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IBM creates free sustainability accelerator for non-profits and NGOs

IBM has already conducted a pilot of the project with The Nature Conservancy India, Heifer International and Plan21.
Written by Jonathan Greig, Contributor

On Tuesday, IBM announced the launch of its Sustainability Accelerator, a free two-year program designed to help non-profit and government organizations working with populations vulnerable to climate change, pollution and extreme weather. 

IBM will be offering the groups a range of technological services -- including cloud and AI technology -- as well as teams of experts. 

"We believe that the power of science, technology and innovation can help tackle environmental issues while serving vulnerable communities exposed to environmental hazards," said Justina Nixon, a vice president at IBM. "By pairing expertise and technology with the goal of improving the lives of populations most affected by environmental threats, we have the potential to make lasting, scalable impact."

IBM broke down the program into two phases. The first will see groups start with getting insights from IBM Garage and other experts who will figure out what the organization needs. The second phase will see IBM deploy its Watson AI, IBM Cloud and the Environmental Intelligence Suite to push through the changes. Participants will also gain access to IBM's partner ecosystem, IBM Cloud credits and weather data credits. 

Pilot deployments that come out of the program will be supported by IBM experts, who will try to "facilitate optimal implementation" in order to scale long-term impact. 

IBM said it will choose organizations to join each cohort based on a yearly "theme," which will be "clean energy" this year. Organizations interested in applying have until April 30 to submit their application

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Nixon told ZDNet that the company has already conducted a pilot project with three organizations -- The Nature Conservancy India, Heifer International and Plan21 Foundation for Sustainable Human Development -- that began last year and finished phase 1 in December. The organizations have designed the roadmaps that will improve technology and scale solutions.

"While the challenges and benefits are different for each organization, the goal is the same: to use a wide array of tools, technologies, and expertise to enhance and scale the solutions of these organizations. By uniting experts and technology, IBM wants to scale and speed up solutions for helping underrepresented communities most devastated by environmental threats," Nixon said.

The Nature Conservancy India is in the process of building a public information platform to help eliminate crop residue burning in North India in furtherance of their goal to improve agricultural sustainability public health and help reduce climate change impact in India.

Heifer International is working with IBM to develop scalable and affordable digital solutions designed to equip farmers' cooperatives in Malawi with weather and crop yield forecasts to help increase their yields and incomes.

Plan21 is helping smallholder farmers in Latin America manage their crops more sustainably -- with the goal of increasing their productivity and income and contributing to consumer awareness and the development of more responsible markets.

Fabián Román, president of Plan21 Foundation, said the organization appreciated IBM's user-centered design thinking approach through the IBM Garage that considered the realities of their program beneficiaries on the ground.

The organization needs user-friendly technological tools that farmers can use, considering their own realities, work contexts and needs, and IBM is helping them build tools with this in mind, Román said. 

Heifer Malawi innovations lead Elizabeth Magombo-Kabaghe added that IBM is helping them support smallholder farmers as they leverage digital tools to reach sustainable living income.

"Through collaborations in Malawi and Honduras, Heifer International and IBM are supporting smallholder farmers to bridge the digital divide," Magombo-Kabaghe said. "Our work will increase productivity, market access and livelihoods for the farmers and rural communities who feed the world."  

Manoj Singh, head of the Crop Residue Management project at The Nature Conservancy India, told ZDNet that they are looking forward to continuing their work with IBM because of the impressive network of subject matter experts and technology they provide.

Singh said in the initial development phase; they focused on building a customized online interactive hub centralizing access to crop burning data, how farmers and communities can get access to sustainable agriculture technology, and the impact of such interventions.

Crop residue burning can have dire impacts for human and soil health, so the platform will help address both social and environmental vulnerabilities, Singh explained. 

"Our collaboration is another stride towards a no burn agriculture system that will ensure that nature and people thrive. We are excited about the impact of this important work together," Singh said. 

Nixon noted that studies have shown up to 70% of existing digital transformation projects fail to meet their objectives, affecting their ability to deploy solutions and scale their operations to have a sustained or greater positive impact.

"We believe that technology has the potential to transform lives when directed with purpose. That's why we've designed this program to have a bigger, long-term sustainable societal impact with the power of science and environmental technology with hybrid cloud and AI. In that space, IBM provides -- through the IBM Sustainability Accelerator and its entire ecosystem -- the means for organizations to build needed capacities and meet their goals," Nixon said. 

"Nixon: The world's poorest populations often depend on favorable environmental conditions for agriculture and farming for their livelihoods and can face economic devastation with weather events such as droughts or floods that have long-term impact on health and education. The plight of these vulnerable communities worsens without funding, technical skills, and access to reliable sources of energy and electricity, nor the tools that manage data, and the ability to meet reporting needs of partners and donors."

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