IBM builds

IBM Corp. has extended its smarter planet vision to helping create a smarter funding mechanism in the form of a “YouTube-like” portal that connects non-profit charities with donors and potential supporters through videos, photos and stories.

The site, Community Knowledge Centre, developed by the Armonk, New York-based company in conjunction with the Toronto Community Foundation (TCF), takes a social media approach to usability where member organizations create profiles and post content to educate visitors and draw the attention of people who can fund initiatives that address key issues in the city.

“There’s the understanding that governments can’t solve all problems. Cities are growing. More people are moving in the cities. Cities have unique issues they need to address and people are at the core of those,” said Dave Robitaille, corporate citizenship and corporate affairs executive with IBM.

The aim of IBM’s smarter planet vision, introduced in 2009, is to use technology to bring efficiency and environmental consciousness to systems such as health care, roadways, power grids and food production.

The Community Knowledge Centre portal, currently in beta, already showcases about a hundred charities including Arts for Children and Youth, Davenport Perth Neighbourhood Centre, The Stop Community Food Centre, ArtReach Toronto, and Greenest City.

Rahul Bhardwaj, president and CEO of the TCF, said the decision to take a YouTube-like social media style to the portal made ample sense considering “we’re doing that in so many other facets in our life.”

Before such a portal, Bhardwaj said TCF depended on an annual print magazine to share stories of grant recipients with potential donors. But now, the site is able “to share the stories of these community organizations with a much broader audience.”

With 175 community foundations across Canada, Bhardwaj said the hope is that each foundation will have its own portal that ultimately link to a national platform.

But in the meantime, the Toronto portal will continue to function in beta for at least the following several months. In the meantime, IBM is working on additional functionality including enhancing the uploading process for member organizations.

One such member organization, Arts for Children and Youth, which works to empower marginalized young people through community-based activities, has already seen an increase in interest in the form of new partners and funders. The non-profit organization’s executive and artistic director Julie Frost said the site has opened up more diverse channels of communication.

“We don’t have to convince anybody. It’s already there. It also provides credibility for not-for-profits,” said Frost.

The sharing of videos, photos and stories for the purposes of drawing attention to worthy causes is “social media in action,” said Frost. “It’s a space where people can be part of the process that can really shape the city and address a lot of the issues.”

The site, 18 months in the making, was a pro bono project by IBM funded by a grant from the company’s corporate citizenship program. Robitaille said IBM’s smarter planet vision is very much a “conversation” that morphes and develops as new technologies and ideas present themselves.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau

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