Corporate Peace Corps: A New Trend in HR Management

Deirdre White

There is a new trend taking off in corporate social responsibility. IBM, Pfizer, Dow Corning, and many other companies are sending their highest performing members to developing nations across the globe to take part in a kind of "corporate Peace Corps." Both employers and employees benefit: potential leaders build professional skills that would take years to develop at home; employers grow future leaders with a global viewpoint, who are prepared for marketplace uncertainties; and both build a corporate culture that top talent are eager to join.

Here are a few examples of how international volunteering is helping companies make an impact, internally and abroad:


The Olympic Games are a magical event. Yet most people have no idea how many years of preparation go into planning a successful Games. Cities are often ill-equipped to host millions of people and to be in the world’s spotlight for two weeks. Thanks to IBM’s international volunteer program, however, Rio is far more prepared than many Olympics hosts past. IBM’s top executives recently headed south for an unprecedented kind of leadership training - the Executive Service Corps. Working with city leaders, IBM staff worked pro bono to develop a smarter sustainability plan. They redesigned the city’s existing proposal, identifying what was possible versus what was not, and they developed a project management plan for implementation. It was a triple win: employees gained an experience that pushed them far beyond the walls of traditional training workshops; IBM gained real global leaders and new market relationships – and Rio gained innovation driven by America’s top corporate talent.

This opportunity is highly coveted – with only 10% of executives accepted, the program is considered harder to get into than Harvard! But even more noteworthy is what happens once staff members return home. According to our internal study, 90% of participants in these programs report they are stronger team players and can now identify new market opportunities, while nearly all – 97% – report they are more motivated to do their jobs.

Dow Corning

Dow Corning is one of the world’s leading producers of silicones. This corporation of 10,000+ is made up of brilliant scientists, researchers, and technicians. When they sent their teams into Bangalore, India to gain new market insights, they also wanted to leverage this trip to strengthen their employees’ skills and cultural insight. Global staff worked with social entrepreneurs Sustaintech, Ashoka, and Envirofit, to provide resources few local businesses have access to on their own – help with a complex sales cycle and improved manufacturing processes. Working in a place where everything is unfamiliar – from products and business operations to language and culture, employees returned home from India more resilient, more invested in the future of Dow Corning, and with new ideas for product and service innovations.

And there was a ripple effect when the company’s team of ten travelers communicated their challenges to the 10,000 employees back home via a company blog. Scientists and engineers from around the world chimed in with potential solutions for their compatriots, so the Bangalore businesses benefitted from the expertise of not just ten- but 10,000.

This experience is life-changing for both employee and employer. After weeks working on the ground with international partners, future leaders return with a new global perspective, better equipped to handle the challenges ahead. These experiences are shaping the lens through which these leaders view business decisions, which will have a broader, long-term effect on the way their companies conduct business.

How does your company attract, motivate, and retain top performing staff? As we know, it takes more than a single initiative to grow new leaders and build employee loyalty. It requires ongoing commitment. Exemplifying corporate social responsibility creates an attractive employer brand, and top talent are eager to join a company whose values reflect their own. International volunteering is a strong complement to current recruiting practices, as its appeal speaks to new recruits, while, at the same time, growing your staff from within.