Direct action & collaboration, not spare change, is the path to real change: IBM CSR


By Rajiv Tewari, Consulting Editor, Based on a conversation with Mamtha Sharma, Head – Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs, IBM India Private Limited.

About Mamtha Sharma

Mamtha has managed and successfully deployed 30 Corporate Services Corps teams (over 300 IBM global employees) across 18 cities in India and 7 Smarter Cities Challenge teams (more than 35 IBM global executives) which provided her the opportunity to work with over 100 NGOs and 7 Municipal Corporations.

On being asked why she chose IBM after a long inning with British High Commission & CII, Mamtha’s reply was that she always wanted to contribute to the community but “being part of the IBM team, where CSR is so evolved, I am able to go beyond my individual capacity to support the community. My family and friends are proud that I am part of a global team that is involved in making a difference to the communities who are needy and underprivileged.”


IBM has developed a thoughtful, comprehensive approach to corporate citizenship that aligns with IBM’s values, involves its stakeholders and engages with the community to maximize the impact it can make as one of the most admired global companies for best practices in CSR. IBM is the founding member of United Nations Impact 2030 (, which is a global coalition of leaders in CSR. Impact 2030 was set up to bring together private sector organizations to engage at leadership levels and develop methodologies for volunteer commitments for social development. Through such forums, IBM is able to share the expertise and experiences of operating globally in over 100 countries to help develop successful models.

IBM’s focus is on specific societal issues which include community economic development, education, health and women empowerment. These are the areas of urgent societal needs where IBM’s technology and talent are leveraged effectively to work with diverse communities instead of traditional CSR practice of cash donations. “We believe that direct action and collaboration, not spare change, is the path to real change” said Mamtha
IBM’s CSR programs are designed at the global level and implemented world-wide, including India, with necessary local adaptations in partnerships with the local NGOs and organizations that have the expertise and experience. As a corporate policy, IBM does not engage with religious and political organizations. IBM’s contribution to India has had a far reaching impact in several areas however for the purposes of this article we are limiting ourselves to just a few of their many initiatives:

Teachers TryScience

Teachers’ professional development in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) is one of the priority areas for IBM in India. The TTS (Teachers TryScience ) program focuses on developing innovative lesson plans in STEM areas which are mapped to the NCERT and the State Board (SCERT) curriculum coupled with training of teachers with a view to propagate creative and problem solving skills among government school teachers

IBM has partnered with 5 key organizations – Agastya International Foundation, Learning Links Foundation, EZ Vidya, SRF Foundation and Vikram Sarabhai Community Science Centre covering 8 states including Karnataka, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Delhi and Haryana; to reach out to the maximum number of community members. In India, over the past two years TTS programme has reached out to nearly 24,000 educators and 11, 03,643 students with 1, 44,000 classrooms impacted with STEM pedagogy of design based learning and TTS resources.

Employee Volunteering – On Demand Community (ODC)

This is an innovative global program that reflects IBM’s strategy to help make the world a better place. It makes a wide range of knowledge and expertise available to volunteers online and encourages IBM employees and the retirees to volunteer in schools and communities around them. ODC extends IBM’s long tradition of community engagement by IBMers worldwide, drawing on our strengths in innovation, expertise, reliability and trust. In India, currently there are 15715 registered IBMers who have collectively contributed over 236,550 hours of their volunteering time to social projects of their choice.

Community Grant

IBM Community Grants program provides cash grants to eligible community organizations and schools ranging from US $ 500 – 2000 where IBM employees and retirees are actively volunteering to support eligible projects. It features individual and team opportunities. Since the inception of this program, IBM India has provided over 125 cash grants to not for profit organizations & government schools, where IBM volunteers continue to contribute their time and skills for program enhancement. IBM volunteers have addressed community issues ranging from education, social service, healthcare, women empowerment, youth development and workforce development.

