IBM gathering public input to help Africa

IBM wants your advice on how to spur innovation and economic development in Africa.

IBM is inviting public comment on the Web until May 25, and the best ideas will help the company shape the agenda for an upcoming series of seven conferences around the world known as the Global Innovation Outlook (GIO).

“These GIO sessions, comprising leaders in business, government, academia, NGOs and venture capital, are designed to surface actionable policy issues, investment strategies, business models and technology priorities related to innovation and economic development in the region,” IBM states in a press release.

The ideas from the public will also help inform IBM’s World Development Initiative, which “is focused on applying market-based innovations to improve the real net income of local entrepreneurs and to provide their communities with sustainable, scalable technology-enabled business solutions.”

The public comment IBM is inviting over the next three weeks is the centerpiece of the company’s “ThinkPlace Challenge.” Previously, ThinkPlace was an application used solely by IBM’s 350,000 employees to submit and collaborate on new ideas. IBM decided to open ThinkPlace to the public for the first time to get a broader range of opinion before the Africa conferences.

“Even in this era of global development and commerce, more than four billion people live on less than $5 per day,” Mark Harris, general manager of IBM South Africa, says in a press release. “Philanthropy alone will not create opportunity. To drive economic development in Africa, the private and public sectors need to collaborate to help develop local economies.”

Questions IBM is asking the public to consider include:

— How can global businesses best partner with local enterprises, universities and governments to build a better platform for economic growth and competitiveness?

— What policy initiatives, infrastructure investments and development programs can advance Africa’s participation in the global economy? What specific opportunities are present in developing infrastructure for IT, communications, water and energy? What roles should microfinance and lending play?

— Where should the focus be? In which areas should business leaders, policy makers, educators, nonprofits and social entrepreneurs collaborate initially? What outcomes would best address the needs of those living in underserved communities and empower them to become financially self-sufficient?

— Are particular countries or regions in Africa emerging as bellwethers or key influencers for transformative innovation, and if so, why?

As of Tuesday, the ThinkPlace site on Africa had generated 17 ideas, mostly from IBM employees.

One submitter suggested enabling inexpensive and easy access to information in African academic circles. The poster said that despite “the digitization of the world’s knowledge base (by Google and other organizations),” African academics still find it expensive and difficult to access and share information.

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