World Water Day caused a ripple effect last week with multiple campaigns drawing attention to global water issues. One campaign that caught our eye combined on-the-ground action with digital follow-through to address important water issues in South Africa.

Last Friday, IBM launched Water Watchers, an Android app and portal created in partnership with the South African city of Tshwane. The program makes it possible for town residents to take part in reporting water issues throughout the area. Water Watchers allows citizens to photograph and report infrastructure issues such as leaks, faulty pipes and conditions of water canals in real time. This information is then synthesized and sent to local municipalities, allowing regions to “visualize and prioritize improvements to city water infrastructure.” As the program rolls out nationally, IBM hopes that by turning every resident into a “citizen scientist,” municipalities will have a much more accurate and comprehensive picture of water issues as they arise. “[This] is exactly the kind of Big Data challenge IBM excels at solving,” says IBM South Africa Smarter Planet Executive Ahmed Simje in a recent interview.

Apps are certainly all the rage in CSR these days, with tools empowering consumer purchasing decisions in areas such as the environment and human rights. Recently, more companies are leveraging apps to help solve serious social problems, not only galvanizing citizens to take part in the process but also tapping into business core competencies. Xylem Inc.* is a leader in solving critical water issues, and for years has teamed up with global nonprofit Water For People to provide clean water to vulnerable communities, utilizing Water For People’s proprietary app to broadcast instant reports about the efficacy of water and sanitation projects. As the world of CSR continues to evolve, companies that are able to fuse social media and technology with their own unique assets are creating real impact and delivering authentic return not only for society, but for their business as well.

*Cone client


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