Disaster Response

In the most recent disaster at Chennai due to flooding, IBM supported the Government of Chennai in the form of technology and services. IBM Volunteers worked on building a custom application called ‘Disaster Reporter’ deployed for Android devices and web page interface, with backend data hosted in IBM’s Softlayer. The IBM team also helped the government in relief material management and distribution by using SAHANA, disaster management tool (an open source software) by hosting on Softlayer, an IBM solution. The volunteers trained the government officials managing the relief operations in use of the SAHANA.
IBM has been actively involved in rehabilitation of affected communities through NGO partners and has supported them with cash grants for re-construction of houses, economic support to families who lost their livelihood, skill enhancement and access to jobs for youth who had lost their source of income.

In the wake of the flash floods disaster that swept through Uttarakhand, IBM improved data sources for Missing Cell department setup by the Uttarakhand Government in Dehradun. IBM also worked on designing and developing social media for the Uttarakhand State Government. To aid the relief and recovery effort in the region, IBM offered its support in the form of technology and services which included initiatives like managing and analyzing data of the affected people, building databases to trace locations of missing people, and establishing a communication platform for providing updates.

Impact Grants to nonprofit organizations for better services to the community
Introduced in 2010, IBM Impact Grants enable recipient educational and not-for profit organizations to enhance their IT infrastructure, leadership and technology skills. IBM India Impact Grants were started in 2012 with a market value of YTD $410,000 with 30 NGOs. Key focus is in providing consultancy support on technology roadmaps, social media, strategic assessments, project management, digital marketing strategy, social strategies accelerator, strategic planning and data analytics.

IBM Consultants worked on a discovery grant to assist Learning Links Foundation (LLF); to determine; how teachers could best use a mobile application for delivery of Science Technology Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) teaching resources and strategies. This Grant also helped LLF determine the best platform for the mobile app as well as its functionalities, user interface and features. The Grant also explored the feasibility of linking this app to IBM Teachers TryScience ( so that existing resources from that site can be accessed through the mobile app.

Corporate Service Corps

Corporate Service Corps (CSC) projects in India support the national agenda and most urgent needs of communities including employment, women empowerment, youth entrepreneurship, social services, healthcare and environment.

The CSC teams have engaged over 110 organizations in India. In addition to the $10 million in consulting value associated with the teams’ engagement, there is significant skills transfer from the interaction between IBM’s talented employees and the employees of these organizations. As part of their leadership development of around 500, IBM India employees have taken part in CSC assignments outside India also. In addition, IBM has partnered with JP Morgan Chase, John Deere, Morgan Stanley and Fed Ex for leadership development in India.

Smarter Cities Challenge

The Smarter Cities Challenge deploys top IBM experts to help cities around the world in addressing their most critical challenges. IBM does this by putting teams on the ground for three weeks to work closely with city leaders to deliver recommendations on how to make the city smarter and more effective. The Smarter Cities Challenge is IBM’s largest philanthropic initiative, with contributions to date valued at more than $66 million. Since 2010, IBM has deployed 800 top experts to help more than 130 cities around the world. In 2015, the program’s fifth year, IBM awarded grants which are being deployed in 2016. In India, cities such as Delhi (DMIDC), Ahmedabad, Pune, Chennai, Surat, Vizag and Allahabad have benefitted from this program.

“It is increasingly becoming clear that the challenges faced by the community at large can not be addressed or solved by just one individual, an agency or one state. It is therefore important to be able to leverage the skills, experiences and expertise with various stakeholders. In this context, IBM believes in collaborative citizenship. “We partner with Not for Profit Organizations, Clients & Governments to be able to deliver the maximum value. In my view, this will have to be strengthened and more formalised to be effective in the long run” said Mamtha. For example, IBM Teachers TryScience ( program enables Science Teachers to gain professional development through the global resources that IBM has created by partnering with world leaders such as New York Hall of Science. This is a free resource that is available to organizations across the world. “Locally, in India, we have partnered with organizations such as Learning Links Foundation, Agastya International Foundation, Vikram A Sarabhai Community Science Centre, SRF Foundation, EZ Vidya Private Limited to localize the content and partner with Government schools to build capacities of the teachers” added Mamtha.

In today’s world, the community and the business cannot co-exist in isolation. We are inter dependent on each other for our wellbeing. For example, unless the corporates invest in capacity building in the community say skill development etc., we will not get quality workforce. It is no more about just being charitable. It should become part of corporate business strategy.