Among the many positive things we focus on as part of celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is his call to all of us to serve. When we commit to service – regardless of the form it takes – we establish relationships that allow us to give of our time and talent to improve the lives of others. Even when there isn’t an obvious, direct connection between how or what we give and how our service impacts others, the influence of the act of giving is profound.
I am a former dancer who went on to pursue a career in technology with IBM. The study of dance taught me discipline, commitment, responsibility and perseverance. Dancing with a company also requires collaboration and teamwork. Put those skills together, and the study of dance develops skills and characteristics that will help young people in their personal, academic and professional development. That’s why I was honored to be a member of the founding company of the Dallas Black Dance Theatre (DBDT) in 1976, and have championed its outreach to children of color to help them develop life skills through the art, creativity and discipline of dance.
With industries from health care to retail gearing up for transformation with IBM Watson cognitive computing, it only makes sense that the next generation of innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs be given the opportunity to work with this breakthrough technology. That’s why IBM and The City University of New York (CUNY) collaborated to sponsor the CUNY-IBM Watson Competition to propose ideas for applications to improve higher education and city services in New York. More than 100 student innovators from across CUNY’s campuses participated in the competition for $10,000 in prize money. Three winning teams from among 10 finalists were announced on January 15, 2015. The teams presented their ideas to a panel of judges from Baruch College, the Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation, Con Edison, and IBM. First place winner LMSW demonstrated how IBM Watson could be used to integrate information across all New York City agencies to help social workers serve children and families more effectively. Second place winner SmartCall proposed ways to improve New York’s 311 citizen information system by using IBM Watson to optimize operations and streamline costs. Third place went to Advyzr, a mobile application that provides personalized academic advising to college students by integrating the information they’ve provided about their academic goals and preferences.
As demonstrated in the famous Jeopardy! Challenge against the game’s top all-time winners, IBM Watson has the power to understand questions posed in natural language, and propose evidence-based answers to aid in human decision making. Last October, IBM Watson opened its global headquarters at 51 Astor Place, making New York City the epicenter for a new era of cognitive computing. The CUNY-IBM Watson student app competition was the latest example of IBM’s collaboration with academia to apply Watson’s capabilities to solve complex challenges. The competition also gave students access to hands-on training with technology industry experts, and the chance to build valuable technology and business development skills. Continue Reading »
IBM is extending the Smarter Cities Challenge global competitive grant program, through which more than 700 of IBM’s top experts have executed pro bono consulting projects to help municipalities and regions improve the quality of life for their residents. Below, IBM Vice President for Global Citizenship Initiatives Jen Crozier reflects on the program’s success and the ongoing challenges facing the world’s cities.
The world’s cities are vital, exciting, often troubled and always unique. Cities house three quarters of us, attract many of the best and brightest of us, and inspire much of our greatest thinking. But urban areas can amplify societal challenges as much as they reinforce cultural benefits. That’s why running a city is never easy.
When IBM launched the Smarter Cities Challenge in 2011, we saw an opportunity to make a difference by using our innovative technologies and cross-industry expertise to help transform the nature of urban life. Smarter cities are the building blocks of a smarter planet, but making a city smarter requires a unique set of collaboration and partnership skills. IBM has those skills, and we believed – and still believe – that their intelligent application has the power to engage and inspire governments, citizens, corporations and others to work together toward a common good.
Anyone looking for inspiration about how the public, private and not-for-profit sectors can collaborate need not look much further than a new book authored by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Titled A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity, this remarkable book describes how individuals and organizations can make a difference in the lives of others. Two of the many examples cited by the authors include IBM’s Corporate Service Corps and Smarter Cities Challenge. These programs deploy pro bono teams of problem-solving IBM consultants who work with community stakeholders around the world, while improving their own skills and cultural literacy. Here is how the authors put it:
In their desire to showcase corporate social responsibility, companies are giving more leeway to employees to give back – just as law firms have regularly done pro bono work. IBM developed a Corporate Service Corps, modeled on the Peace Corps, and has sent more than 2,400 people to provide consulting advice in more than thirty countries. In 2010, IBM also began a three-year, 100-city grant initiative in which employees donate their time to help cities launch large projects and resolve tough issues. IBM dispatched teams of five to six people for three weeks to formulate a master plan and strategies for execution. In
St. Louis, IBM helped devise a citywide information technology system that tracked everyone who entered the criminal justice system and allowed different agencies access to that electronic information. That system contributed to a 50 percent decline in crime in some neighborhoods, IBM says. Toyota has taken its sophisticated production expertise and helped hospitals, schools, and other non- profits improve efficiencies. In Harlem, for example, it trimmed the wait at a soup kitchen run by an organization called Food Bank for New York City from one and a half hours to eighteen minutes.
We would like to see more companies step into this arena, allowing employees to use their skills to take on pro bono projects. The nonprofit world is in desperate need of the corporate skill set, and our guess is that companies would be rewarded with increased morale and greater success in recruitment and retention. In the same vein, it would be good to see more corporations take on social joint ventures from time to time, in echoes of what Danone did with Grameen to make yogurt. If we insist on nonprofits and corporations being kept in separate silos, we all lose. If you work in a company, think about how it could help, or what a pro bono policy might look like, and see if there is interest among executives.
The best programs tackle a social problem that the company has the right toolbox for. That’s why Danone’s new yogurt with micro-nutrients and IBM’s information technology systems make sense. In finance, one of the most interesting initiatives to tap private funding has been Social Impact Bonds, launched in the United Kingdom in 2010 with the help of the Rockefeller Foundation, and two years later in the United States. ‘There simply wasn’t enough money in philanthropy, even with the explosion of philanthropy, and not enough money in government aid to really solve all the social ills,’ said Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation. ‘Not that money can solve everything, but that for those things that required money and big money at times, that unleashing private capital to do social good was going to be critical.’
