Adapting CISL to the Current Context

In 2021, we conducted the Emerging World Corporate International Service Learning (CISL) Resilience Study. The Study has provided brilliant data that helps us further understand how the design of immersive learning experiences can impact participant outcomes.

Through the Study, one of the areas that we wanted to learn more about was how CISL programmes help leaders lead in complex times. We did this by asking programme participants if their experience helped them navigate the complexities that surfaced as a result of the pandemic. In this blog we will be looking at the Study data to explore how programme design impacts how immersive experiences have helped participants navigate the pandemic.

In the previous blog of this series, we talked briefly how the COVID-19 pandemic forced organisations to make big decisions about the structure of their Corporate Volunteer programmes read more here…


Data from our previous Studies already showed that CISL programmes build behaviours that help leaders navigate in complex times. The 2021 Study enabled us to specifically explore whether CISL experiences have helped participating leaders navigate the complexities of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A full 50% of participants, who completed programmes between 2015-2021, agreed or strongly agreed that their CISL experience had helped them navigate these complexities. This is despite the fact that many had undertaken their experiences a long time before the pandemic started. Participants that completed assignments from 2020 onwards were even more likely to respond positively (55%).


The charts below show data from participants that responded positively (agree and strongly agree) that their CISL experience helped them navigate complexities that surfaced as a result of the pandemic.

These charts show that the impact was strongest in those that were intentional about setting learning objectives. When learning objectives are set, programme participants are almost twice as likely to have agreed and strongly agreed that their programme helped them navigate the complexities of the pandemic.

The impact is also greater when participants felt supported in returning to their role, which shows that time invested in helping participants to process their experience is well spent.


Since travel has been restricted with the COVID-19 pandemic, most CISL programmes moved to a 100% virtual model (or were suspended). The data from the 2021 Resilience Study gives some insight into the effect of this transition. It helps us to understand how programme format; face to face (In-person), blended face to face and virtual approach (Hybrid) or 100% virtual setting impact how CISL experiences help participants navigate complexities that surfaced as a result of the pandemic.

The data here shows the differences in response between those who undertook in-person, virtual and hybrid assignments. In-person and hybrid assignments do show a stronger impact overall, but as discussed in our previous blog , virtual programmes should not be dismissed. There are a number of positive drivers for virtual CISL experiences; they’re more inclusive in that participants do not have to leave their homes to participate, they’re less complex to support, they’re generally less expensive, and without the long-distance travel and its associated carbon footprint, they’re better for the environment. What the data does suggest however, is that the impact is reduced. What’s the reason for this?

In our experience, it is that contextual understanding between participant and host partner is reduced and the relationships that they build are not as strong. From a positioning point of view, it’s less special for an individual when they don’t travel and this impacts on a variety of outcomes. However, we are early in our journey of optimising the impact of virtual assignments and they will not be going away.

It will be very interesting to see the balance of virtual and in-person programmes as travel resumes because both methods have their place. The data from Studies like ours, will help to improve the impact of programmes that include virtual immersive experiences.

To learn more about our CISL impact assessment, or speak to a member of our team

Click here