Collaborations are in the in thing nowadays. Beyond the economics of it, collaborations between partners who bring in different skill sets and domain knowledge end up benefiting more people that just each other. Though partnerships in the social space are usually seen only between Civil Society organizations (CSO) and the Government, we are now beginning to see Corporates willing to partner and work with CSOs too. One would usually see such partnerships being driven by the CSR mandate but we at SVYM recently had a different kind of a mutually enriching partnership with a Global corporate player. This partnership took sometime to plan and think thru and began when another non-profit, the VSO-India Trust (VSO) approached us nearly a year ago. VSO harnesses the energy of youth and corporate volunteers to enable change. They foster development partnerships to create lasting change and promote inclusion and equality for all. More information about VSO is at VSO India Trust. They wanted to explore if SVYM would be willing to work with IBM (whom they were representing) and host 3 of their employees. This was part of the IBM Corporate Service Corps that was launched by IBM in 2008 to help communities around the world solve critical problems while providing their employees unique leadership development opportunities. More info about this program is at IBM CSC
The idea was to see if we could use the skill sets and competences of these employees to help design solutions to some of the problems that SVYM was grappling with, but did not have the ‘talent’ bandwidth to solve. Based on some of the earlier experiences that we had with corporate interns and volunteers, I was a bit skeptical and was more of a distant observer as Prasanna from SVYM worked with VSO and IBM to draft out a Scope of work. After meeting and interacting with the 3 IBMers – Amy, Walter and Rameswari, within a day or two of their coming to SVYM, I felt my skepticism being blown away. They were indeed a different kind of a team that clearly meant business from the very first day of their coming. Though each of them came from different countries and cultures, what was impressive was their professionalism, their commitment to our cause and their serious intent to help solve our IT problems.
SVYM is a very complex and diverse organization with high aspirations as far as its IT needs go and not so high levels of IT resources. Prasanna who is taking a break from the IT sector and has been volunteering with us for the last year and more, is trying to articulate, streamline and restructure our IT resources and capabilities. After internal discussions and deliberations, we zeroed in on our immediate priority of developing an intranet that would help augment our IT capabilities of managing both our internal and external stakeholders efficiently and effectively. Though writing the SOW was an easy first step, I wondered whether these three people with no or very little social sector experience, be able to understand SVYM and come out with something meaningful and productive. What left me impressed was their ability to soak themselves into the SVYM environment completely, befriend every SVYMite that they met, gather in so much information; and finally put all of this together to come out with a product that we could immediately start using.
The IBM trio of Walter, Amy and Rameswari at their final presentation at VLEAD
I would not be exaggerating if I were to say that what they accomplished was much more than what we had bargained for. They not only kept taking in criticism and asking for user feedback, but were also scouting the external environment to explore what other solutions could exist for SVYM and how practical would it be to consider integrating them too. All in all, this was not just a pleasant experience because the IBM team ended up delivering more that what they had committed or we had asked for. What they demonstrated was the fact that people with different backgrounds and cultures can actually team up and work on a project completely outside their domain expertise. They showed what professionalism truly means and lived the humility that such work demands. They also showed us at SVYM what it is to set deadlines and meet them too. They also showed us partnerships need not be driven merely by contracts or agreements, but can also have societal change as the common undercurrent force driving it. Amy, Walter and Rameswari came in as IBMers but they left us as friends and SVYMites on whom we could count on, in the future too. From our end, Parvathi was the SPOC who despite the many demands on her, supported them with the information that they needed for undertaking this project.
And the best way to thank VSO and the IBM team would be to take this partnership forward in terms of putting what they have developed to its fullest use and building on it. And learning and imbibing some of the qualities that they lived and demonstrated while they were here would be another way to remember them every day from now on.
The IBM, VSO team along with some of our SVYM team members at VLEAD, Mysuru
Thank you Amy, Walter and Rameswari and we are sure that you also carry fond memories of SVYM and our work.