Rob Katz

Big Blue Going to the BOP

IBM LogoIt’s been quiet here on NextBillion the last few days – not by design, but rather out of necessity. Al just returned from two weeks of travel throughout Asia, and met Tuesday and Wednesday here in DC with our partners at Intel and MicroVest. Meanwhile, Bill just returned from Dubai, and Julia’s currently in Toronto to present at the “Mobilizing the Private Sector for Global Health Development” conference.

And me? Well, compared to my colleagues, I’m boring – no passport needed for my recent trips to Manhattan (last week) and Armonk, New York (this week.) But that doesn’t mean the trips haven’t been interesting. I’ll blog backwards, starting with my most recent trip – 2 days at the IBM Learning Center in Armonk – and post later about my meetings in Manhattan last week with Acumen Fund (quick previous post here), JustMeans, and UNDP.The IBM meetings were great. First of all, they have amazing conference facilities, tucked in the woods adjacent to their corporate HQ. Everything is designed to foster collaboration, and collaborate I did. With whom? IBM has a relatively new team from across the company working on BOP projects. Not much can be said publicly about the team, per se, but some of their projects are in the public domain. Here’s a quick rundown.

ThinkPlace Challenge On Monday, May 7, IBM will open up its renowned internal innovation software (ThinkPlace) to the global web community. The occasion? An “innovation jam” about the BOP and Africa. It will be a unique event to say the least. The most recent IBM Innovation Jam – held last summer – brought together over 150,000 people who contributed 46,000 ideas. The best ten received $100 million in start-up financing ($10m each). Check out my post on Worldchanging for details.

The ThinkPlace challenge will be open to anyone and everyone to contribute ideas, comments, and context for a jam about Africa and BOP opportunities. This is a great opportunity to interact with folks from a major company who want to hear your ideas. Not only that, but Al Hammond and Stuart Hart are contributing “champion” articles to the site. There will be a nice mix of experts at the ThinkPlace – I’d encourage everyone interested in NextBillion to check it out. I’ll post details on how and when on Friday or Monday (kinks still being worked out behind the scenes at IBM).

Digital Me is “a secure, user-friendly service that simplifies storage, management and long-term access to the deluge of personal content that people accumulate” according to IBM. From a BOP angle, this is about identity establishment, and getting a foothold in the formal economy. A lot of good could come from this project — stay tuned.

Banking the Unbanked is about “enabling existing and new financial institutions to profitably provide basic banking services (checking, savings, payments, microlending) to often remote, inaccessible populations in fast-growing emerging markets.” Straightforward? Yes — lots of people are thinking about this. But few have the back-end resources and services experience of IBM. This could really be transformative – especially if they can link secure ID into banking the unbanked. Now THAT would be very cool.

It’s also worth noting that I wasn’t the only external participant at this meeting. Mark Milstein of the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise (Cornell), BOP Learning Lab, and BOP Protocol was there. He spoke about the emerging network of BOP Learning Labs worldwide and how their research in the CSGE is moving things forward in the BOP space. If you’re not already keyed into Cornell, you need to be.

The other external speakers were Omer Imtiazudin, who is the Health Portfolio Manager for Acumen Fund, and Linda Hill, a leadership guru at Harvard Business School. Linda’s research associate, Emily Stecker, also attended, and had some great insights during the 2-day meeting.

In any case, it was great to roll up my sleeves with Big Blue for a couple of days. Stay tuned for more info on the ThinkPlace Challenge // Innovation Jam, as well as details (when they become available) on the BOP group, Digital Me, and Banking the Unbanked.