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Photo: UN Women/Amanda Vard

Columbia University – UNICC Thinkathon

Team Agritech wins with its ozone-based disinfection system to address Disaster Preparedness and advance human welfare

Columbia University School of Professional Studies (SPS) and UNICC have collaborated to bring students and alumni together to advance human welfare, accelerate the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and confront the great challenges of our time in the first-ever Columbia University SPS – UNICC Thinkathon. Teams proposed solutions to three social challenges:

  • Gender equality: Using data and technology to address violence against women during and beyond COVID-19
  • Cyber security: Understanding risks that arise from our reliance on the Internet, focusing on regulatory, policymaking and/or technological solutions in areas of Artificial Intelligence, personal data, automatic decision making and victims of data breaches
  • Disaster preparedness: Reporting on the manner in which COVID-19 has impacted vulnerable populations, to inform solutions and strategic planning to recover and reverse deterioration trends.

A summer-long Thinkathon to advance human welfare

Seven teams have been working all summer on real-world solutions with live data, mentored by subject matter area experts from Columbia, the private sector and UN Agencies.

In June, 17 teams of 3 to 5 people submitted their proposals with a statement of interest, with answers to one of the three challenge prompts and optional supporting documents. Among the initial participants there were 45 Columbia University students or alumni from five different schools, with 38 external students or professionals. Up to ten countries on four continents were represented.

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A review committee studied the submissions and selected seven final teams that moved forward to the Thinkathon competition. These teams have been working throughout July and August together with expert university, private sector and UN mentors to refine their proposals and final presentations.

Three of the teams selected the Gender Equality challenge, two teams worked on the topic of Disaster Preparedness and the last two teams chose the Cybersecurity challenge. Mentors who provided guidance and support included:

  • Edna Chun, Lecturer, Human Capital Management Department, Columbia University
  • Shouryadipta Sarkar, Information Management Senior Specialist, UNDP
  • Shahryar Shaghaghi, Chief Technology Officer, Quantum Xchange
  • Tima Soni, Chief, Cyber Security Section, UNICC
  • Lizzette Soria, Women’s Policy Expert, Safe Cities, UN
  • Jay Kesavan, Data Science Expert and Partner, Bowery Software.

Final presentation and winners

On 24 August 2021, finalist teams had the opportunity to present their ideas in front of a global audience and a panel of preeminent judges, in a live event that featured initial remarks by Columbia University SPS Senior Associate Dean of Student Affairs Zelon Crawford and presentations from UNICC’s Chief of Data and Analytics Anusha Dandapani and Data Scientist Dishti Gurnani.

Then each team had five minutes for their final pitch, after an introduction by their mentors. The judges had the opportunity to ask follow-up questions. After long deliberation, UNICC’s Chief of Data Analytics Anusha Dandapani announced the winners.

Team Agritech was the first-place winner, receiving a $3,000 cash prize, with its solution of a newly-developed, sustainable, proprietary ozone-based disinfection delivery system to tackle the disaster preparedness challenge. The system addresses the matter of food loss and food safety by dramatically minimising the effect of malicious pathogens on agricultural products across the entire supply chain, while at the same time considerably increasing shelf life of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as seafood, meats and edibles greens.

Our unique ozone delivery system is designed extensively to be applied in the form of dry or wet methods determined by sensitivity, delicateness, fertility of the treated products.

Agritech Team

Logista Emergency Response was the runner-up. Their solution addressed the Disaster Preparedness challenge with a rapidly deployable and scalable field-based logistics system that gives emergency responders accurate, data-driven insights in order to make the right choices when time and resources are in demand. The cash prize for the runner-up team was $2,000.

The audience-chosen team was The Bulb, which was awarded a $1,000 cash prize for their Gender Equality solution of virtual networking against violence. The team proposed a virtual networking solution to eliminate all forms of discrimination and violence against women. Their solution contains two major networking platforms, a group chat using a popular communications app and a blog site.

