IBM team recommended legal changes in Kenya – and got them
Global pro-bono team went outside comfort zone
David Sloan, an IBM software expert based in the Washington, D.C. area, went to Kenya in 2011. David’s team consisted of 12 IBMers from nine countries, with backgrounds including consulting, project management, sales, finance, recruiting, engineering and marketing. The team was deployed to Nairobi, Kenya, but spent the majority of its time based in Nyeri, an agricultural town based three hours outside the capital.
There were three key objectives during the deployment, divided among the three teams. David’s team worked to develop a legal and regulatory framework for e-government in Kenya. A second team provided recommendations for development and retention of technology specialist within the country. A third team provided strategic advice for how the postal system could be become more competitive, such as offering financial services to citizens.
Going in, David didn’t know that the focus of his team would be to provide advice on legal and regulatory matters. Given that nobody on his team were lawyers, this definitely stretched their comfort zone. The country was forging a fresh start when it came to providing services to citizens in a transparent way. The new government figured that working with citizens and with one another should have a strong digital component because digital interaction creates more transparency and accountability. The IBM team had full access to Kenya’s version of the White House, and worked with the first woman in Africa to have obtained a PhD in science. The IBM team was taken very seriously.
While they were not lawyers, David’s team was able to research best practices in e-governance and were able to tell their hosts about pitfalls into which other governments had fallen, and should be avoided. They procured simple and clear legislative language that had been used successfully elsewhere and created six legislative principles. (David and his team were gratified to learn that that within 1.5 years after they came back home, the IBMers’ recommendations were legislated and enacted!) The recommendations of the other IBM’s other sub-teams were eventually adopted by Kenya’s postal agency as well.
In David’s own words:
“This was no vacation. We worked from dawn till late at night. I am a software expert and we had other people on the team with a variety of backgrounds, such as an IBM Global Business Service consultant from Denmark, and an analytics software development engineer of Indian ethnicity from Canada, a Korean management expert. We were able to somehow correlate our own experiences and backgrounds. We were thrust into a tight scenario where the first presentation was due 24 hours after we hit the ground. By necessity, everyone played to their strengths.
“As a manager myself, I would normally say that this would yield disaster. But people rose to the occasion and collaborated well with one another, realizing the engagement’s importance. My motivation for participating was to apply and stretch my professional skills and IBM’s resources and use it in pro bono setting. This was very different than non-skilled volunteerism. While those are important, they can be performed by just about anybody. I was the only manager in our group, but a peer among equals. The power and productivity emerged from a sense of urgency around a deeply shared mission. It was important to assemble a team that bonded not because they have similar hobbies, but shared a sense of excitement about professional accomplishment.”