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IBM manager's financial know-how helps protect Tanzanian 'Heartland'

2009: Volume 1, Article 1

'Innovation ... for the world'

If you asked Anil Arora, IBM Global Financing Manager for Worldwide Finance and Consolidation, what he did this past summer, you'd probably be surprised, and then fascinated, by his answer. He worked, not on some high profile client win, but on helping to ensure the funding, economic sustainability, and ultimate preservation, of a wildlife corridor between two national parks - in Tanzania, Africa.

Anil and tribe under Baobab tree
Anil Arora (center, blue shirt) with a Maasai tribe leader
(right, center), tribe members and AWF representatives,
after a meeting under a Baobab tree native to the Maasai

Anil was one of the first 100 employee volunteers, representing 33 countries, chosen from approximately 5,000 applicants to participate in IBM's Corporate Service Corps (CSC), a new initiative announced in March, 2008 by IBM CEO Sam Palmisano. The CSC program is one of many ways that IBM is putting its money where its "values" are in terms of its goal to create "innovation that matters," not only for clients, but "... for the world."

Originally from India, Anil could relate to some of the obstacles that were facing the communities in the countries selected for the first phase of the program. "Lack of resources, poverty and difficult socioeconomic climate, just to name a few," he says. He also felt it was the perfect opportunity to apply his unique expertise, and abilities as a trusted financial advisor within IBM, to help those with less resources living in other countries and cultures.

Multi-faceted learning experience

The experience proved to be highly rewarding in terms of business results achieved - and in ways not fully expected. The project at hand involved mapping out a sound business strategy for the next five to 10 years to support the African Wildlife Foundation's (AWF) mission of land protection and wildlife conservation, specifically in the Maasai Steppe Heartland, home to Tanzania's Lake Manyara and Tarangire National Parks.

Living and working in Arusha, Tanzania, the team's operational base, meant embracing a slower, more personal side of life. "Everything took time - from sending simple e-mails to colleagues, friends and family in the States, to long hours spent traveling to locations, to a walk in town and the ensuing conversations with the native people about their land, their language, their culture - and their lives," says Anil.

For instance, an open air meeting under a Baobab tree native to the Maasai Steppe, provided an unconventional setting for a business meeting one afternoon. "While seated on plastic lawn chairs surrounded by the vast dessert landscape, the AWF representatives explained the benefits of an AWF program that provides loans for raising livestock, to a local village's tribal leader," he says. "There were no interruptions, from flashing computers or ringing phones - not even from the leader's 13 wives and 89 children."

Teaming, leadership is key

Anil notes that his work in Africa actually reinforced his views regarding effective team leadership, especially in IBM. "As with Tanzania ... when you have a team of skilled individuals from various functions, cultures and age groups, you need to be very flexible and adaptable. You need to ... move swiftly back and forth between leading the group, and following orders, to achieve effective functioning of the team. Leadership does not come from a position of authority, but through leveraging diverse thoughts, promoting innovative ideas and communicating in a persuasive manner." His teammates representing eight countries from around the world, agree. (Check out the CSC Tanzania team's own video introduction.)

"The [CSC] program has had such a strong impact on me and my way of thinking about working in a globally integrated world. By spending an extended period of time with people from different cultures and ways of working, I can appreciate the need to really know your colleagues, customers, partners - and competitors" says teammate Matt Berry, IBM Software Group Media Relations Manager in New York. (Learn more about Matt's CSC Tanzania experience in his personal video diary.)

Anil did use his financial expertise to create a business plan to help the AWF reach its future goals. He presented the resulting strategic report to AWF's senior management at a meeting in Tanzania. A week later, after he and team members left Tanzania for their homelands, Anil's work was highlighted in an AWF executive board meeting in Nairobi, Kenya attended by the former presidents of Tanzania and Botswana.

Through it all, says Anil, "it was the team's motivation, common purpose and passion to make a difference on behalf of themselves, and IBM, that made it all worthwhile."

  • Read more of Anil's notes on Tanzania in his CSC blog.

  • Explore how you can start making a difference by viewing available IBM jobs.


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