IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge is Transforming our World

According to a report released by the United Nations last week, the world’s population is projected to increase by 1 billion people over the next 12 years, reaching a population of close to 9.6 billion by 2050. Much of that growth is expected in urban areas of developing countries, so it is increasingly essential that cities acquire tools and resources to drive sustainable economic growth and prosperity for current and future populations. As part of IBM’s Smarter Planet Initiative, the Smarter Cities Challenge (SCC) aims to work with cities around the world to develop long-term sustainable solutions to complex urbanization issues.

Since 2010, IBM has been sending teams of senior executives to collaborate with municipal governments in addressing unique challenges facing global cities.  By the end of this year, 100 cities around the world will be better equipped to address critical issues related to urban planning, the environment, energy and water, transportation, education, health care, social programs, public safety and government administration.

Smarter Cities teams are made up of IBM’s top talent, often from different geographies and business areas.  Working directly with city leaders, the teams of IBMers spend three weeks on the ground utilizing their expertise to provide recommendations for the city. By providing municipal governments with the tools to analyze data, better decisions are made, future road blocks anticipated and city resources coordinated to ensure the city operates efficiently.

This spring, through the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge, IBM, in collaboration with CDC Development Solutions, deployed three teams to Date, Japan, Valparaiso, Chile, and Porto Alegre, Brazil to address issues facing each city.

Enabling Proactive Citizen Engagement in Brazil

In mid-April, six IBM executives and two Citi executives from four countries traveled to Porto Alegre, Brazil to employ an innovative approach to collaboratively design a new Participatory Budgeting (PB) model for Porto Alegre. This project marked the first time IBM executives worked hand-in-hand with executives from a partner corporation on the same project.

Participatory budgeting, a new trend in many parts of the world, empowers citizens to directly decide the investment of public resources in the works and services provided by a municipal administration. In recent years, Porto Alegre’s budgeting model had been increasingly viewed as outdated and politicized. As a result, the IBM and Citi executives were tasked with helping the city overcome these obstacles by broadening citizen engagement and identifying new ways to involve citizens in the overall planning and monitoring of the city.

Facing cultural differences, high expectations, and a short amount of time, the eight executives met with local groups and stakeholders to develop a roadmap with practical, immediate solutions to help the local government listen, respond and proactively engage with its citizens. Using the latest in digital technology, the team designed a citizen open data portal to provide city residents with a simple and integrated way of accessing relevant information about the city’s projects as well as recommended technologies in community polling and social media monitoring software. You can read more about the IBM team’s work in Brazil.

Accelerating Recovery in Post-Tsunami Japan

In April, a team of six IBM employees spent three weeks in Date City, Fukushima addressing food security issues that had arisen after the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in 2011. The City of Date was severely impacted in the regional economic crisis caused by the earthquake, tsunami, and subsequent radiation threat and related evacuations. Local farmers, fishermen, and producers are finding it difficult to sell their goods at market, due to public distrust of the government agencies that have deemed the local food safe to consume. The IBM Smarter Cities Challenge team worked closely with the local city government, community groups, farmers’ associations, and other produce grower collectives to craft a public awareness campaign aimed at informing consumers about the safety of food products that come from Date City.

Moving forward, Date City will require a comprehensive plan to educate the public about which foods are safe to eat and also clearly outline the process by which the food is certified as safe.  With IBM’s Smarter Cities food branding plan, the City of Date will be better positioned to assuage the public’s wariness of local crops, produce, and livestock, better positioning local farmers and producers to contribute to the area’s economic revival. You can read more about the IBM team’s work in Japan here.

Improving Chile’s Transportation Infrastructure to Meet Growing Demand

In April 2013, six IBM executives from five countries arrived in Gran Valparaíso, Chile, a thriving cultural hub, whose transportation system was lagging behind the needs of the city’s growing population.  Once known as “The Jewel of the Pacific,” Gran Valparaíso was home to the region’s most bustling seaport, which, after the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, lost much of its traffic and struggled economically.

Today, however, the city is experiencing an economic resurgence in large part driven by its vibrant culture, prestigious universities, and growing port traffic. With Gran Valparaíso’s population now approaching one million, a new challenge has emerged:  to better connect its communities with an effective transportation system. The team assessed current transportation conditions and recommended a long-term strategy to increase the safety and efficiency of the transportation system. The team met with over 25 organizations, companies, and government agencies working on issues related to transportation in Gran Valparaíso. You can read more about the IBM team’s work in Chile here.

“Let’s Build a Smarter Planet”

Through unique programs like the Smarter Cities Challenge, IBM is championing innovative solutions to the complex challenges our world faces today. (Stan Litow, the President of the IBM Foundation spoke at a forum at the State Department last week about how more companies can and should also consider this approach.) By integrating diverse perspectives and ways of thinking, it is possible to create sustainable solutions which will benefit current and future generations. By bringing the best of the private sector to public sector challenges, we have the opportunity to build a better, smarter planet.

Amanda MacArthur

Amanda MacArthur

Amanda MacArthur is the Vice President of Global Pro Bono and Engagement at PYXERA Global where she leads the organization’s Global Pro Bono and MBAs Without Borders programs, as well as the Center for Citizen Diplomacy. In this capacity, Amanda designs and implements corporate social responsibility programs for the public and private sector focused on skills-based volunteerism in emerging markets, leadership development, and sustainable economic impact. Most recently, Amanda played a key role in designing IBM’s Corporate Service Corps, while overseeing Global Pro Bono programs for PepsiCo, Pfizer, FedEx, and several others.

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