This post was written by Diane Melley on behalf of the Case Foundation:

In our journey to Be Fearless and champion a fearless approach to tackling social challenges, the Case Foundation team will spotlight leading changemakers across sectors that have embraced fearlessness. Our spotlights will provide personal accounts of why these changemakers adopted a fearless approach, how they overcame hurdles, and how taking risks, being bold, and failing forward led to quicker results and deeper impact.

This week, Diane Melley, Director of Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs at IBM, is our guest blogger for Fearless Focus. IBM has been a fearless company since its founding 100 years ago – in society and in the ways it has innovated. From providing equal pay for women in 1935, and then-President Thomas Watson taking a bold stand against segregation in the American South in 1956, to being one of the first American companies to include sexual orientation as part of its nondiscrimination policies in 1984, IBM has consistently set the bar for responsible business practices. IBM has also led in product and service innovation. It holds more patents than any other American company, and many of its inventions and ideas have changed the world: electronic tabulating machines, bar codes, e-business and cloud computing, and of course Watson, the computer that won at Jeopardy. IBM is again leading by example through its pro bono programs, which have provided more than $250 million worth of skills-based services from its employees to nonprofits all over the world.

First, I want to congratulate the Case Foundation on 15 years of innovation and bold action. The organization has provided extraordinary leadership while tackling some of the thorniest issues in the US and around the globe. Whether experimenting with new models and partnerships to create sustainable solutions, or leveraging technology to empower social entrepreneurs, Case has provided a true example of acting fearlessly.

To me, being fearless in approaching social challenges means being willing to step out of the safety of the crowd and go into uncharted territory. Attempting new approaches often means being willing to stand alone, at least initially. And while we at IBM are not afraid of being outside of the pack, our accomplishments – certainly those on the Corporate Citizenship front – are largely in part thanks to the partnership of both the public and private sector. Many of our programs, such as Supplier Connection and P-TECH, would not be possible without the support of our outstanding partners.

Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs at IBM has acted fearlessly over the past several decades, being willing to completely transform itself as an organization.  Historically, the IBM Foundation looked to donate cash to local causes. During the past 10 years, under the aggressive leadership of our Vice President Stan Litow, we have undertaken a substantial shift, broadening our portfolio to align more closely with the strategy of IBM. For example, when our Smarter Cities strategy was announced, we fused the idea of IBM’s business strategy to our citizenship strategy. We looked at how we could assist cities and municipalities from a social perspective. While we will always be interested in education and workforce development, especially as it pertains to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) curriculum, we are now much more willing to look across IBM for opportunities where we can leverage the expertise of our parent organization and our best asset – IBMers – in service to the communities where we live.

During our transformational journey, we learned many lessons: the importance of being strategic, thinking and planning for the long term, and engaging strong partners. To the first point, it is not enough to be reactionary – the best improvements are those that are thoughtful and deliberate. Second, whatever is created should not just be for the moment, but should be architected in a sustainable manner. Finally, in the social sector, partners are essential – so many of the issues we are trying to resolve are complex and multi-stakeholder – therefore we need to engage cross-sector in order to create and affect true change.

At IBM, we take risks because it is part of our heritage. Our founders and our culture encourage being visionary and at the forefront of what is possible, whether it was hiring our first black employee in 1899, a mere 34 years after the end of the Civil War, hiring our first female employee 20 years before women won the right to vote in the US, or in building Watson, the breakthough natural language Deep Q&A system in 2011. Our inspiration comes from our roots, and our hope is that each IBMer is inspired to act fearlessly and to take risks every day.

Learn more about IBM’s corporate responsibility programs here. Read more about our Be Fearless campaign. Know someone that we should spotlight for Fearless Focus? Let us know here in the comments or tell us on twitter @casefoundation using #befearless.