Despite an urgent need for talent that can function successfully in new and emerging global markets, qualified employees and leaders are in short supply. Several researchers have observed that traditional in‐house approaches to leadership development are insufficient for developing the global leaders needed today. As a result, companies are looking to innovative approaches to develop their people.

International Service Learning (ISL) programs, wherein employees travel across international borders to apply their work-based skills to a project that serves a third party constituency, are growing in popularity within the corporate sector. Researchers and companies that have implemented ISL programs agree that these experiences are highly beneficial on many levels. However, clear identification of ISL learning outcomes and how these relate to the company’s leadership needs is lacking.

This study, carried out by Emerging World, surveyed and interviewed the people responsible for the delivery of 17 different ISL programs regarding their participants’ learning outcomes. The findings suggest that ISL programs developed 7 of the 10 needed leadership competencies, as defined by companies and in line with emerging competency models for global leadership. ISL programs were also credited with producing additional benefits such as enhanced corporate image, employee engagement, and retention, among others.

Matthew Farmer, Managing Director Emerging World: ”ISL programmes present powerful experiential learning opportunities that prepare people to lead more effectively in a globalised world. Early adopting companies like Randstad that have been investing in this kind of programme for some time are experiencing these benefits and are well-paced to capitalise on the value they offer.”

Business leaders, HR departments, and executive education providers should embrace the potential of ISL programs to develop skilled leaders and employees qualified to take on the challenges of globalization, complexity, and rapid change.