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(originally published by Booz & Company)


HP Engineers a Megacommunity

Consider, for example, the state of corporate recruiting in Africa. Companies compete for too few graduates, creating turnover for one another and escalating wages to the point at which growth in their industry stalls. Some companies then decide to leave the country or region for lower-wage areas. Companies are now finding that only by cooperating to create a larger skilled labor pool — one that will benefit not just the country, the universities, and the graduates, but also their own competitors — will they meet their individual needs. Indeed, HP University Relations has had no problem recruiting Hewlett-Packard competitors as partners in capacity-building efforts in the areas where HP UR does business. These megacommunities, informal networks optimizing for the benefit of the whole, require all sectors to learn new values and new ways of operating.

The private sector has much to offer nonprofit stakeholders. For example, for-profit enterprises can collaborate with engineering educators to shape the curricula to prepare students for the jobs that industry has to offer, and thereby contribute to the sustainability of the new educational capacity. When companies employ the graduates, the graduates in turn develop into an educated local professional and managerial class that remains in the country or region rather than emigrating elsewhere. Civil and grassroots groups also gain from exposure to corporate methods for such activities as strategic planning, program management, and event design.

But the private sector often assumes the upper hand in multisector engagements, to the detriment of the collective work. By contrast, stakeholders in a megacommunity must value one another’s methods and values. That’s particularly true for Engineering Africa, whose goal is to support and accelerate the emergence of an African innovation ecosystem. We have found that megacommunities benefit the private sector by helping businesspeople learn the values, skills, and abilities the civil sector has honed: community building, grassroots leadership, and consensus building. In fact, the best leadership development in the private sector (and the best leadership in general) incorporates lessons and paradigms of practice from all sectors.

6. Scale and Influence. Scale your program until it becomes a megacommunity, and use your program to inform and build other megacommunities. I am helping to build one emergent megacommunity, which in turn informs my work in Africa. This initiative is currently a series of conversations, conferences, and projects aimed at developing gender equity for the engineering, IT, and communication technology fields, at all levels of education and in the workforce. The leader of the network, chosen through consensus, is Claudia Morrell, executive director of the Center for Women and IT at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Claudia had led a stellar local effort in Maryland; she then convened a meeting in Baltimore in 2005 to which she invited representatives from 38 countries to expand the context and impact of her local efforts. After participating in this conference, I joined her advisory board, and HP became a corporate sponsor of her work.

7. Sustained Engagement. Repeat the effort in other locales; constantly cross-reference all efforts across countries for local and broader-scale integration and impact. Even before the spring 2007 Nigerian conference, we had laid the groundwork for meetings with the new Nigerian government (whichever government would be elected in April 2007). We also conceived of a larger conference on the issues facing women in ICT and engineering, to occur later in 2007 at the time of the annual meeting of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, which draws 4,000 people from throughout the country. And we began talking with representatives from other countries who were interested in holding similar workshops.

Our multi-stakeholder effort to enhance engineering education in Africa is still in its first year. Even before our first conference, our work generated value in a number of ways. We made implicit knowledge explicit, identifying megacommunity processes and models, and discovered that we already have critical resources, concepts, and tools in place for regional economic development through quality assurance in engineering education. By trolling for stakeholders and resources for Africa, we turned up valuable support for our Latin American effort, and vice versa. As we identified internal stakeholders in HP, we helped articulate and consolidate a more robust company strategy for Africa. In planning our first conference, we drew together a core group with the momentum to survive the loss of any one member. That core is already growing, as some conference participants discover their passion for this endeavor. Finally, our work has allowed each of us a window on the most complex issues facing the planet, a path to make a difference, and an opportunity to learn how to change the world together, more powerfully than we could change it alone.

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  1. Mark Gerencser, Fernando Napolitano, and Reginald Van Lee, “The Megacommunity Manifesto,” s+b, Summer 2006: Public, private, and civil leaders should confront together the problems that none can solve alone. Click here.
  2. Nancy Hafkin and Sophia Huyer, eds., Cinderella or Cyberella: Empowering Women in the Knowledge Society (Kumarian Press, 2006): Makes a case for creating multi-stakeholder initiatives, including government, industry, and the civil sector, for establishing more capable women professionals. Click here.
  3. Douglas Himberger, David Sulek, and Stephen Krill Jr., “When There Is No Cavalry,” s+b, Autumn 2007: No single authority can prepare for or respond to major disasters as effectively as a megacommunity can. Click here.
  4. Chris Kelly, Mark Gerencser, Fernando Napolitano, and Reginald Van Lee, “The Defining Features of a Megacommunity,” s+b Leading Idea, 6/12/07: A primer for creating successful multipartite initiatives to solve critical problems that embraces the talents of government, business, and civil society. Click here.
  5. Romain Murenzi and Mike Hughes, “Building a Prosperous Global Knowledge Economy in Africa: Rwanda as a Case Study,” International Journal of Technology and Globalisation, 2006, vol. 2, nos. 3–4: Demonstrates how knowledge capital can make all the difference in an emerging economy. Click here. (Subscription required.)
  6. Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy of the 21st Century, Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future (National Academies Press, 2007): Source on technological change as an economic growth driver. Click here.
  7. Barbara Waugh, The Soul in the Computer: The Story of a Corporate Revolutionary (with Margot Silk Forrest; Inner Ocean, 2001): How the personal and professional methods of organizational change can come together in one individual’s story. Click here.
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