Petra Florizoone, Software Client Leader for the Public Sector, tells us about her Corporate Services Corps experience in Dakar (Senegal) where she was involved in a food transformation project and worked at the intersection of business and society.
There were 14 of us to be deployed in Dakar. Fourteen IBMers, from seven different countries. Satish from India, Mika from Japan and I were very lucky. The three of us were deployed, in my view, on one of the most fun projects, namely a project for L’institut de Technologie Alimentaire (ITA).
Making oil out of a mango
ITA is a government research and development center for food transformation. They help the Senegalese people to get more out of their agricultural products. Take, for example, a mango: in case of overproduction, instead of throwing the mangos away, ITA helps the local people to make oil out of them. This includes research, but also education of the people as well as providing services (e.g. quality control). They do a remarkable job but lack visibility, especially in the countryside where ICT is limited and illiteracy is high. Our role in this project was to develop a Marketing and Communications strategy for ITA within a very tight budget.
It soon became clear that the language was one of the biggest challenges. The customers only spoke French (and very few a little bit of English) and all the documentation was in French. As I was the only one in our team who spoke French, I was immediately appointed as the translator and interpreter.
Food for thought
One of the most interesting aspects of the project is the contact with the Senegalese people. We interviewed many people to collect as much data as possible, e.g. the Federation of Bakeries, the Senegalese National Training center, Women organizations, etc. This resulted in quite some ‘food for thought’, a rich collection of different views and opinions on the current situation.
An additional challenge that we had to take into account in our communications strategy was the fact that 50% of the villagers are illiterate. That is why we did some fieldwork in the villages and cooperated with NGOs and volunteer organizations. We also involved journalists to discuss all possible tools to communicate in Senegal. Step by step, we achieved a better understanding of the broader picture and finally managed to work out a concrete communication plan with local radio and TV.
In addition to the project which Satish, Mika and I carried out for l’Institut de Technologie Alimentaire (ITA), we also got involved in two other smaller projects. One in beach cleaning with local people – quite an experience! – and another one consisted of participating in a panel during a conference entitled ‘La Révolution des Technologies en Afrique: Les Métiers pour la Prochaine Génération’ which was attended by 60 students.
My CSC assignment in Dakar was a life experience.
It was unique, not only because it allowed me to get to know Senegal a little bit but also to work in a totally different environment with a totally new team. I can recommend participating in the Corporate Service Corps to every IBMer! You will never forget this experience and you will carry it with you your whole life. It strengthens your leadership skills, you learn to be creative, you become a problem solver and you start to put things into a much broader perspective. In other words… it enriches you. The people in Senegal are very friendly and hospitable. That is why I called my blog Teranga.
NOTE: Over the last five years, 2,400 IBM employees have been dispatched on almost 200 voluntary aid engagements around the world. The Corporate Service Corps – IBM’s social responsibility program to deliver free training, consulting and support to needy areas – has provided more than US$70 million worth of skilled, probono services since 2008, directly benefiting 140,000 people.