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Why IBM Pays Its Employees To Take Time Off To Tackle The World’s Problems

Source | FastCompany

In August 2016, an unlikely company offered free help. IBM teamed up with the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), to launch the first of an emerging set of IBM Health Corps grants to tackle just these kind of thorny, multi-variable medical problems. Rather than donate money to the cause, it was offering something different: employees who would take paid time-off to work pro bono, perhaps the world’s most valuable brain trust for number crunching and advanced computing.

Other IBM Health Corps projects include efforts to map and reduce mosquito-related diseases like dengue fever and Zika in Panama and Taiwan, and work alongside Duke to plot and fix vexing community health issues in the southeastern U.S. But Health Corps is just the latest in a trio of similar programs at the company designed to loan coders, engineers, and even business development managers to social good projects that could change the world.

According to an IBM survey, 80% of managers say special mission veterans come back more positive and motivated. [Photo: courtesy IBM]

That includes the Corporate Service Corps (for all manner of nonprofit, government, or social entrepreneurial idea), and Smarter Cities Challenge(a competition for metros). Each group operates a lot like a startup at an accelerator boot camp. Once IBM identifies a need, it picks a corporate dream team of about a half-dozen to a dozen or so employees from across the company troubleshoot solutions remotely over several months. That crew then gathers for three to four weeks—exact timelines vary per program—wherever seems most central to the cause, knocking out and testing their prototyped solution.

Anyone with at least two years at the company may apply. In general, a review committee grades applicants on previous performance reviews and their answers to a series essay questions. (IBM didn’t elaborate on exact topics, but tries to create a “holistic profile” of each candidate, and judge their English proficiency.) The formula gives extra points to those who can demonstrate that they’re already interested in community service work. Workers can specify what part of the world they’d like to work in, but the company is the ultimate matchmaker.

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