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Across Africa, an innovation culture is starting to emerge. In Kenya, PesaPal piggybacks on the popular M-PESA mobile payments service, enabling Kenyans to buy and sell on the Internet. Tanzania’s Techno Brain is selling software for managing businesses in 13 countries. And South Africa’s Cobi Interactive, a mobile communications software company, is developing popular applications for smart phones.

Yet for Africa to fulfill it’s potential and emerge among the world’s economic tigers, social and business leaders agree that much more innovation must happen there. The continent’s cities, universities, entrepreneurs and commercial R&D organizations can become engines of innovation producing new products and services that are tailored for the African experience.  And,  in order to make this transition, African institutions and businesses–plus multinational corporations –must work together to create innovation ecosystems that foster this kind of creativity.

At IBM’s Smarter Planet Leadership Forum today in Nairobi, Kenya, CEO Ginni Rometty said IBM hopes to work collaboratively with the people and institutions in Africa: “We want to be seen as a citizen of the countries, essential to the government, companies and people.”  Rometty said IBM’s decision to locate an IBM Research laboratory on the continent–beginning with an office in Nairobi–sends the strong signal about the company’s commitment to Africa.

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In the aftermath of the global financial crisis and the recovery from the worst American recession since the Great Depression, government leaders have learned that they need to do more, like make improvements to infrastructure, basic services and governmental programs, but with shrinking resources.

Municipal governments have the greatest direct impact on the lives of their constituents and no matter how tight the budget, citizens expect, and deserve, action.  So mayors have to think innovatively to accomplish goals, deliver services more efficiently and effectively and stimulate economic development.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter

Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter has not pared back his ambitious agenda despite reduced funding.  One major focus: access to a quality education, which he refers to as “the new civil rights fight.”  Mayor Nutter supports a number of creative initiatives designed to provide Philadelphians with educational opportunities and job skills to prepare them for the 21st century workforce.

Philadelphia is one of more than 60 cities worldwide that have participated in IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge program. IBM sends teams of six executives to participating cities to help them develop solutions to difficult problems. Nutter and other mayors have provided insights in to what it takes to transform cities. The lessons they learned are captured in a white paper, How to Reinvent a City.

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Stand on a busy big-city street corner at lunch time and you will witness a chaotic scene. Thousands of people are walking every which way, getting on and off buses, descending to subways, riding in cars, and walking in and out of buildings. Where did all these people come from? And where are they going? Until now, such questions were unanswerable–mysteries of the city. But no more.

Today, thanks to deep analytics, we can for the first time understand the complexities of cities in motion.

IBM Researchers have developed analytics software that provides accurate and meaningful information about massive numbers of peoples’ movements. These insights can be used by city managers to plan new transit routes, improve the efficiency of current transit systems, and coordinate the various transportation modes with a goal of making moving around in cities a lot more convenient and comfortable. The project, Insights in Motion, is a so-called First-of-a-Kind (FOAK) collaboration with transportation officials in Dubuque, Iowa, and Istanbul, Turkey.

A paper about Dubuque’s piece of the project, Dubuque Smart Travel, was presented Jan. 16 at the annual meeting of the  Transportation Research Board.

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by Stanley S. Litow,  IBM’s Vice President of Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Responsibility and President of the IBM International Foundation

We tend to think about education only when school is in session. But that tendency – just like our anachronistic, agrarian school calendar itself – is an example of the out-of-date thinking that is jeopardizing America’s competitiveness on the world stage. The truth is that “school” is (and ought to be) always in session – for industry, for educators, and for the young people on whose fortunes our economy will rise or fall. A vigorous and vital society never stops learning – even if that means using innovation to reinvent its educational institutions to make them more responsive to the demands of a global economy.

IBM has written the playbook for combining high school, college, and workplace learning to connect education to jobs by providing students with the skills they need to pursue 21st Century careers. Working with our partners from government and from all levels of education – kindergarten through college – we are helping students, teachers, parents and communities understand that the mid-20th Century standards of the post World War II era – a time when people could enter the economy and pursue lifelong careers with only a high school diploma – are no longer enough.

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When Andrzej Klesyk became chief executive of Poland’s PZU Group in 2007, he brought with him years of experience as a consultant with McKinsey & Co. and The Boston Consulting Group. His goal: Nothing less than a top-to-bottom transformation of Poland’s No. 1 insurance company.

Klesyk has made a lot of progress. The 209-year-old company has centralized and re-organized its operational processes and claims handling, restructured the workforce, and evolved into a customer-oriented and performance-based organization. Klesyk’s goal now is to become the largest and most profitable insurance company in central and eastern Europe.

