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IBM’s Corporate Service Corps (CSC) is like a family – volunteer IBMers from all over the world coming together to share solutions with developing nations – and nowhere has that been more true than the CSC’s recent work in Senegal. Team member Catherine Lete was impressed by this wonderful country and its inhabitants.

Solutions for Senegal
CSC programs involve teams of IBMers visiting emerging economies to bring their expertise to places where it’s really needed. Catherine and her team of 14 IBMers from 10 countries traveled to Thies as part of a larger CSC effort to recommend web and infrastructure improvements to five of Senegal’s largest companies.

Catherine quickly discovered that life is very different in Senegal – observations that would prove critical in deciding how best to structure the team’s final recommendations. Travel in Senegal can be difficult, for example: the CSC team found their 60 kilometer journey from Dakar to Thies taking an average of two hours by taxi.

CSC projects are rapid interventions – just four weeks from start to finish – so the team quickly set about learning the clients’ business operations in order to understand how best to respond to their needs, including three visits to the clients’ premises in Dakar. “That also taught us that business processes often run along different lines in Senegal,” she recalls. “Our first day– which we expected to be packed with intensive project briefings – was actually full of long rounds of personal introductions. It was wonderful to be made to feel so welcome, of course, but it was an indication that we had to think carefully about how we would structure our recommendations: They would need to accommodate a very different way of doing business.”

Looking to the Future: Recommendations for Success
After four weeks, the team recommended a fully integrated services platform based around the free, open–source CMS platform Joomla. Common partner databases, an e-commerce front end and integrated supply chains would be implemented as the program progressed. This would, in turn, allow the clients to render effective and informative services to their SME partners throughout Senegal – improving the lives of business owners and employees across the country.

The team delivered their recommendations to the client’s top management, as well as a more technical presentation for the advisors and partners, and then rounded off their experience with a press conference to share the results of their collaboration with local and national media.

During their time there, the team spent their weekends exploring Senegal. “We visited Dakar which is a beautiful city, and went to GoréeIsland, which was a destination for the slave trade. We also saw some wonderful architecture throughout the country.”

Going on the trip opened Catherine’s eyes to the realities of life in Senegal.” I changed my mind about a lot of things while I was there. Unless you see the reality, unless you live it, you can never really know. Essential pieces of infrastructure that we just take for granted in the West can be very hard to come by. That makes life tough for the people, and tough for businesses to survive.

“But the people are so kind, so welcoming, so open. They seem to smile all day long! Meanwhile, Senegal is a country that is 95 percent Muslim, and 5 percent Christian, and there is no animosity at all. In Europe we often pre-judge these things, but the reality is often very different. I hope the recommendations we made can make a real difference in their lives.”

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