“The trip revitalized a part of me that had been dormant – it raised a passion I had forgotten about,” said Ellis after his recent return from Nigeria. “I find that I am reflecting on my career, my personal life and how to make a difference in others’ lives.”
Ellis was one of 15 IBM employees chosen to participate in the company’s Corporate Service Corps (CSC) program, a global leadership series through IBM that provides a service to a local community in an emerging market. Ellis was assigned to go to Ado Ekiti, a city in Nigeria that is halfway between Lagos, which is Nigeria’s oil capital and Abuja, the country capital.
While IBM had prepared Ellis prior to his departure with training on Nigeria’s culture, their customs and about doing business there, what they had not prepared him for was the amazement and awe of the culture he would experience and the impact the experience would have on his personal life.
“It was intense and unique. The experience was authentic and I have such an intense newness now,” said Ellis. “You are taken from the world you know and live in and then you are working with new clients but in a different culture and a different country.”
Ellis’ adventure began on February 7, just prior to a snowstorm that would shut down the Northeast. In his blog, he expressed gratitude over flying out ahead of the storm, but what he did not anticipate was that while he missed the snowstorm, the trip would not go exactly as planned.
“There was a maintenance issue with my flight,” said Ellis who spent the next 24 hours in Atlanta waiting for another flight to Lagos. “And then the flight to Lagos was another 11 hours.”
Once he finally arrived on Friday evening, he discovered that the other 14 members of his team had already left on the bus hired to take them to the remote village of Ado Ekiti.
“I hung out at a hotel in Lagos that night and the next morning I hired a driver and asked him to take me around the town and show me the different sights,” said Ellis, admitting that there really wasn’t much to see.
The following day, a security team showed up to escort Ellis to the village. It was not your ordinary every day type of transport.
“It was quite the trip from Lagos to Ado Ekiti,” said Ellis. “We had a two-vehicle motorcade and were accompanied by a security vehicle and armed guards. At least I got the benefit of a less crowded ride.”
He finally was united with the other members of his team – all IBM employees from across the globe.
“There were 15 people from 10 countries,” explained Ellis, pointing out that in addition to the United States, volunteers for the program had come from Canada, Costa Rico and Brazil.
There were five projects chosen for the volunteers – e-School; e-Government; Citizens Information Management System; Ekiti State University; and the not-for-profit New Initiative for Social Development. The not-for-profit was Ellis’ assignment.
“They focus on women and children and human rights,” said Ellis. “The organization works to get grants to help better the residents’ lives.”
Teamed with a fellow IBM partner, Ellis was tasked with bringing the organization up to speed in a technologically-advanced global world.
“All their finances, all their plans were on paper and they needed help for better project management,” explained Ellis. “We try to transfer skills so they can do it themselves when we leave.”
For example, he explained, computers had been donated but no one knew how to set them up and program them.
“They had computers in the village where a company had sent them,” said Ellis. “But they were still in boxes.”
But it was not all work and no play for the team – there were also days of community service, visits to a few local kings and little time to golf.
One day, the group travelled to a local school for the deaf and blind where they dug irrigation ditches, taught hygiene classes and helped wash clothes.
“We were very busy the entire four weeks,” said Ellis, who said one of the hardest things to adjust to were the very frequent power outages.
“Power outages happen all the time. I had read about them but they are more frequent than I imagined. Most places have generators and the power usually comes back fairly quickly but they are incredibly common,” he said.
Continuing, Ellis said some of the most memorable moments of the adventure were the times he got to meet the local kings, shop at the local markets and play a couple of rounds of golf.
“Outside of work, we had plenty to keep us entertained. I knew before the trip to expect the unexpected, but never did I think that I would play golf while there,” said Ellis, adding that the course was a little bit different than what he was accustomed to.
“The biggest difference was actually the greens – they are made of dark hard dirt. The caddie uses a carpet on a pole to smooth the surface between ball and hole,” said Ellis, noting that he actually did pretty good. “I’m not sure what happened, but I actually had three pars in an abbreviated seven holes and the course wasn’t that easy.”
Ellis said the trip was a success for everyone, including the local residents, noting that without the support of the local government, it would not have been possible.
“We had such a high level of support from the governor, it makes it a better and more positive experience,” said Ellis.
As for his fellow teammates, Ellis said they developed friendships that would last lifetime and cross the globe.
“The relationships we developed surprised me,” said Ellis. “I knew I’d be getting to know them, but the level of friendship and comradeship – what we went through together and what we experienced together – created friendships for life. Thank goodness for social media.”
As for being home, Ellis said that while he was thrilled to get back to his family and his life, no one prepared him for the onslaught of emotions he would experience.
“While they prepared us for our time there, no one prepared us for coming home,” said Ellis, going on to explain that the experience of being in another country, helping another culture improve their lives had heightened his senses so much, that readjustment to his daily life was like going from color to black and white.
“It just seems to be so plain now – I am so much more aware of the world and what is around me,” said Ellis.
Even so, he is grateful for the experience and the friendships he developed.
“It is good to be home and I am still processing the trip, but it has changed me and changed my life,” said Ellis. “There is so much more I want to do now and to see. It has been life-altering.”