The teams were evaluated for their clarity and innovation, the social impact of their solutions, the capital requirements and financial forecast, the viability, both operational and technical, feasibility and sustainability of the solution, as well as the presentation delivery. The panel included the following judges:

  • Pavan Pidugu, Chief Technology Officer, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation
  • Rodrigo Hernan Prado Cordova, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Primus AI, RPA
  • Reda Sadki, President, The Geneva Learning Foundation
  • Ursula Wynhoven, United Nations Representative, International Telecommunications Union
  • Friederike Schüür, Fellow, AI Ethics and Digital Governance, United Nations.

Solutions proposed by other teams were also great:

  • The SafeTeal team proposed an inter-sectional mobile app for gender-based violence prevention and response. The app is intended to engage across the educational space, advocacy circles and the healing space.
  • The Merakhi team also had a solution to the Gender Equality challenge, proposing a smart jewelry and education program.
  • The CV2 team proposed a global, encrypted communications platform to tackle one of the biggest challenges in the cyber security space, by collecting and dispersing information in a timely and secure manner
  • The World ID team proposed a distributed ledger Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) providing digital identity solutions designed to immutably protect sovereign, institutional, and citizen-level data and information, increasing scale and integrity in global information systems.

Thanks to this Thinkathon to advance human welfare, participants have been able to sharpen their critical thinking, problem-solving and communication skills. The challenges have heightened their awareness of global challenges, allowing them to build capacity and share knowledge, and work in collaboration with people with different perspectives.

ID2020/Holmes

New User Organization: ID2020 – Digital Identity Alliance

UNICC is pleased to announce that ID2020 has been accepted as a UNICC Privileged User Organization. UNICC’s Business Relationship Manager for ID2020 is Elena Sierra. 

ID2020 is coordinating funding for identity and channeling those funds toward high-impact projects, enabling diverse stakeholders – UN Agencies, NGOs, governments and enterprises – to pursue a coordinated approach that creates a pathway for efficient and responsible implementation at scale.

Since 2016, ID2020 has advocated for ethical, privacy-protecting approaches to digital ID. In 2018, ID2020 Alliance Partners, working in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), drafted a formal articulation of our perspective on ethical approaches to digital identity. The landmark ID2020 Alliance Manifesto lays out these shared principles and forms a starting point to guide the future of digital identity globally.

About ID2020

For the one in seven people globally who lacks a means to prove their identity, digital ID offers access to vital social services and enables them to exercise their rights as citizens and voters and participate in the modern economy. But doing digital ID right means protecting civil liberties and putting control over personal data back where it belongs in the hands of the individual.

Every day, we rely on a variety of forms of identification to go about our lives: our driver’s license, passport, work badge and building access cards, debit and credit cards, transit passes, and more.

But technology is evolving at a blinding pace and many of the transactions that require identification are today being conducted digitally. From e-passports to digital wallets, online banking to social media accounts, these new forms of digital ID allow us to travel, conduct business, access financial and health records, stay connected and much more.

While the move to digital ID has had many positive effects, it has been accompanied by countless challenges and setbacks, including large-scale data breaches affecting millions of people. Most of the current tools are archaic, insecure, lack appropriate privacy protections and commoditise our data. But that’s about to change and ID 2020 is leading the charge.

The ID2020 Alliance (UNICC has been a member since 2019) includes businesses, nonprofits, governments and individuals, working in collaboration to ensure that the future of digital identity is, indeed, #goodID. 

UNICC 107th Management Committee UN Geneva

UNICC 107th Management Committee Celebrates Earth Day and Girls in ICT Day with Briefings on Sustainability and Diversity Efforts

UNICC Updates Partners on Key Developments in Operations, Cyber Security, Finance, Business, Audits and Digital Transformation Areas

UNICC’s Management Committee (MC), the organization’s governance body, met virtually on Wednesday 21 and Thursday 22 April for the 107th session and the first of 2021. The MC is comprised of representatives from over 40 Partner Organizations and meets twice every year. This body shares responsibility with UNICC’s Director for key decisions, providing guidance for the organization’s strategic direction and approving the Centre’s budget, financial reports and service rates.

