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Caleb Barlow_author photoBy Caleb Barlow (@calebbarlow), volunteer, big thinker, problem solver, world changer, IBMer

What I love about being an IBMer is the ability to think big, really big. As IBMers we like hard problems… particularly those that can change everything.

More than 300,000 IBMers, retirees, their families and business partners worldwide are celebrating the company’s 100-year anniversary today with a Day of Service. I saw this as an opportunity to do more than just volunteer time, but to demonstrate what we are really good at as IBMers – focus on hard problems and make a global impact. The first task was I needed a project – one that had the right global focus, but also could benefit from the skills, knowledge and experience we have as a company.

In today’s IBM culture, when you are looking for just about anything… you go social, and I’m not joking when I tell this story. Literally a friend of a friend of a business associate connected me to a university professor who connected me to an employee of the United Nations who had an unusual challenge he was trying to solve and he thought someone from IBM might have some ideas. The entire chain of communications happened in about three days, and before I knew it I was driving to New York from Boston to spend the weekend with a team from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and a group of elite social media gurus they had assembled for a brainstorming session.

During this weekend in February I learned that by the end of 2011 the world’s population will reach seven billion. That’s more than double the number of people living just 50 years ago. You quickly realize that as more and more people join those of us already here addressing existing resource, health and environmental challenges will become increasingly more urgent. And new challenges will inevitably arise. As an IBMer, our efforts to build a Smarter Planet suddenly had new meaning, and I had found my project for IBM’s Centennial Day of Service. A project which will help shape the way people think and live now and in the future.

You see this human milestone is not just a challenge – it is also an opportunity and a call to action. This brainstorming session resulted in a very bold idea. The UNFPA wanted to use social media and analytics in a new way – the goal was to capture the stories and actions of people making a significant impact in their local communities using a myriad of online, mobile, traditional media. This goal came with a secondary objective – to see if we could capture seven billion of these actions on the world’s social media networks by leveraging a common hashtag, #7Billion, and use analytics to tell the story.

Brainstorm cloud pic

The campaign is now known as 7 Billion Actions and you can learn more about it at From analytics and web architecture to market planning and infographics, the UNFPA needs a lot of help and guidance to pull off a project of this magnitude. As part of the IBM Day of Service we have organized two “hack days” in Boston and New York. Our objective with the hack day is to accelerate the campaign by providing IBM’s expertise in business and technology to create a template for the UNFPA for engaging with other corporations to help in similar ways at later points in the campaign.

Since the project was initiated in the winter of 2011, the response from IBMers has been overwhelming, and we look forward to engaging the global community of IBMers and our business partners this Fall when the campaign kicks off. You can follow me on Twitter, @calebbarlow, throughout the 7 Billion Actions campaign.

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