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IBM's 2020 Call for Code Global Challenge finalists taking on COVID-19 and climate change

Jerry Bowles Profile picture for user jbowles September 28, 2020
A competition for developers to use their mastery of new technologies to drive positive change across the world through code


As long as we're talking about Big Tech's good deeds, we should note that IBM is announcing the finalists for its annual Call for Code Challenge which it describes as a global movement among 400,000 (and growing annually)  developers in 179 nations to encourage them to build, refine, and deploy open source-powered solutions to some of the world's most pressing problems. 

The five-year $30 million global initiative was created in 2018 by the David Clark Cause and launched alongside founding partner IBM and their partner UN Human rights. In a telephone interview, Daniel Krook, CTO for IBM Code and Response and Call for Code, explained to me:

This is our third year and the goal is to have a yearly competition and multi-month competition around a major pressing humanitarian issue. The first year we focused on disaster resiliency-how do you handle long-term preparation and short-term preparation, real time response, and then build back better after a natural disaster or some other challenge, Last year we focused on finding solutions that include the health and well-being of folks and communities in the context of disasters. And this year, we focused on getting developers to train their skills on climate change and later Covid-19. 

The overall vision of Call for Code is to partner up experts around these particular issues, like the United Nations Disaster Risk Reduction Organization and the Linux Foundation, with innovative developers who can solve large problems with sustainable, open source projects. How can we raise awareness in a way that allows them to really make a difference?

The Call for Code Global Prize winner receives $200,000 and hands-on support from IBM, The Linux Foundation, and other partners to expand the open source community around their solution and to deploy their solution in areas of need.

To date, the Call for Code global competition has generated more than fifteen thousand solutions built using Red Hat OpenShift, IBM Cloud, IBM Watson, IBM Blockchain, data from The Weather Company, and APIs from ecosystem partners like HERE Technologies and IntelePeer.

Krook said the competition is judged on basically four weighted criteria:

The first is how complete is it right now?  How quickly can you put it to work if we recognize it and decided to put resources behind it? The second criteria is how effective is it?  Does it solve its intended problem?  How efficient is it? The third criteria is how usable is it?  The final criteria, which is very impotant, is kind of an X factor. How creative and innovative is the solution in terms of solving an intractable problem with a brand new approach?

This year's finalists are a fascinating assortment of solutions from both individuals and small teams:

Safe Queue  (North America) -  A community-driven mobile app that is intended to replace physical lines at shopping centers, small businesses, and polling places with on-demand virtual lines, to enable a safer way to manage entry during COVID-19. Said Krook:

This is an application from a single developer in Los Angeles. Basically, he took one of our starter kits to be familiar with the technology and  created a way for small business owners and their customers to safely socially distance when they come into an establishment.  People within 1000 ft of a store or business can browse and see what lines that can join and once they join that line the person managing the capacity of people in that store can see who's in line and alert them to come in when it's their turn.  

Agrolly (Asia Pacific) - Designed to support and connect small farmers around the world but particularly in emerging countries, where farms are suffering from reduced crop yields due to climate change.  Said Krook:  

This app was as built by a distributed team of developers hailing from Brazil, India, Mongolia, and Taiwan, who met at Pace University in New York City where they were basically hunkered down. It combines weather forecasts with crop requirements published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization to provide tailored information for each farmer by location, crop type, and the stage of growth.

SchoolListIt (North America) - Created by a working mother of three children in North Carolina, this app is designed to help families successfully manage schoolwork during the especially difficult circumstances surrounding COVID-19. SchoolListIt compiles information from the wide array of learning apps that teachers use and makes it easy for students or guardians to understand at a glance what assignments are due and when, while also building a digital community for parents. Said Krook:

I have younger children who have done distance learning but sometimes they forget or don't understand completely what work is expected of them.  What SchoolListIt does is help students, parents, and  communities understand the work that's expected of their students. It also has the potential to share resources for research or just background on a particular project that kids are supposed to be working on.

Business Buddy (Asia Pacific) - Created by a team of students in Australia at the University of Sydney, Business Buddy aims to provide a one-stop-shop that delivers personalized and responsive updates to small businesses to help them weather the financial impacts of COVID-19. Powered by IBM Watson Assistant, IBM Cloud Foundry, and IBM Cloudant, the solution helps determine businesses' eligibility for support from governmental programs, and guides them through the application process via an easy-access portal.  

These guys who have connections to the business world or finance and a deep understanding of how small businesses have been affected by the pandemic. In Australia, they also have connections with local government as well as other experts at the university system and what they did was find a way for small businesses to discover and learn about potential programs to help them stay financially solvent during the current tough times.

OffShip (North America) - OffShip is an browser plugin that educates consumers on the effect their online purchases have on the environment.  

OffShip was created by a team of developers in Canada and built on IBM Watson Assistant and IBM Cloud Foundry.  It provides shoppers with an estimate of the carbon dioxide footprint of each purchase they consider which in turn helps them consider alternatives or purchase and donate carbon offset credits.    

The Call for Code community includes the David Clark Cause, United Nations Human Rights Office, The Linux Foundation, United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Clinton Foundation and Clinton Global Initiative University, Cloud Native Computing Foundation, Verizon, Persistent Systems, Arrow Electronics, HERE Technologies, Ingram Micro, IntelePeer, Consumer Technology Association Foundation, World Bank, Caribbean Girls Hack, Kode with Klossy, World Institute on Disability, and many more.

My take

I've written about and worked with IBM for more than 30 years so maybe I'm a little prejudiced, but it remains for me the class act of Big Tech.  The company has a long history of driving tech for good, and Call for Code is another important part of that legacy.

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