Excerpted from A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Copyright © 2014 by Nicholas D. Kristof. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Sometimes, even the best of our intentions can go unfulfilled if we don’t communicate effectively. That’s why I founded the IBM Toastmasters Club of Singapore after experiencing a huge improvement in my own oratory skills after working with my neighborhood Toastmasters. After founding the club, my first order of business was to find ways that Toastmaster members and other IBMers in Singapore could use their improved communications skills to spread the word about our corporate responsibility initiatives.
IBM’s Activity Kits and other On Demand Community tools enable us to engage the communities in which we live and work through a variety of skills-based service opportunities. Among my early outings using IBM’s citizenship tools – in this case the “Hello, Watson” Activity Kit – was a presentation I made to 700 students at Singapore’s Anderson Secondary School. The talk was a big hit, and prompted many of the students to ask if they could download a Watson application for their mobile phones. The “Hello, Watson” kit helped me share IBM’s influence with a young audience of mobile device users, who now would have an increased understanding of IBM’s technical and cultural relevance in their lives.
Some people may think of our cultural and historical sites as permanent, but we in the preservation field remain very much aware of the delicacy of our cultural heritage. Natural disasters, human aggression and the passage of time all can jeopardize the cultural and historical sites that many of us take for granted. That’s why the California-based nonprofit CyArk has operated internationally since 2003 to create a free, 3D digital online library of the world’s cultural heritage sites. In 2011, IBM joined forces with CyArk to preserve and share some of California’s cultural heritage.
The recent 6.0 magnitude earthquake that rumbled through Northern California focused attention on the need to preserve and protect the State’s cultural sites, including Wolf House – the family estate of author Jack London, and a designated California and National Historic Landmark. To help preserve the legacy of the site, CyArk, the California Department of Parks and Recreation and local engineering firm Locus Construction Services initiated the digital archiving process. Assisting them were students from Technology High School in Rohnert Park, California, who volunteered their time as part of an IBM Teachers TryScience project.
On International Volunteer Day 2014, we reflect on the interdependence of service and leadership.
The word “volunteer” has lost some of its luster in recent years, and that’s unfortunate. In a world where nearly every culture celebrates selflessness and caring for others, it seems only fitting that influential organizations should incorporate service into leadership development. IBM takes this commitment several steps further – not only by integrating citizenship and service into the company’s overall business strategy, but by enabling other companies to participate in IBM’s Culture of Service, and standing as a global example of how a values-driven organization can affect meaningful and sustainable change.
To volunteer is to contribute value by giving of one’s self. And when what one gives – time, talent, innovative technologies – has the power to transform its recipient, one does more than simply serve. Deploying cloud and mobile technologies to coordinate disaster relief & recovery or enable management of essential public health issues saves lives. Developing data analytics solutions that make timely transportation possible amid the crushing populations of growing cities moves economies from second-rate to world class. Connecting people – to information, to their governments and to each other – allows us to aggregate our intelligence to preserve our humanity. A culture of service inspires the desire to serve, and provides the opportunities and tools that make service possible.
There are no reliable treatments or vaccines for the Ebola virus – the significant global health threat behind the growing humanitarian crisis in West Africa. That’s why IBM’s
World Community Grid – the virtual supercomputer for humanitarian research – is launching Outsmart Ebola Together to help find a cure. The research project will be directed by Dr. Erica Ollmann Saphire of The Scripps Research Institute. Dr. Saphire is among the world’s preeminent Ebola researchers, and has been seeking a cure for the disease for more than 11 years – long before the current crisis. In her observations below, Dr. Saphire reflects on her approach to finding a cure.
The current outbreak of the Ebola virus is the largest in history, and has been described by the World Health Organization as “the most severe acute public health emergency seen in modern times.” While previous outbreaks have ended when the disease was contained and disappeared from the human population, the scope of the 2014 outbreak raises the possibility that the virus, rather than disappearing again, could become endemic – permanently persisting in human populations in one or more areas.
Currently, there are no approved treatments or vaccines for this deadly disease. In response to this urgent need, I reached out to my colleagues around the world to create the Viral Hemorrhagic Fever Immunotherapeutic Consortium, a collaborative effort of the world’s top Ebola experts to pool our knowledge and skills to find a cure as quickly as possible. Some compounds show promise as treatments for Ebola virus and are currently being tested through fast-tracked studies. However, we are still looking urgently for a definitive cure, and more must be done.
After launching its first P-TECH school (the Norwalk Early College Academy) this fall, the State of Connecticut plans to open two additional schools in time for the next academic year. Why the rush? Because Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy understands the urgent need to provide a navigable pathway from high school to college and career for his state’s young people. P-TECH already is doing that in New York City, across New York State and in Chicago, and now communities in New London and Windham, Connecticut will benefit from IBM’s innovative reinvention of American education.
Connecticut’s announcement of two new Early College Opportunity programs based on the IBM P-TECH model comes on the heels of IBM’s release of an updated P-TECH Playbook designed to guide the development of these and future P-TECH schools. The Playbook offers case studies, “best practices” and other resources to help school districts, higher education institutions and corporate sponsors form the public-private partnerships that are essential to connecting education to jobs. By following the Playbook, such cross-sector partnerships will be able to develop the academically rigorous and economically relevant workplace skills curricula that characterize P-TECH schools. These open-admissions schools work within existing budgets to close the gap between college and employment preparedness and the real-world, global demands of the 21st Century.