We have teamed up with Abbott to produce an article series on the future of corporate philanthropy. Please read the rest of the series here.
Many firms ask that employees carve out some of their time to volunteer for organizations such as Habitat for Humanity. It gives the company some community outreach cred and boosts its philanthropic record as well as giving employees an opportunity to give back on the company dime.
But IBM is in the midst of a three-year program that amounts to a gift of technology and assistance to cities that can can make a compelling case for a helping hand.
The data and consulting giant’s Smarter Cities Challenge is a three-year, 100-city, US$50 million grant program in which IBM’s top technical experts and consultants help cities solve vexing problems through data analysis.
IBM opened up the 2012 grant application process last week and cities have until December 16 to apply for a grant. IBM is focusing on urban centers because they’re home to more than half the world’s population and, as IBM describes them, they’re more “economically powerful, politically influential, and technologically advanced than at any time in human history.”
And as anyone who doesn’t live under a rock knows, urban centers have gargantuan problems managing budgets, safety, transportation infrastructures, and a host of other functions. IBM believes it can provide technological fixes to these problems through its consultation services and resources such as City Forward, an online trends and statistics tool.
Does this grant project mark the dawn of philanthropy 2.0? Or is it a handy tool for IBM to market its services to urban leaders? It’s both. And for IBM, it’s also a way to advance its Smart Planet platform, which is all about building more efficient systems through analytics, sensor networks, cloud computing, building automation and other systems.
So is the Smart Cities Challenge working? From the 2011 round of grant awards (which IBM says amount to about $400,000 in “talent and technology”), there are examples of water-smart economic development in urban agriculture and aquaponics in Milwaukee (we’ve written about Milwaukee’s Sweet Water Organics) as well as better data sharing and analytics systems in Edmonton, toward the goal of improving traffic safety.
What’s your take on grant-making and talent-sharing initiatives like the Smarter Cities Challenge? Is this what the evolution of philanthropy looks like?