By Willie Tejada, GM and Chief Developer Advocate at IBM
There are about 23 million software developers in the world, with the talent, tools, and drive to take on the planet’s greatest challenges. That’s exciting, but also overwhelming. How do we collaborate to help direct that power to the most pressing needs? How do we harness the power of community and point it toward a movement? We believe three basic elements could help drive innovation and have a major impact: a focused problem statement, a starter kit to get participants up and running, and an inspirational example to help them reach the finish line.
Last year, we shared a problem statement and call to action through the inaugural Call for Code Global Challenge. We called on software developers to contribute their skills and time to focus on creating solutions to natural disasters — and they showed up in a big way. Developers from 156 nations built more than 2,500 applications to help communities prepare for and recover from natural disasters.
This year, we wanted to take the next step and accelerate innovation by offering developers a starting point. We were honored to work with experts from the United Nations Human Rights Office and the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction to determine challenge statements to natural disasters based on their decades of field experience and research. During a two-day hack in Geneva, we learned so much about the multidimensional impact that natural disasters have.
We’ve all seen video footage of the aftermath of natural disasters, with homes destroyed and streets flooded. But there are less visible effects both immediate and for months and years following a disaster. How can we rebuild infrastructure, prepare for and respond to floods, ensure equal access to aid and information, and incorporate human rights guidance as we design and implement responses?
The product of our "solution starter" hackathon was four starter kits that we’re sharing with the global developer community. Each kit focuses on one key challenge that was chosen in collaboration with humanitarian response experts, and includes diagrams, data sets, and suggested open source technologies that could be implemented in solutions. The kits are Building Back Better, Improving Flood and Drought Prevention and Response, Humanitarian Protection in Times of Disaster, and Accountability and Centrality of Protection for Affected Populations. These are four targeted plans just waiting to be developed. They have the potential to spawn new ideas and launch open technology solutions that help communities needing critical aid.
I had the opportunity to unveil the starter kits at the global event WeAreDevelopers in Berlin. In a panel discussion, "Open source answers to natural disaster challenges," I was joined by Laurent Sauveur, Chief of External Relations, UN Human Rights; Georgia Diamantopoulou, Innovation & Planning, Customer Operations F&M, OTE Group (part of Deutsche Telekom Group); and Enid Ibrahimov, Director Marketing Technology Consulting & Data Science, Wavemaker. Diamantopoulou, Sauveur, Ibrahimov, and I shared the starter kits with the audience of thousands of developers and invited them to join us in an effort to help save lives.
We have been honored and energized by the outpouring of support and participation from the developer community, and I feel a responsibility to offer them all the tools, answers, and inspiration I can to help them deliver a slate of groundbreaking innovations. I hope that last year’s Call for Code winner Project Owl, can serve as an example that fuels their drive. Project Owl is a combination software and hardware solution designed to help maintain critical operations and communications when a disaster hits, the power is cut, and mobile connectivity fails. Project Owl has piloted their technology with deployments on the ground in Puerto Rico and Houston earlier this year, and we’re excited to continue to work with developers worldwide to create and deploy open source technologies to help tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges.
This is an exciting moment for me and my team, getting to work so closely with fellow developers worldwide. We’ve hosted coding events in Berlin, Cairo, Geneva, Hanoi, Lima, Johannesburg, and Paris — among many others — and continue to be inspired by the growing community of developers who are committed to harnessing tech for good.
Want to join the movement? You don’t have to be a developer to answer the Call for Code. Virtually anyone from any discipline has skills needed to help turn great ideas into reality.
Visit https://developer.ibm.com/code-and-response/ to learn more about our starter kits, register for Call for Code, and spread the word.
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