Rich Strangers

healthcorp feet small

United we stand. Alexandria, Virginia, May 2017

By Lynne Driscoll, Director – Intellectual Property, IBM

Bringing together several people from 5 different countries and cultures has certainly been an experiment worthy of a ‘Big Brother’ like television show environment. Myself along with others from the U.S., South Africa, Singapore, Mexico and Cameroon have been living in a shared rental house for the last three weeks in the beautiful and convenient ‘burb of Alexandria, Virginia area, just 10 miles south of Washington, DC.  A few of my housemates had never left their country before.

All of us were strangers, for the most part. Some prep phone calls and web conferences occurred prior to the start of the project, people jockeying to understand their role on the team, the project, and to simply understand the accents & to connect the voices we heard to the pictures we saw of our colleagues online and on the messaging application called WHATSAPP.  If you don’t know what is WHATSAPP, it’s more popular than a standard texting application worldwide because it uses internet and not cell data for message transmission therefore much more cost effective than what we blindly expect from our gluttonous US-based mobile data plans.  And it’s more fun.

Speaking of gluttony. While we were together in DC, one of our global team members wanted to get a ‘chalupa’ at Taco Bell. I groaned in agony over his request. Another wanted to visit this store they heard of called ‘Walmart’. I grimaced in disbelief. The rental house itself, where we were domiciled, was nearly 11,000 square feet with 8 bedrooms and 3 kitchens (crazy, I know, but good story to share in person over a margarita).  Is this what we want to share about America with our global colleagues? The infamous American excesses?

At the end of our three weeks together, what we really shared was an excess, or a plethora you would say, of true team work. We each brought our own wealth of skills and experience to take a loosely defined project, create a roadmap and turn it into a working system in record time.  We created (along with our NGO Partners) a working cancer treatment advisor tool, based upon IBM’s kick-ass Watson technology, that can rapidly help oncologists in select Sub-Saharan African countries find the right treatment based upon what is available in that country. Staying up late on most nights, we laughed, we coded, we negotiated, we argued, we ate, we drank and we focused. We used our riches to enrich each other…and more importantly… enrich the health and lives of those we will never meet.

At the start of this journey we were sequestered together as strangers to work on an IBM Health Corps community service project. It seemed like the start of a bad joke. 4 Americans, 1 Cameroonian, 2 South Africans, 1 Mexican and 1 Indian walk into a house….

We walk out tomorrow as rich friends. God bless everyone and my deepest appreciation to our employer IBM who exhibits support and leadership in making the world a better place.


One thought on “Rich Strangers

  1. Lynne,

    For years now I’ve been telling doctors and friends that one day we would be using Watson as you described. I am so pleased that you have helped make this a reality. This is indeed a meaningful contribution from the IBM corporation to mankind all because of people like you willing to say “yes” to the challenge and then giving of yourself to make it happen. Well done!


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