IBM links arms with Peace Corps to ‘inject’ tech in IRRI, Searca

By Edd K. Usman

LOS BANOS, Laguna — A recently minted partnership between the US Peace Corps and technology behemoth IBM is providing a shot in the arm for the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

The IBM Corporate Service Corps (CSC) at the IRRI compound in Los Banos, Laguna. (Credit: IBM Philippines)

The IBM Corporate Service Corps (CSC) at the IRRI compound in Los Banos, Laguna. (Credit: IBM Philippines)

The Peace Corps and IBM had recently formed a public-private partnership, through the Peace Corps Response (PCR) program and IBM Corporate Service Corps (CSC), which was launched recently in the Philippines.

The collaboration gives IBM’s highly skilled corporate professionals the opportunity to serve in foreign countries in short-term, high-impact pro bono consulting assignments.

The Philippines is the second country to benefit from the partnership, with the PCR for IRRI and Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (Searca) commencing in December 2015.

Peace Corps director Carrie Hessler-Radelet said the tie-up brings together IBM’s multinational reach with Peace Corp’s grassroots network.

“Peace Corps and IBM share a common dedication to problem-solving in a way that makes a measurable impact in the world, whether it is re-inventing information and revolutionizing technology or helping communities address pressing needs at the last mile of development,” she added.

Dr. Gil C. Saguiguit Jr., director and head of Searca, said the project marks the first time they are hosting a team from IBM. “Already, we are impressed by the credentials of the group who will do their ‘Peace Corps’-type of work here,” he said.

Meanwhile, the “injection” of technology to IRRI comes in the form of an innovation-driven project to push the world’s premier rice organization deeper into the digital era by digitizing its library and science academy, among others.

The rice research outfit is expected to benefit from the knowledge and technology recently contributed by the IBM Corporate Service Corps (CSC) in the Philippines –15 IBMers from 10 countries who wrapped up their stint at the sprawling IRRI compound in this town.

The 15 members of the IBM CSC came from the US, Brazil, South Africa, Slovakia, Italy, Spain, Mexico, the Netherlands, and India.

Grouped into five teams, the IBMers presented their recommendations to IRRI during the program’s closing ceremonies on Thursday, July 21.

David Raper, who leads IBM’s Corporate Citizenship for the Asia Pacific and Greater China, said working with two international organizations — IRRI and Searca – was a source of pride for the volunteers.

“We really appreciate the value of being able to work on difficult programs. And when a difficult program like this will help many people, I think IBMers are proud that they and the company can contribute to that,” he said.

Raper added: “IBM sees this corporate service co-program with three types of benefits: benefit to the partners we work with; benefit to IBMers to grow and develop their career; and benefit to IBM who, through this partnership, has been able to learn about new issues, learn about problem-solving in different way and understands the Philippines better, which is also important to us as a business.”

IRRI deputy director general V. Bruce Tolentino (in white barong outfit) shakes the hand of Dinaz Taylor, one of the 15 IBMers who volunteered their expertise on digital innovation for a Peace Corps and IBM project for IRRI

IRRI deputy director general V. Bruce Tolentino (in white barong outfit) shakes the hand of Dinaz Taylor, one of the 15 IBMers who volunteered their expertise on digital innovation for a Peace Corps and IBM project for IRRI

IBM employee Melody Balcet, also a Peace Corps volunteer recently inducted by US Ambassador Philip Goldberg at the Peace Corps’ Manila Office, served as a specialist for institutional strengthening to help build the capacity of IRRI’s voluminous research information assets by digitization, big data analytics, cloud computing, and other information technology (IT) strategies.

The project is on its last two weeks, but Balcet will stay on to complete a three-month period, this time wearing her hat as a Peace Corps member.

Aside from Balcet, other members of IBM’s service corps are Richard Chang, Michelle Kennedy, Prashant Negi, Kirsten Haver Droeze, Ayrton Gomes Ribeiro, Alisson Decio Fernandes, Marian Schwarz, Jacqueline Liston Velasco, Dinaz Taylor, Roberto Raffo, Diana Dierks, Pedro Gutierres de Cos Herrero, Adrian Mitchell, and Melissa Greco.

Andrea Escalona, CSC program manager for IBM Asia Pacific and Greater China Group, said they chose the town of Los Banos for the project’s site “because we have some experience with agriculture and research kind of location.”

She said the project for IRRI and Searca has a four-week timeline of completion, while its Peace Corps component is three months. The recommendations for each of the project’s components it is now up to IRRI and Searca to implement.

For the IRRI Library, the rice institution seeks to transition from a “brick-and-mortar” library of resources into a virtual, fully digitized, network-based library.

On Big Data, IRRI has now in its position a hardware capable of storing data up to 200 terrabyte (TB). The agency’s Web and Enhanced Country Dossiers, on the other hand, aims to create a single consolidated “one-stop-shop” for country briefs, requiring only little manual tasks.

For the Science Academy, the vision of IRRI is to transition it from training center (TC) into a world-class Rice Science Academy (RSA).

Meanwhile, Searca’s Knowledge Management seeks to scale up business practices and strategies both internally and externally by, among others, extending social media reach.

IBM Philippines president and country general manager Luis Pineda described the project as a privilege for the Philippines to benefit from the Peace Corps and IBM partnership.

“Through our combined strengths, we aim to make sustainable impact to the communities we will both serve,” said Pineda, adding their collaboration with IRRI and Searca is unique more so with two rice institutions responding to agriculture’s regional and global challenges.

Raper said they are now presently choosing the next batch of IBMers to join the lined up projects through 2017. “We have probably 10 times more applying to into these projects than they were able to go… it is very competitive and something that people really want to do,” he said.

IBM started the CSC in 2008, its pro bono consulting program aimed at helping find solutions to some of the most challenging problems in communities worldwide while giving IBM employees with unique leadership development.

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