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Most of the world’s population lives in cities, which continue in their global roles as consolidators of energy, talent and innovation while confronting the challenges of congestion, pollution and poverty. Through a variety of approaches — including pro bono consulting; collaboration with governments, nonprofits and commercial clients; and grant-making and skills-based volunteering — IBM and IBMers are dedicating their time and talent to making cities better places to live and work.

Alleviating “food deserts”

In Birmingham, Alabama, IBM provided pro bono consulting to help the city address food deserts — areas where residents do not have reasonable access to healthy and nutritious food. Low-income food desert residents lack transportation to suburban supermarkets and must shop for groceries at neighborhood convenience stores. Consumption of unhealthy “convenience” foods leads to community medical problems such as high cholesterol, hypertension, obesity and Type 2 diabetes. In addition, the link between poor nutrition and lower academic achievement further complicates efforts to break the cycle of poverty. Working through the Smarter Cities Challenge program, IBM consultants and city authorities used data analytics to design efficient delivery routes for a mobile food market program. Using these routes, the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority and Community Food Bank of Central Alabama are establishing access to groceries for residents in need.

During a three-week engagement, IBM consultants and the City of Birmingham were able to shine a brighter light on issues surrounding healthy food and food access while also identifying key opportunities to help mitigate these issues. With IBM’s assistance, we are working hard to provide new bus routes that will increase residents’ access to healthier food products. Through working together, the city, IBM, citizens and local organizations developed a camaraderie and common sense of purpose to eliminate food poverty for all Birmingham residents.

— Mayor William A. Bell, Birmingham, Alabama

Smarter Cities Challenge



Value of pro bono services delivered to 130 cities worldwide



Number of top IBM experts who have engaged with civic and community leaders to improve quality of life for all residents

Harnessing big data to fight disease

An outbreak of dengue fever in Tainan City, Taiwan, prompted seven IBM On Demand Community volunteers to form the “IBM Mosquito Terminator” team to curb the spread of the disease. Similar to the Zika virus, dengue is a mosquito-borne disease for which there is no vaccine. Tainan City had 18,000 reported cases of dengue in 2015 alone, and attempts to manage the disease were overwhelming the city’s environment and public health departments. Using their big data and analytics skills, the IBM team helped city government develop a strategy to curb the spread of the disease. After collecting both structured and unstructured data from various agencies, the team contributed their personal time to running IBM SPSS Modeler to determine the best protocol for controlling the outbreak. This research led to specific and effective recommendations for coordinating insecticide application with weather patterns — a technique that will be shared with other governments and nonprofits charged with fighting mosquito-borne diseases.