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Business of Giving: Follow IBM's Lead

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It's hard times for everyone, and companies shouldn't use that as an excuse to ignore social responsibility.

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As the economy slowly resuscitates, companies might use a slow rebound as an excuse to ignore their social responsibilities. But I ask you to take a lesson from IBM, and not, as the company says, "retreat into our shells," but rather, "go on the offense."

"Although some companies are reacting to the present crisis by hunkering down and hoping to ride out the storm, from both a business and a societal standpoint, we are taking a different approach," writes IBM Chairman and CEO Samuel J. Palmisano in the company's 2008 Corporate Social Responsibility Report. "We believe that the issues facing the world are too critical and far too urgent -- and the opportunities to make meaningful progress on them too immediate -- not to act now." |

For this reason IBM pledged itself to:

  • Aiding victims of natural disasters with its "disaster relief in a box" Web-based management system.

  • Addressing food shortages by helping compute genetic data that can be used to generate stronger strains of rice.

  • Using technology to improve educational opportunities for 700 schools in 22 countries.

All told, in 2008 IBM donated nearly $180 million to educational, human services, and cultural initiatives. That amounts to about 0.02% of the company's 2008 revenues of $103.6 billion. And it was matched by $36 million from more than half of the company's employees. The pay off from IBM's Corporate Social Responsibility investment has come in several forms:

  • The company boasts an employee satisfaction rating of 67%, a number credited to the Corporate Social Responsibility programs that make IBMers feel connected to their communities and provides unique cross-training. For example, the IBM Corporate Service Corps sends teams of employees to emerging countries where they develop cultural and leadership skills that help the company compete globally. In 2008, 5,500 employees applied for the program and 100 were selected.

  • When IBM helps educate children in communities it serves, it's cultivating not just a future workforce but future customers as well.

  • Helping developing nations create energy-saving smart grids is an investment in research and development that can pay off in spades in other IBM business areas.

The company believes that helping build a smarter planet will increase economic and social opportunity, which will help not only communities advance, but IBM as well.

"It's not just a way to do well by doing good; it's also a way to do good by helping all the world's regions and people do well," Palmisano says. "I believe that's something for which it's worth going on the offense."

Are you ready to go on the offense? The potential is truly limitless.



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No positions in stocks mentioned.

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