One Week in the Birthplace of Democracy

I was born in the largest democracy in the world and for the past 2 decades have been living in the oldest democracy. But it was only after landing in the Greek capital city of Athens last week did the word “democracy” (and so many other things we take for granted today) started to make sense. The concept of a democratic society, such as the one many countries in the world today enjoy, began in the Greek capital some 2500 years ago. The land of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle offers not only a richness of philosophy but the air is filled with an overwhelming sensation of art, culture, science and history. It is not by accident that the city of Athens is sometimes referred to as the cradle of Western civilization. Despite the glorious past, Athens realizes a need to make itself better for its citizens through innovation and technology  and it was thus chosen as one of the winners of the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge (SCC) earlier this year.

CSR & SCC background for the uninitiated

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is not a lip service in IBM. There are a vast range of programs that enable and encourage IBMers to contribute their talent to local communities in addition to donations and corporate grants. As part of one of IBM’s Global CSR initiative, a competition is held every year inviting city governments & mayors around the world to apply for grants in solving their most pressing problem. After a highly competitive selection process known as the Smarter cities challenge (SCC), a handful of cities are declared winners to which IBM then sends a handpicked team of highly experienced employees to work pro-bono for three weeks.  In short, we are helping to build sustainable, vibrant economies with strong public services, using strategy, process improvement, technology innovations, data & analytics.

 So why am I here?

The three week long SCC Athens assignment that I and five other IBM executives from around the globe (Una Du Noyer from UK, Angela Borrachero Mendibil, from Spain, Scott Neuman from the Czech Republic, Todd Appel, and Dean Philips from the US) are here for, acquires a monumental stature in wake of current state of affairs with the economy of Greece, the timing of the assignment and strategic significance of the issues today’s Athens faces from transportation, travel, tourism, parking and traffic. After studying and analyzing the issues in depth, we aim to come up with strategic roadmap and actionable recommendations to improve the quality of life in the historical and commercial city center by reducing traffic congestion and reclaiming public spaces.

Getting the vibe of the City and the Assignment

The smarter city challenges are designed to be intense “stay away from normal work and family” while immersing in the culture and issues of the subject city. To facilitate our cultural immersion, IBM Greece’s wonderful corporate citizenship manager Xenia Zoppa and her team have left no stone unturned. Here’s how:

  1. Choosing our place of stay: At first sight, across from our home for three weeks the Hotel Grande Bretagne near the Greek Parliament, in the fascinating and maddening metropolis of Athens, you only need to raise your eyes a couple hundred feet above the skyline to fall in love with the architectural perfection of majestic Acropolis. One of the seven wonders of the Ancient world, this iconic citadel represents everything the Athenians were and still aspire to be. The temple Parthenon dedicated to goddess of victory, Athena, with its honey-color marble columns rising from a massive limestone base is an awe- inspiring backdrop to have as the view for our breakfast every day.
    Acropolis

    Acropolis

    Walking with Dy Mayor of Athens

    Walking with Dy Mayor of Athens

  2. Experiential learning: Starting with a walking tour with the Deputy Mayor  A. Kafetzoppulous to a guided bus tour of the city on day one, we capped off the weekend with visit to the temple of Poseidon in south-east tip of Attica at the coastal town of Sounion on day 6 with immense opportunities to experience the Greek culture through experiential activities like iQuest Odyssey on day 7 and indulgences in  gastronomy in between all week long.
    Exciting Food options

    Exciting Food options

    SCC Athens Team at Sounion

    SCC Athens Team at Sounion

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  3. Combining History with our daily work: Our team’s first weekend in Athens coincided with the annual commemoration of historic run of the soldier Pheidippides from a battlefield at the site of the town of Marathon to Athens in 490 B.C., bringing news of a Greek victory over the Persians. Our gracious hosts from IBM Greece ensured we not only had a chance to view the Athens marathon finish in the Olympic Stadium but also adjusted our team activity schedule on Sunday to allow one of our team member Scott Neuman to run a 10K race in the Athens Marathon today. And Scott finished with his personal best record of under 48 minutes. Bravo!

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Meeting with Mayor at the SCC Athens Kick off

Meeting with Mayor at the SCC Athens Kick off

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Olympic Stadium - Marathon

Olympic Stadium – Marathon

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Onto Week 2

While my colleague Dean Philips wrote recently about “Checking in”, he forgot to mention how much interest our first week of work full of intense meetings and interviews post kickoff with city officials has generated both within the city, in traditional as well as in  social media.(examples  here & here) We have already had 20+ meetings covering nearly 75+ individuals in week one of our discovery phase and are about to begin our follow up meetings and analysis phase in week two.

Stay tuned for more. Meanwhile enjoy the pictures from team Athens so far and do not forget to share, like and comment below to show your interest.

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  1. Pingback: Call it Vision 6/6 or Strategy 2020 | Smarter Cities Challenge Team Blog