Here's what the senior vice-president of Salesforce learned in the Peace Corps and applies to business today

Leyla Seka, Senior vice president at Salesforce.

Salesforce senior vice-president Leyla Seka’s father wanted her to go to law school. Seka had other ideas.

She got a double degree, mastered in French and went into the Peace Corps, a volunteering program established by the United States government – not your typical avenue out of university for a senior VP.

“I felt the need to do something bigger,” she said.

So she went to Mali in West Africa and worked as a business consultant for two years.

“There I set up banks, I worked with a womens’ group in particular, and we actually nationalised a bank.”

She said it was her time there that ignited her passion for charity, and she wanted to find a way to continue that passion in business when she returned to the States.

“Obviously I’m business-minded, but I also really enjoyed that fact that I was helping people and that for sure is what drew me to Salesforce.

“It’s only company that I’d ever heard of or seen in my life that was concerned with philanthropy.

“Most companies are like bottom line, bottom line, bottom line, and then Salesforce had a totally different narrative.”

Business Insider asked Seka about some of the things she learned during this time in the Peace Corps which continue to influence her today in her role as the SVP of the largest customer relationship management company in the world. Here’s what she said:

You can apply business tactics to social problems and help make progress on them.

“When I was a Peace Corps I wished I could figure out a way to do business and be successful, but apply that to a social context and a social problem. Salesforce has given me the math equation to solve that problem and that’s our 1-1-1 model.”

Salesforce 1-1-1 Pledge is an initiative which invites entrepreneurs and their companies to commit a percentage of their product, equity and time to support integrating philanthropy into their business from an early stage. Australian businesses like Atlassian and eWay have already jumped onboard with the pledge.

Since starting the 1% Pledge 16 years ago, Salesforce has given over 800,000 hours of their time, more than $US80 million in grants, and provided product donations for over 24,000 nonprofits and higher education institutions.

“I think often at times people see social problems and they feel like they’re big and daunting,” Seka says.

“Here we’re encouraged to do two days of volunteering a year and we have matching grants: if we give money to non-profits, Salesforce will match it up to a certain amount.”

“Business is inherently human”.

“I really believe that if companies are not paying attention to their customers and listening and talking to them, they’re going to lose them,” Seka says.

“Because I know myself. I don’t even need to go any further than myself. I use brands, and the brands that offer an experience, that feel personalised.

“You can’t manufacture the human element of a business relationship.

“Three bad tweets for a small company can be the end, and three great tweets from industry visionaries can be the definition, the beginning of a small company. You need to listen to your customers to provide great customer service.

“The Peace Corps put a very human face on social issues and how businesses and countries and companies can impact other environments that might be less fortunate.”

Get out of the office.

“I think sometimes you can sit in a room with a whiteboard solving a problem and you’re with your people and you’re doing it and it’s awesome but if you’re not outside…

“Like the CEO of Coca-Cola Germany says, the most dangerous place to make a business decision is in the office. I think there’s something to that. You’ve got to go and talk to people; you’ve got to engage with your customers.”

The writer was a guest of Salesforce at the Salesforce World Tour in Melbourne.

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