The students prepared questions in advance and the conversation provided excellent discussion points. The students spent nearly two hours debriefing Woodworth’s comments. By way of introduction, Woodworth offered the following:
Woodworth said he has been with IBM for about 32 years in a variety of executive positions. In 1993 he had proposed to executive management creating a special unit that would manage IBM’s corporate risk and interests along with proactively responding to disasters with humanitarian efforts, in person.
So far, the crisis response team has responded to more than 70 major disasters in 40 countries. The team responds to natural disasters, like fires and floods, as well as man-made disasters like 9/11 and Oklahoma City. Most recently he was in Bangladesh. His team receives invitations by governments and cities to come in and proactively help reduce the risk during a crisis.
Question: What stimulus encouraged you to take on this role?
Woodworth said he had spent many years in emergency response with other groups but always had felt there was a “gaping hole” in the types of response. He wanted to have a long term influence in what he did. The WTC bombing in’93 also had a lot to do with developing the team.
Question: When responding to international crises do you find language and the culture the hardest obstacle?
Woodworth said the team is always briefed on the country’s government, regulations, health issues, etc. before they leave. They are always very sensitive to cultural issues too. For example they were briefed on the Muslim culture before traveling to Bangladesh. At times he has had to limit the team members due to the high risk and dangers involved in the response. They always try to deal with the county’s prime minister or highest ranking government officials. He also works with academic institutions. Recently in Bangladesh he worked with the University of Bangladesh, engineering and technology divisions. In other countries English is usually the second language. They often use local interpreters too.
Question: How do you manage stress? Do you have a specific program for distressing?
Woodworth said that through IBM’s HR side they utilize counselors. IT crisis (ITC) is their key business partner and often has members on his team. ITC has alliances with expert medical personnel at Harvard and Stanford, and they respond to the same disasters too. These experts help the people affected by the disaster and the crisis team members too. The best thing that he finds is to talk about it and share thoughts with others, just like we are doing now.
Question: How can non-governmental organizations (NGOs) work together?
Woodworth said NGOs and United Nations organizations biggest challenges are their agendas. “Stay neutral, do no harm,” is our objective. World Vision, CARE, Save The Children, The International Red Cross should all encourage sharing, like with Sahana. My vision for the future is a “neutral gear box,” sharing information, working in more cooperation, resilient management with less duplication of efforts and eliminate underlying agendas in some groups.
Question: Why are you doing this?
Woodworth said he has been involved in volunteer activities for years. When he went to IBM he was able to make more of an effort in this. Woodworth said we (the class) have the finest teacher in this subject, Dr. Tom Phelan! There a number of universities teaching this type of curriculum. Woodworth encouraged the class to look at outside organizations for certifications – CEM, CBCP (DRII where he is a chairman). He also told us we neede to make a decision, whether to go public or private.
Woodworth spent a full hour with the students, answering their questions and providing invaluable inspiration. PPBI salutes Brent Woodworth for his continued commitment to private/public partnerships throughout the world. We are proud to have Woodworth as a PPBI board member.
As mentioned above, PPBI presents a Best Practices Award when nominations are received at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you know someone like Brent Woodworth, please send us a nomination. Stop by to see us at our booth at DRJ in Orlando.
"Appeared in DRJ's Winter 2008 Issue"