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Doing Good to Do Well
January 9, 2012

Last fall, Laura Benetti spent four weeks in rural India, helping women examine stitchery and figure out prices for garments to be sold in local markets.

After working nine-hour days, she and nine colleagues would sleep in a lodge frequented by locals that had spotty access to hot water and electricity. Ms. Benetti, a 27-year-old customs and international trade coordinator for Dow Corning Corp., considered it a plum assignment.

Dow Corning is among a growing number of large corporations—including PepsiCo Inc., FedEx Corp., Intel Corp. and Pfizer Inc.—that are sending small teams of employees to developing countries such as India, Ghana, Brazil and Nigeria to provide free consulting services to nonprofits and other organizations. A major goal: to scope out business opportunities in hot emerging markets.

Despite the promise of long workdays in less-than-cushy surroundings, many employees consider the stints prize postings. There are usually many more applicants than spaces: Intel, for example, says about 5% of its applicants win spots in its Education Service Corps.

Though referred to as "volunteer" posts, employees usually continue to receive their regular salaries during the stints, which typically last two to four weeks. They appeal to employees looking to develop new skills and donate time and expertise to those in need—or simply take a break from their routines.

"It gives more meaning to your career," Ms. Benetti says.

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