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$50mn Smarter Cities Challenge grant program now open: IBM

IBM today announced that it has opened the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge grant program to new applications for 2012.

Smarter Cities Challenge is a three-year, 100-city, US$50 million grant program in which IBM’s top technical experts and consultants provide actionable advice to urban centres, the company said.

According to IBM, this highly successful grant program provides select applicant cities with access to teams of elite IBM employees with expertise on a variety of urban-related matters, such as finance, sustainability, public safety, and citizen services.

They devote weeks of their time analysing unique opportunities and challenges facing municipalities, particularly within the context of today’s challenging economic climate.  After conferring with officials, citizens, businesses, academics and community leaders, the IBM teams recommend actions to make the delivery of services to citizens more efficient and innovative.  Issues addressed include jobs, health, public safety, transportation, social services, recreation, education, energy, and sustainability.

As in 2011, selected applicants must demonstrate a commitment to using all publicly available urban data to help identify local problems and solutions, IBM said.  To that end, IBM will provide special assistance to each winning city on the use of City Forward, a free online tool it developed with public policy experts that explores trends and statistics in a visual way, and which can be adapted for the study of any number of issues across cities.   Looking at these issues in a more scientific, systematic fashion provides insight that can help shape public policy solutions to pressing municipal problems.

Issues that IBM’s consultants addressed this past year were diverse, ranging from transportation and public safety, to economic development and budgeting.

According to IBM, key factors for a successful grant application include strong city leadership, willingness to collaborate with many stakeholders, and the desire to make their cities smarter and more efficient.  Cities will also need to champion actionable and measurable efforts that have the potential to make a real impact on the lives of its citizens, IBM added.  In addition, winning applicants will identify areas that are closely connected with a city’s top priorities, and involve a range of disciplines and departments, it was reported.

“Last year, we were gratified to receive literally hundreds of Smarter Cities Challenge grant applications worldwide.  In 2012, we expect the demand for Smarter Cities Challenge grants to significantly increase,” said Stanley S. Litow, IBM VP of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs, and president of IBM’s International Foundation.  “The success in year-one ought to increase demand this year and next.  We look forward to reviewing the proposals of the many creative, forward thinking city leaders who are striving for excellence.”

The need to capitalise on the use of new technologies and approaches to address long-standing civic challenges has never been greater.

In 2008, according to the United Nations, more than half the world’s population began living in cities for the first time in the world’s history.  These population centres are more economically powerful, politically influential, and technologically advanced than at any time in human history.  But while they represent so much promise for realising the dreams and aspirations of so many, cities also struggle with significant budgetary and operational challenges.

The deadline for 2012 grant applications is December 16, IBM said.

The company is also inviting participants to join IBM on Twitter, today at 3:30 pm (EST) for a chat with Litow, who will discuss what it takes to become a smarter city. To participate in the chat, log on to Twitter, follow @CitizenIBM, and Tweet using the hashtag #CityChat.

The Smarter Cities Challenge is sponsored by IBM’s Corporate Citizenship program and IBM’s International Foundation.

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