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Stanley Litow, Vice President of Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs and President of the IBM International Foundation, enlightened a room of social innovators and entrepreneurs at the annual KPMG Peat Marwick / Stanley R. Klion Forum this past November. While the room was buzzing with questions, Mr. Litow never missed a beat as he spoke about the evolution from corporate philanthropy to the intersection between business and social interest.
Mr. Litow was brought on by former CEO Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. in 1993 to develop a strategy to make a difference in public education. Today, Mr. Litow’s role has evolved, as IBM’s own business has changed. Focused on leveraging IBM’s global presence, innovative services and research, he has built a network of employees and cross-functional teams to deliver exceptional business results and high quality social performance.
By going beyond philanthropic check-writing and focusing on IBM’s core business, the company has been able to launch innovative social programs that build upon the expertise of their employees. When looking at social investment, “generosity is good, but effectiveness is better,” Mr. Litow said.
Programs like worldcommunitygrid.org, which IBM has supported through research funding and technological innovation, have the potential for huge societal returns. The world community grid focuses on the downloading cycle time of computers and recaptures and redistributes that power through a virtual network to research nonprofits in need.
Not only is IBM contributing through research, but it also has one of the most progressive employee programs in any corporation today. Through IBM’s Global Citizen’s Portfolio, employees can carry a lifelong learning account matched by IBM. Younger leaders at IBM can be chosen to volunteer across the globe. Their skills are matched with nonprofits in need, and employees can maintain their pay as they serve on a rotation. For employees at retirement age, IBM offers free education to help transition those employees into the teaching community.
All of these programs allow IBM to gain and retain the allegiance of employees, enhance its brand reputation and allow the firm and its employees to give back to their communities. “We are developing a different kind of brand,” Mr. Litow said. For those in the audience at the Klion Forum, it was obvious that IBM is indeed a different kind of company.