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The IBM Corporate Service Corps (CSC) was launched in 2008 to deliver high-quality problem solving for communities and organizations in emerging markets. The program empowers IBM employees as global citizens by sending groups of 10-15 IBMers – from different countries and with a range of skills – to an emerging market, so that they can engage in four-week, community-based assignments. Participants run community-driven economic development projects that operate at the intersection of business, technology, and society.

In April 2012, IBM airlifted 14 of us from theUS,Australia,Japan,Indiaand Europe into the beautiful emirate of Sharjah (in theUnited Arab Emirates) to help the government transform itself into an e-Government.

The background to change
The Sharjah government is in the process of modernization. In the next couple of years, the emirate wants to move towards operating a paperless administration. The infrastructure for that transformation is now in place and the first e-services have been rolled out on a portal site.

When the IBM team was called in in April 2012, the revamp of the Sharjah portal site was nearing completion. But as that was happening, the government had seen that it was facing its biggest challenge of all – establishing an electronic culture among the emirate’s citizens. In a state that has always tended towards personal interactions with the government, abandoning this approach in favor of an e-Government interaction promised to be a culture shock for the residents.

Bridging the culture gap
The government therefore decided that the CSC team should focus on making strategic recommendations for bridging the electronic culture gap. The objective was to create a climate in which all residents of Sharjah would not just be aware of the e-services but also encouraged to use them. And the shortest route to achieving that, was to go through the emirate’s women. As Ms. Ohoud Ali Shehail, director of e-Government, said: “Teach women, and you’ll teach the family.”

How the project progressed
The CSC team was split up into three subteams, with each assigned a specific task. The subteams did extensive field research to assess the situation and collaborated intensively with the clients in order to be able to present final recommendations within four weeks.

Subteam 1 made strategic recommendations for a program that would prepare the youth of Sharjah for life on the internet, whereas subteam 2 was asked to make strategic recommendations around the creation of an information and promotion campaign for e-services. Subteam 3 looked at short-term goals in order to convince theSharjahUniversitystudents to actively use e-services.

A rewarding assignment for all
CSC assignments are intended to deliver high-quality problem solving for communities and organizations in all emerging markets. So while the UAE is an ultra-modern state, the problems for emerging markets are not always in their lack of physical infrastructure. We found that the issue for states like Sharjah is the pace of evolution in the technology culture. Without a doubt, this is one of the toughest challenges a community or organization can face, which is why we believe that forward thinkers, who already come from a culture of change, are useful in helping the client make good progress.

Did we finish the assignment successfully? Yes! But the job is not done and there is still a long journey ahead for this beautiful state. The IBM CSC UAE Team 1 had the greatest time of their life and we wish IBM CSC UAE Team 2 – In sha’Allah – the very best of luck!

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