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2020 Call for Code with the United Nations, IBM and RedHat

NearForm’s collaboration with the United Nations, IBM and RedHat to inspire developers to solve Water Sustainability issues.

In February, NearForm was invited to collaborate and design a starter kit for the 2020 Call for Code Challenge in Geneva . After a two-day design-led workshop, the cross-disciplinary team created starter kits to address energy sustainability, water sustainability and disaster resilience.

2020 Call for Code

Maria Masiar (UX expert and facilitator) and the team: Susan Malaika, John Walicki (IBM), Markus Eisele (Red Hat), Dave Paul Zervaas (UNDRR) and Antoine Marin (NearForm) Created in 2018 by the David Clark Cause with founding partner IBM, and in partnership with the United Nations Human Rights Council and The Linux Foundation, the Call for Code global initiative challenges developers to create practical digital solutions to some of the world’s most pressing humanitarian issues.

The 2019 Call for Code Global Prize was presented on 12 October to Team Prometeo at the United Nations headquarters in NYC. The team, which includes a nurse and a firefighter as well as software developers, was awarded the Call for Code grand prize of USD $200,000 for their work on Prometeo, an AI-based platform that monitors firefighter health and safety in real-time and over the long-term.

The 2020 Global Challenge invites developers and human rights experts to help halt and reverse the impact of Climate Change with open source technology. For the second year in a row, NearForm had the honor of joining the exclusive inaugural event at the United Nations Human Rights office in Palais Wilson, Geneva.

Getting involved

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Dave Paul Zervaas (UNDRR) and Antoine Marin (NearForm)

Dave Paul Zervaas (UNDRR) and Antoine Marin (NearForm)[/caption]

Thrilled by the opportunity, I raised my hand to succeed to Conor O'Neill's past participation . I was delighted at the opportunity to problem-solve humanitarian issues and drive positive change.

To kick off the project, we engaged in a two-day workshop comprised of typical design-thinking activities. These sessions included subject matter expert interviews, stakeholder and empathy mapping, storyboarding and developing the problem statement.

The goal of the starter kit is to encourage people to build technology-based solutions that can help accomplish UN Sustainable Development Goal #6 . My team’s assignment was on Water Sustainability. After listening to UN experts and reading about some of their reports (see links at the end), we decided to focus on helping farmers optimise their use of water and be more resilient in the face of natural disasters.


Climate change makes water availability less predictable, with increased occurrence of events like drought and flash floods. This causes farmers to reconsider the crops they use and how to protect their growth. Awareness and education of suitable crops, as well as their needs for a good yield, can help farmers make water-friendly choices.

About the starter kit

To achieve these goals, we proposed the creation of a framework of resources and software that will enable software developers to create solutions focused on water and irrigation for farmers affected by climate change around the world.

High-level Solution Architecture

  • The idea is to combine local and global data into one. We call it HyperLocal Farming Insights. The starter kit includes ideas and resources about the kind of data that can be leveraged.

Local Data

  • In order to collect data from the ground, a few options are available for the farmers and local agronomists:
    • SMS service to send key informations
    • Web applications to communicate state of the farm (flood, drought, soil status)
    • A mesh of connected devices across the parcels to share soil and weather data

Global Data

  • In terms of technology, aside from typical services like IBM Watson and Kubernetes, we discussed the use of GRAF: IBM Global High-Resolution Atmospheric Forecasting System. GRAF is a high-precision global weather model that updates hourly at a 3km resolution all around the globe.

The United Nations DRR is involved in many countries that suffer from Climate Change, so their network would be a great resource to access and help local farmers. One example is Costa Rica: the agriculture sector there is severely affected by natural disasters and the rapid climate change of the last decade. A partnership with universities would be an effective way to pilot test any approach.

What’s next

At the personal level, working on the 2020 Call for Code challenge has been an incredible and humbling experience. Everyone involved has shown such positive energy and is keen to build useful frameworks. I’d like to say a special thanks to the IBM team for organising the event and leading the project all the way.

Discussing the challenge of climate change with Dave Paul Zervaas, program manager at the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, was definitely my highlight of the week. Everyone we worked with was incredibly resourceful and helpful with getting real case scenarios and data in our hands.

I hope this little introduction has piqued your interest in the competition. The starter kit is now available for any developer and maker to develop a solution and join in the Call for Code. If you want to contribute, you can learn more here: You’re also welcome to contact me on LinkedIn if you want to learn more.

More readings around the subject:

Words into Action guidelines: Enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response Heavy rains contribute to Desert Locust crisis in East Africa Disasters displace more people than conflict and violence Using geospatial technology and Earth observations to monitor and forecast drought in Vietnam and address agricultural productivity impacts

Insight, imagination and expertly engineered solutions to accelerate and sustain progress.