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The World Is IBM's Classroom

IBM has set up a Peace Corps-like program that aims to turn top management prospects into global citizens

When 10 IBM (IBM) management trainees piled into a minibus in the Philippines for a weekend tour last October, the last thing they expected was to wind up local heroes. Yet that's what happened in the tiny village of Carmen. After passing a water well project, they learned the effort had stalled because of engineering mistakes and a lack of money. The IBMers decided to do something about it. They organized a meeting of the key people involved in the project and volunteered to pay $250 out of their own pockets for additional building materials. Two weeks later the well was completed. Locals would no longer have to walk four miles for drinkable water. And the trainees learned a lesson in collaborative problem-solving. "You motivate people to take the extra step, you create a shared vision, you divide the labor, and the impact can be big," says Erwin van Overbeek, 40, who runs environmental sustainability projects for IBM clients.

While saving a village well wasn't part of the group agenda for that trip, it's the kind of experience the architects of IBM's Corporate Service Corps had in mind when they launched the initiative last year. Modeled on the U.S. Peace Corps, the program aims to turn IBM employees into global citizens. Last year, IBM selected 300 top management prospects out of 5,400 applicants. It then trained and dispatched them to emerging markets for a month in groups of 8 to 10 to help solve economic and social problems. The goal, says IBM's human resources chief, J. Randall MacDonald, is to help future leaders "understand how the world works, show them how to network, and show them how to work collaboratively with people who are far away."