Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Friday, April 17, 2009

Employees of IT firm show volunteerism in Gapo

Neeraj Sharma has been in the Philippines for a month, helping the city government of Olongapo improve some of its Information and Technology systems from its document tracking, network security, to marketing itself as a tourist destination.

Much of this work involves his skills as an IT and marketing consultant for tech giant IBM, which he built for five years.

Sharma, an Indian national, is supposed to be paid handsomely for his stint at Olongapo City. Instead, he is doing this purely as a volunteer.

It is not only Sharma who is helping the Olongapo City government improve its IT needs but seven others from different countries are pooling in their skills.

Some of the members of Sharma’s team are from the US, Australia, Russia, Mexico and Denmark. All of them are working for IBM.

They are part of a global program by IBM where employees are encouraged to volunteer and help build up IT systems in selected developing nations. The program, called the Corporate Service Corps, was started in 2007 and could be considered as the corporate version of the Peace Corps.

Sharma said that while he has done volunteer work before, these were only done in India where it was more geographically convenient.

He has never done volunteer work in any country let alone something that would require his skills as an employee of IBM.

“One of our challenges of course was that we didn’t know each other and we are taking so much information for our project. We started with a ‘pre-work’ preparation in the country where we are currently working, mapping out what we have to do when we arrive in the country and corresponding constantly,” Sharma said.

Upon arriving in the country, Sharma and the other foreigners immediately started working. The first few days were done in the Olongapo City government office and the offices of the IDESS Maritime Center and IDESS Interactive Technologies where the volunteers provided assistance on developing sales and marketing, human resources and software development.

Even as they kept themselves busy, Sharma said the group was still able to visit some schools and residences in Olongapo City where they interacted with the local culture.

Incidentally, Sharma is a vegetarian, a problem that was immediately resolved.

“It’s funny because the term vegetarian has different definitions per country. First, someone cooked shrimp, which I didn’t eat. But then I was introduced to dinengdeng and pinakbet. Good thing the others didn’t have any problems with food.”

Sharma said that the Corporate Service Corps has one of the best volunteer programs among large corporations. Thousands also apply to take part in the activity.

IBM Philippines Country General Manager James Velasquez, one of the executives selecting the participants for the program, said one Filipino, Tom Veloso, was chosen for the first 100 volunteers in 2007. Two other Filipinos, Marie Christine Llanto and Ana Joy Bellosillo, are among the latest volunteers.

In addition, Velasquez added that the Philippines was also one of the recipient countries of the CSC. Davao City and Bohol had received volunteers under the program.

Velasquez said he was also thankful that the global office of IBM continued to choose the Philippines to be among the beneficiaries of the CSC.

“It is a testament of IBM’s commitment to continue growing in this market.”

Sharma said he hoped that other corporations would follow IBM’s lead in helping societies around the world. If he had his chance, he’ll be back in the Philippines to learn more about the culture.

“It was a good experience because I and my colleagues want to share what we’ve learned from the company to others as well. But what’s more important is that it’s a way to help others in this time of economic crisis.” By Alexander Villafania - INQUIRER.net

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