People of all backgrounds can sign up for the Call for Code, a United Nations Human Rights Office supported initiative to promote global humanitarian progress with practical applications built on open source–powered software.

It’s hard to believe that a full two years have passed since NearForm first got involved with Call for Code, in the UN building on Lake Geneva.

For those not familiar with it, Call for Code aims to drive immediate and lasting humanitarian progress around the world through the creation of practical applications built on open source–powered software.

I’ve been thinking about the IBM team that brings this together every year and the impact they have. Far too often, we allow ourselves to become immediately cynical as soon as we hear mentions of giant corporations such as IBM doing something positive. We assume it’s just some CSR box-ticking exercise and forget that inside every apparent monolith there are groups of deeply passionate people striving to make a difference in our world.

In this case, I’m talking about people like Bob Lord, Ruth Davis, Willie Tejada, Daniel Krook, Shari Chiara and Liz Klipp. They, along with other IBM teams, have now brought together over 400,000 people in 179 countries to take part in Call for Code.

As I said in the 2019 post:

I found myself deeply affected by the entire experience and I must congratulate Call for Code creator David Clark, IBM, the UNHCR, and all the other organisations for coming together in such a powerful and transformative way. I hope that I and NearForm can contribute even more in the future.

In 2020, I was so pleased that Antoine Marin from our design practice could represent us in Geneva. Antoine was able to bring his skills as a product designer to bear on the challenges around water sustainability.

Call for Code 2021

In 2021, we are back, albeit not in Geneva, and we are all just as passionate about contributing to this initiative. Working remotely in three distributed teams, our task this year was to develop starter kits around:

  1. Zero hunger
  2. Clean water and sanitation
  3. Responsible production and green consumption

The idea behind the starter kits is to help bootstrap people who want to get involved in Call for Code but may not have a specific idea to work on. By taking care of the ideation, initial research and outline architecture, we hope to onboard more people and to do so more quickly. NearForm has helped to craft these starter kits from the first year in 2019.

Responsible Production and Green Consumption

I was particularly happy to be assigned to the “Responsible Production and Green Consumption” team as it’s a topic that has been occupying more and more of my thinking, having switched to a plant-based diet in 2020 at the ripe old age of 51. I have also been a proponent of repairability for many years, as my children with their old franken-Nintendo-DSes can attest.

You can read all about our kit on the web-site and in the GitHub repo. In summary, it’s about creating a transparent and trustworthy platform for trading resources and knowledge, as well as providing access to a community of experts. This platform will enable producers and consumers to build and buy products in a sustainable way for our society — by reducing waste, increasing the use of recycled materials and improving the overall repairability of products.

From talking to the Subject Matter Experts and researching what was out there, we were surprised to find that everything in the recycling and reusability space is still very fragmented. There are lots of standards and standards bodies. There are some materials-trading platforms. There are quite a few aggregated datasets. There are many producers, consumers and repairers. But there is nothing bringing all the stakeholders together with the type of user experience that everyone expects in 2021.

Consumers are slowly but surely starting to demand that producers stop merely greenwashing and take practical steps towards reducing their environmental impact. It’s not just early exemplars like Patagonia doing this, you now have luxury brands like Kering releasing an interactive EP&L (Environmental P&L). Or Salomon releasing running shoes made from recycled/recyclable materials and only two materials in total. And with the EU making major efforts around repairability, even laggards will be forced to up their game.

A platform that enables any business to begin taking part in the circular economy and enables any consumer to find those brands that align with their values could be very powerful indeed.

The Team

One of the most exciting aspects of working on Call for Code is in connecting with people around the world on creating these kits. Just to give a flavour of global spread, our team involved:

  • Nicole Pitter Patterson, Co-founder and Director, Caribbean Girls Hack
  • Stijn Polfliet, Director, Developer Platform and Ecosystem, New Relic
  • Debjani Chatterjee, IBM Developer Advocate, Platform Development
  • Dipali Chatterjee, IBM Developer Advocate, IBM Cloud
  • Daniel Rodrigues, IBM Developer Advocate, Artificial Intelligence
  • Georges-Henri Moll, IBM Developer Advocate, Data Science
  • Atishay Abbhi, Disaster Risk Management Specialist, The World Bank
  • Niraj Swami, Conservation Technology Strategy and Enablement, The Nature Conservancy
  • Conor O’Neill, CPO, NearForm

From Ireland to Jamaica, Spain, India and on to Brazil, the US and beyond, we had a wonderful diversity of views and life experiences. And deftly pulling all of those views and experiences out of us was IBM’s Gabriele Crisman.

Getting involved

By any measure, Call for Code has been an amazing success. Having the United Nations Human Rights Office involved means that it’s not just groups of technologists devising utopian solutions to non-problems. The NGO Subject Matter Experts are critical to keeping it all very real.

If you’re reading this and thinking “That’s all great but I’m not a developer, I can’t get involved,” I have good news for you! It might be Call for Code but none of these projects can succeed and scale without designers, communicators, organisers and many other roles. So please, no matter what your background, sign up and join one of the many projects that will be kicked off in the coming weeks.

Don’t forget, the winning team in the Call for Code Global Challenge receives $200,000 and support from the IBM Service Corps, technical experts and ecosystem partners to incubate and deploy their idea.

NearForm and Open Source

NearForm has been making major contributions to Open Source projects like Node.js for nearly a decade. Our work on Covid Green brought that to the attention of many more people, and it’s very satisfying to see that some of our Open Source is also being used in these Call for Code Starter Kits.

Please feel free to reach out to me about anything mentioned above — and if you do take part in Call for Code, let us know on social media.

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