PZU and IBM Poland combined forces to complete Operation Trigger–the company’s operational overhaul. They way they worked together provides a model for how such  business transformation projects can be managed.

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When IBM unveiled its Smarter Planet agenda in late 2008, government and business leaders in Poland were intrigued, but the global financial crisis made it difficult for them to act on their positive impulses. Today, in spite of lingering concerns about the situation in Western Europe, the Smarter Planet concepts are starting to gain traction–especially with government leaders.

The Polish central government is launching an e-health initiative, a new citizen ID program and a new electronic tax filing system. “Smart is all about how to make the citizen’s life easier, safer and more ecologically sustainable,” says Anna Sienko, IBM’s general manager for  Poland and the Baltic countries.

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New York City may seem an unlikely hot spot for solar energy, but think again. Consider the fact that there are 20 million square feet of usable solar farm space on top of the city’s 1,100 public school roofs alone–enough to generate 170,000 megawatts of electricity. So its no wonder that city government and business leaders are taking solar seriously.

Market forces are cooperating. Prices for solar panels are plummeting. But there remain some major impediments to solar adoption. All things considered, it’s still more expensive than traditional energy sources.

That’s where data analytics comes in. As part of the SMART NY, IBM is working with CUNY Ventures, a for-profit offshoot of the City University of New York, to create a system for gathering and analyzing information about the entire solar ecosystem within the city. The goal is to bring down the cost of installing solar.  “We’re looking to make solar competitive with other sources. We need to mainstream this technology to make it easy to adopt,” says Tria Case, CUNY’s director of sustainability and coordinator of  SMART NY.

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In graduate schools these days, marketing isn’t for dilettantes.

Want proof? Two teams made up entirely of masters-of-marketing candidates placed first and second in last week’s Watson competition at the University of Rochester’s Simon School of Business. They beat five teams made up of traditional MBA candidates.

Their apparent edge: Simon School’s marketing program concentrates on quantitative analysis—the art of turning data into valuable insights. “We didn’t have a lot of background information, so we had to find a lot of data,” says Christian Beck, a 25-year-old from Hannover, Germany, who was on the winning team. “This reinforces my belief in the power of data.”

The seven teams spent two weeks preparing for the competition. Their task was to choose applications within specific industries that they believe will be fertile ground for IBM’s Watson, which last year defeated two former grand-champions at the TV quiz show Jeopardy! After that, they presented their proposals before a panel of judges including Simon School faculty members, a Rochester-area business CEO and two IBM executives. It was the first of a series of such competitions, which are aimed at getting top business students excited about the potential for data analytics.

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How do leaders develop character and competence ? Dr. Bernard Banks, Colonel in the United States Army and the Deputy Department Head of West Point’s Department of Behavioral Sciences & Leadership, shares his point of view as part of our Next Gen Leaders Series.

Leadership is often equated with simply the act of getting people to do things they otherwise might choose to not to do.  while this colloquial definition might suffice in some instances, I think it fails to take into account the complexity associated with exercising leadership.

One problem is that body of literature around leadership has never distilled the phenomena’s definition down to one universally accepted statement.  Dr. Peter Northouse’s well-regarded book, Leadership: Theory and Practice (2010), noted that four components are central to all concepts of leadership.

First, leading requires two or more people acting in concert with each other.  Second, leading is a process and therefore transpires iteratively over time.  Third, leading people involves influence.  Finally, leading requires the pursuit of common goals.

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May 10th, 2012
9:10
 

by Ioannis (Yannis) N. Miaoulis, president and director of the Museum of Science, Boston

I am delighted that IBM recently launched Minds of Modern Mathematics, the free iPad app that recreates the remarkable 50-foot infographic on the history of math designed by Charles and Ray Eames.

IBM collaborated with the Eameses to develop the richly illustrated timeline for Mathematica: A World of Numbers…and Beyond, an exhibit that opened at the California Museum of Science and Industry (now the California Science Center) in Los Angeles in 1961. Replicas later traveled to the New York World’s Fair and beyond.

Mathematica’s interactive models illustrating basic math concepts have intrigued visitors at the Museum of Science, Boston since 1981. Children like playing with the Celestial Mechanics machine, releasing steel balls into orbits like those of planets around the sun, while a 12-foot-high Probability Board captivates adults, as it sends plastic balls clattering through a maze of steel pins to form a bell-shaped probability curve.  Here is our exhibit:

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