In ancient Greece, citizens gathered in the agora, or place of assembly, to conduct business and also to give and hear speeches about the good and bad aspects of their society in an effort to influence reform. Today, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Latin America, such as El Agora and Nuestra Cordoba in Argentina, are dedicated to observing living conditions in their areas and making their observations available to those who will support positive change.
“These observatories select and publish life quality indicators about factors like housing or education, in each city, such as in Cordoba or Buenos Aires, and they serve as platforms in which groups of citizens can propose public policies, leveraging the management of the local mayors,” says Mario Bolo, IBM’s chief technologist in Argentina.
While different cities will face different challenges, there are still common issues like traffic congestion, adequate housing, and aging infrastructure. Alejandro Toscano, IBM’s manager of corporate citizenship and community affairs in Argentina, and others recognized that if NGO observatories throughout Latin America had a more efficient way to share information, best practices, and findings from their quality indicators, they would be in a better position to help address some of their cities’ most pressing needs.
The modern agora enables smarter cities
Alejandro, Mario, and other volunteers from IBM proceeded to identify a solution, as well as the NGO partners needed to participate. “We wanted the organizations to be more interconnected and to better use their data,” says Mario. “These are principles of a Smarter Planet, and through this we can improve the way our cities operate and function.”
The team’s answer to the technical challenge will be to implement LotusLive, a series of online office tools from IBM designed to improve collaboration. The project, known as Smarter and Sustainable Cities for Latin America, will include six cities in Argentina, and more than fifty in Latin America, including São Paulo, Bogotá, Lima, Cartagena, and Montevideo. In addition, the project will engage upwards of 250,000 citizens to participate in working groups—allowing the modern-day agora to transcend borders and distance. The aptly named El Agora organization will be the gateway to other social observatories in Argentina and the Latin American network, while the AVINA Foundation, an international philanthropic organization, will provide additional financing.
Acknowledging the potential positive impact on cities throughout Latin America, IBM awarded the project one of eleven Centennial Grants it is providing to support ventures that apply IBM’s Smarter Planet strategies to community service, and which can become a model for other volunteer engagements elsewhere.
“It makes me feel very good to give back to society at least a small part of what IBM has given to me throughout these years,” says Mario. “Being a technologist, it is personally very satisfying to see IBM's innovation used for the good and progress of people.”
IBM is marking its centennial year with a worldwide celebration of volunteer service. Throughout 2011, IBM invites everyone to join our global community of employees, retirees, families and friends as we support the communities where we work, live and learn together.