Le also provides employment opportunities to disabled people. Jia Fu Le currently operates 30 branches in the Taiyuan area.

VSO and IBM CSC in China

In 2014 VSO is working with IBM for the first time to deliver IBM Corporate Service Corps (CSC) programme projects in Nigeria, China and India.

In August 2014, the 25th group of ‘IBMers’ arrived to do their 4 weeks of CSC China, they come from the US, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Finland, Croatia and India. Based in the city of Taiyuan they are there to help develop high quality social care services for the elderly, disabled and other marginalized groups. They are the 25th group from IBM who were deployed in China.

Their work includes: Exploring innovative methods of community management and social service delivery; Improving the effectiveness and coverage of a telephone hotline service for people with health or social problems; Streamlining the management and delivery of social care services; Working with a social enterprise incubation organization to help to increase the number of successful social enterprises in the city of Taiyuan. Read the team blog.


VSO is the world’s leading independent international development organisation that works through volunteers to fight poverty in developing countries. VSO's high-impact approach involves bringing people together to share skills, build capabilities, promote international understanding and action, and change lives to make the world a fairer place for all.

See www.vsointernational.org

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Comment by Rashpal Saini on September 19, 2014 at 23:18

I loved reading this. VSO are really great demonstrators of the value and impact of  employee skills-based volunteering.

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