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Celebration of Service

Cash? Maybe. Sustainable healthcare and education? Definitely.


When first asked to give a cash donation to help purchase medical supplies for a hospital in Sierra Leone in West Africa, Gert Kroon, a manager for IBM Netherlands, was a little skeptical about whether his contribution would really make a difference. But after that initial conversation with IBM colleague Bouke van der Voet, Gert couldn’t stop thinking about the request and how he might do something that would be more sustainable.

“Since that moment, the roller coaster ride began,” explained Gert. With the help of Bouke and his wife, along with good friend Dr. Erdi Huizinga, a tropical medicine specialist in Sierra Leone, the small team created the Smarter Hospital Foundation and opted to partner with the Lion Heart Foundation, an established non-governmental organization (NGO) already working in Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world and has very limited healthcare and education. The hospitals and schools are almost fully dependent on financial and logistical support from Western countries and organizations.

The project started by this team will provide equipment for operating rooms, ambulances, laboratory and emergency room supplies, medicines, medical libraries, and educational material in three (and later more) hospitals in Sierra Leone. Medical experts on site in the hospitals helped create the inventory of needs and prioritized it to ensure the most effective use of limited project resources.

This project also is providing a digital patient registration system and IT infrastructure, along with support and training to ensure a sustainable health solution. After the delivery and implementation of the equipment, training will be given to ensure long term maintenance and proper usage. In addition, two local schools will be provided with IT equipment to help students build their IT knowledge and train for future careers.

The Smarter Hospital Foundation partner organization, Lion Heart, has a mission to work on the sustainable development of health care and education in Sierra Leone, thus helping the local economy. Their mission will be fulfilled when, over time, their services are no longer needed.

With the help of many IBM volunteers and friends working together, the Smarter Hospital Foundation has achieved much since its founding on June 1, 2011.

  • The Lion Heart Foundation was awarded a $10,000 IBM Catalyst Grant and the funds are being used to develop the digital patient registration solution. The grant will also be used to support sustainable local development without dependency on further external funding over time.
  • ABNAMRO, a large IBM outsourcing customer in the Netherlands, donated 65 computers and 15 printers, and volunteers prepared them for shipment to Africa.
  • On IBM’s Centennial Day of Service, volunteers organized an Ambulance Challenge to raise funds and make IBM aware of the goals of the Smarter Hospital Foundation.
  • The hotel CASA400 in Amsterdam started a fundraising drive allowing hotel guests to donate to the project via their hotel bills.
  • A join venture was started with Medic, an organization that provides medical goods and services to people in need in economically underdeveloped areas. The Smarter Hospital Foundation is using the knowledge and experience of Medic to transport medical equipment to Sierra Leone.
  • The team is in discussion with several companies aligned with IBM for additional fundraising, communication and advertising support.

Dr. Erdi Huizenga, Medical Officer in Sierra Leone and a board member of the Smarter Hospital Foundation, said, “Getting better equipment for our hospital – and especially our operating theater (operating room) – makes our work safer for the patients and easier for the staff. Using computers is still new here and the staff is excited about the challenge of implementing a patient registration system and getting ready for the future. We are making sure that the needed assistance is provided for the situation here. But, most of all, it a blessing to have enthusiastic people willing to support us – that will get you through a day when everything is not perfect.”

Gert Kroon added, “I’m very proud of the network I have inside and outside IBM that makes it possible to give the people of Sierra Leone better healthcare and the opportunity to develop an improved local labor market. My friends, family, colleagues, and people I did not know before, were there to support our volunteer project despite their normal busy lives.”

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.