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As I mentioned in my last post, IBM and other companies recently sponsored the Ideagen Empowering Women and Girls 2030 Summit at the United Nations, and I was thrilled to be included. Ideagen Summits bring together companies, NGOs, trade associations, and public sector organizations to develop systemic solutions and strategic partnerships to advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. This recent summit addressed Goal 5, Gender Equality.

Ideagen poster

My head is still reeling from all the information, ideas, and calls to action from experts in healthcare, poverty, food, education, technology, refugee and forced displacement issues, sports, and girls who will be our future leaders. In this post I’ll focus on how IBM is advancing gender parity and the health and well-being of girls and women, and I’ll share more about what I’ve learned in future posts. Ideagen, like IBM, strives to leave no one behind when addressing the world’s most critical issues.

Joan Ruff from AARP set the tone for the day by asking us to imagine a world where men and women operate on a level playing field. Imagine how the lives of women and families around the globe would improve with this one change.

Going beyond corporate citizenship, with Jen Crozier

Jen Crozier serves as the President of the IBM International Foundation, a nonprofit organization that raises funds for a variety of social causes, including environment conservation, education, and community development. She also leads our Corporate Citizenship program, contributing technology and talent to help governments, nonprofits, and communities tackle some of the world’s most difficult societal challenges. If you ever get a chance to hear Jen speak, don’t miss it!

Jen Crozier at podium

Jen kicked things off by reminding us that in 1935, IBM founder Thomas J. Watson Sr. said “Men and women will do the same kind of work for equal pay. They will have the same treatment, the same responsibilities and the same opportunities for advancement.” She covered a broad range of programs that IBM has pioneered to advance the cause of women, including:

  • Education: In 2011, IBM launched P-TECH program, a grade 9-14 education program that leverages partnerships with corporations to connect high school to college and career. The program is currently active in 110 schools around the globe, with plans to expand in support of education in underdeveloped countries.
  • IBM Tech Re-Entry Program: The Society of Women Engineers and iRelaunch, the return-to-work experts, partnered to launch the STEM Re-Entry Task Force with seven founding member companies in the fall of 2015 to make rejoining the tech industry easier for skilled employees who have been out of the workforce. IBM designed a program that used the best of existing returnships and tailored it to the specifics of working in technology. We know that women leave the workforce for a variety of personal reasons, and we want to welcome them back.
  • Human trafficking: IBM is partnering with law enforcement and NGOs to develop a global, centralized incident reporting system that leverages data sharing and predictive analytics to see where trafficking is happening and where it is likely to happen next. Our Corporate Service Corps (which Jen created) has also developed an app for domestic workers to report exploitation.

  • Healthcare: The Watson Health team is improving health access in sub-Saharan Africa, where cervical cancer is a growing health crisis. We have deployed an IBM Health Corps on the ground to help transform access to cancer treatment.
  • SheCanStem: Girls who see women in STEM careers are more likely to go into those fields. Only 26% of technology professionals are female, and only 10% of executives in tech are women, but we have an increasing shortage of qualified programmers. IBM partnered with the Ad Council and other companies such as Google, Verizon, and Microsoft to showcase the achievements of female role models in tech.
  • Ethics of Artificial Intelligence: IBM is at the forefront of ensuring that our artificial intelligence systems are developed without bias. IBM has committed to basic principles of trust and transparency in our artificial intelligence development, and just this week launched the AI Fairness 360 open source project.

Predicting the next refugee crisis, with Rana Novack

Rana Novack is a first-generation Syrian American, offering owner of IBM’s Refugee & Migration Predictive Analytics Solution, and communications leader. She’s also a compelling storyteller and technologist, as you’ll hear in her TED Talk:

At the United Nations she shared the story of a young Czechoslovakian immigrant who ended up being the first female U.S. Secretary of State. She then told the story of her relatives still in Syria faced with the impossible choice of staying in an increasingly dangerous country or migrating to an unknown situation in another country. A country that might look down on them as refugees. She ended with the story of her cousin, a European immigrant now in college, who Rana learns so much from in their weekly calls.

Photo of Rana Novack

Rana realized that when it comes to refugees, the world is improvising. This lack of planning means that refugees are faced with impossible choices. Rana is working at IBM to develop technology to predict where the next refugee crisis might occur, and to put a plan in place to change how we support refugees. This work became the basis of IBM’s Refugee & Migration Predictive Analytics Solution, which will soon be open sourced for other developers to pick up and improve. Rana’s story brought home to me that you don’t have to be a developer to apply technology to solve the world’s most pressing issues. You do need a personal connection to the issue, a creative perspective, and the passion to make a change.

Innovation and technology for good, with Dr. Angel Diaz

Speaking of personal connection and a passion to change the world, Angel Diaz described his roots in Puerto Rico and how his family there are still recovering from the devastation after Hurricane Maria. Angel is IBM’s VP of Developer Technology and Advocacy. He leads our global hackathon for good, Call for Code, a five-year program harnessing the power of software developers to solve the world’s toughest issues. Our first challenge has been around disaster preparedness and relief. And as Jen Crozier mentioned, natural disasters affect women disproportionately.

The Call for Code initiative also aims to elevate the profession of software development, to showcase how coders can save lives with technology. This call for developers to use their power for social good will hopefully draw more women and girls to the profession and enable them to align their work with their passion and values.

My passion: Improving the well-being of women and girls

Many of the speakers, including Jen Crozier, credited their mothers as their role models who inspired them to push for change in the world. I feel the same — I carried a bit of my mom with me to the United Nations with a necklace, and felt her presence with me there as I listened to the powerful stories of how women are leading critical changes in the world.

Author's necklace

My dad was a lifetime IBMer, and he and my mom spent a sabbatical at Northern Arizona University in the 1990s to create a minority engineering program. They ended up staying five years, mainly supporting Native American and Hispanic students to keep them in the program. They were successful because they took a personal interest in each student and listened to their stories. My mom was not technical, but through the years I’ve seen how her superpowers of listening and caring made a difference in the lives of several Native American women, who in turn have become role models in their own communities.

I’m grateful to be a part of a company that continues to focus on the most critical issues facing our world and creates a work environment that lets each individual follow her passion and make a positive impact. By investing in programs like Ideagen, Call for Code, solutions to the refugee crisis, and others like them, we move the needle for girls and women around the globe.

IBM is proud to be the leading board organization co-hosting the United Nations Summit and leading the Call for Code event. We are also proud of our continued commitment to women and girls in STEM and working with our clients and partners towards achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 through collaborative innovation. Guided by our principles of impeccable client service delivered through the IBM Way, global citizenship, and diversity and inclusion, IBMers make a real difference with our clients. Each day, we strive to make a positive impact in the communities in which we live and work. Special thanks to Jen Crozier, President, IBM Foundation; Rana Novack, Communications, Wendy Heller and Cary Ellexson, Marketing, and Kim Smith, Vice President, IBM Global Business Services; and Dr. Angel Diaz for their commitment to and sponsorship of the Ideagen Summit.

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