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IBM grant to help Baltimore deliver services

IBM recently inaugurated the Smarter Cities Challenge, a competitive grant program that will award $50 million worth of technology and services to help 100 municipalities across the world — including Baltimore.

Teams of IBM experts will provide city leaders with recommendations for successful growth, better delivery of municipal services, more citizen engagement and improved efficiency.

This new program is the single-largest philanthropic investment planned by IBM, which made $186 million worth of charitable contributions in 2009.

Over the next three years, IBM consultants will immerse themselves in local issues involving the administration of health care, education, safety, social services, transportation, communications, sustainability, budget management, energy and utilities.

To ensure the success of the Smarter Cities Challenge, IBM  is conducting a series of pilot grants in Baltimore, and Austin, Texas, and the Charlotte, N.C., area that are producing valuable insight into how cities might derive the greatest benefit from IBM’s expertise, and will serve as a model for engagements elsewhere.

“We are honored to have been the first city chosen for IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. “Over the last number of weeks, we enjoyed brainstorming with IBM about making the delivery of Baltimore City’s citizen services even more effective.

“It was refreshing to hear new and creative points of view, and inspiring to hear about the successful approaches undertaken by other like-minded cities. I was particularly pleased that they quickly grasped our vision for the future and offered strategies for realizing and even enhancing those potential plans.”

Corporations are finding it increasingly important to have their giving be relevant internally — to employees and other company stakeholders — and are choosing to give more in line with their business focus and expertise. To this end, companies have a great opportunity to “donate” corporate acumen and talent for the betterment of the community.

“Our work with Smarter Cities reflects IBM’s belief that urban areas are increasingly central to society,” said Jim Sellinger, IBM vice president & senior location executive for the Baltimore region. “Many local employees are eager to apply their expertise toward the communities in which they live and work.

“What’s interesting about the Smarter Cities Challenge is that we’re also bringing in IBM employees for these pro bono engagements who happen to live elsewhere,” he added. “These folks can provide a fresh perspective to long-standing local challenges, and can suggest or apply the successful strategies that their communities or work-engagements in other cities may have employed.”

I applaud IBM for their investment in Baltimore and other “Smart Cities” and for leveraging the talent and expertise of their employees to increase their overall corporate “gift.”

Betsy Nelson, executive director of the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers, writes every other week for The Daily Record.  She can be reached at 410-727-1205 or bnelson@abagmd.org.