This blog post is the first in a series based on “Demonstrating the Business Value of Pro Bono Service,” a whitepaper which identifies business benefits of pro bono and spotlights corporate best practices. In this issue, we are focusing on innovation, exploring the way that IBM has benefited by creating two pro bono programs which enhanced creativity and innovation within the company and among employees.
Pro bono programs provide a great opportunity for Corporate Social Responsibility strategies that offer shared value to both the business and the community. Pro bono can serve the business by fostering an innovative organizational culture, supporting human resources and professional development and improving the company’s reputation.
A Climate of Innovation
Creativity and entrepreneurialism have become necessary elements in the business world. Fortunately, creating pro bono programs can foster the desired climate of innovation, helping to develop new or improved products and allowing the company to expand customer scope or reach beyond its existing markets. By exposing employees to a new environment and type of clients, volunteers are required to find creative solutions which bring fresh new perspectives into the work environment. As employees face today’s social challenges, they also discover a new sector that was not part of the company’s market.
IBM’s community involvement strategy, which includes the Corporate Service Corps (CSC), a global leadership development program, and Trailblazer Grants, a team-based technology offering for nonprofits, has increased innovation and growth within the company. Employees are motivated to be creative and see pro bono engagement as an opportunity to “learn new ideas, methods, and perspective [they] cannot imagine at the moment,” as highlighted by a CSC participant. Employees bring back knowledge to the company, develop professionally and find ways to apply new skills to serve IBM clients better.
New or Improved Products
Intellectual property at IBM was significantly enhanced by pro bono. IBM’s recent work in the areas of voice recognition, virtualization, data visualization, data analytics, and cloud computing have all been embedded in products and services. And what else do these all have in common? These were all initially conceived during pro bono community engagements and have been integrated into the company’s commercial offerings. To date, over a dozen new patents have been applied as a result of the company’s community engagement and pro bono work.
New Market or Enhanced Market Penetration
IBM’s community programs have helped the company broaden its geographic scope by penetrating into new markets in multiple continents, serving countries as diverse as Ghana, Romania, and Indonesia. By supporting the development of small and medium enterprises across the globe, Corporate Service Corps (CSC) members contribute to growing IBM’s knowledge of the socio-economic conditions and business practices in emerging markets.
Like IBM, companies can enjoy business and employee growth by embracing the benefits of pro bono programs. When designing a program, ask yourself: How do your volunteer programs bring value back to the business?