On Wednesday, the session covered statutory business, highlighting some of the key developments in the organization over the past six months, since the 106th Management Committee meeting. UNICC’s Director Sameer Chauhan informed attendees about the progress of several workstreams of the organization’s ongoing digital transformation and provided updates in the areas of operations, cyber security, finance, business and audits.

Growth was the watchword of the day, with a healthy financial outlook, new partners, an upcoming pipeline of projects and innovative technology services to support the needs of UNICC’s Clients and Partner Organizations. ‘We are listening’ and ‘we are responsive’ have been the organization’s refrain. To answer the question of how to maintain this organization’s growth, the answer was a resounding: Listen, anticipate needs of Clients and stay relevant.

On the second day of the 107th Management Committee, UNICC shared near-term initiatives and discussed with its Partners forward-looking digital trends where UNICC can add value. 

I thank all UNICC’s Partners for the active, interesting and positive board meeting and the healthy discussion about the opportunities and challenges with technology the UN system is facing.

Sameer Chauhan, Director, UNICC

One of the conversations focused on supporting hybrid conferencing events involving governing bodies and a second was related to the monitoring of accounts receivable, both topics proposed by MC members. The two other topics on the second day’s agenda were brought forward by UNICC. 

Coinciding with ITU’s International Girls in ICT Day, one of the sessions revolved around how to ensure UNICC has a diverse workforce. Partners were briefed on current initiatives for gender, diversity and inclusiveness in the digital business field, including HR gender balance efforts targeted at achieving UNICC’s goal to reach complete gender parity by 2028. 

Greening UNICC Initiatives

Thursday was Earth Day and UNICC celebrated this international milestone by sharing ongoing efforts to make UNICC a more sustainable organization. Milena Grecuccio, Chief of Staff and Chief of Corporate Services (OIC), and Marco Liuzzi, Chief, Operations Officer, explained that UNICC is currently concentrating its attention on green data centres and workspaces, where significant progress has already been made. The organization is establishing new goals for mapping a way forward.

In addition, UNICC has recently joined the UNEP Greening the Blue initiative with a staff focal point who will work with experts to collect data and define and report on UNICC’s environmental metrics as part of the Greening the Blue system.

The discussion on sustainability was well-received; UNICC will continue to brief Partners on this topic in the coming meetings.

MC Appoints New Chair

During the 107th Management Committee meeting, the MC members appointed a new Chair to serve during the next year. The incoming Chair, Fabrice Boudou, Director of IT Solutions Division at WTO, will steer the committee with continuing Vice Chair Anthony O’Mullane, Director of Operations Support Division at UN OICT. UNICC thanks the entire Management Committee and especially the outgoing Chair Enrica Porcari for her excellence guidance and steer, and extends a warm welcome to the incoming Chair Fabrice Boudou. 

Thank you UNICC for the work you do to be a true technology partner to all UN Agencies. It has been an honour to serve as Chair of the Management Committee.

Enrica Porcari, CIO and Director of Technology, WFP and outgoing Chair of the UNICC Management Committee

I am extremely excited for the months ahead and the opportunity to be part of the UNICC adventure alongside Sameer and the team. There is a need for more digital transformation in the UN to succeed in a digital world, and our organizations need UNICC for this.

Fabrice Boudou, Director of IT Solutions Division, WTO and Chair of the UNICC Management Committee

The UNICC Management Committee will meet again in the Fall for the second session of 2021. 

Screenshot of UNICC's 107th Management Committee Meeting
Photo: UNICC
Photo: UNCCD

United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) – New Partner Organization

Addressing desertification, land degradation and drought

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has been accepted as an UNICC Partner Organization.

UNCCD’s mandate issues from its Global Mechanism (GM), established under Article 21 of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), to assist countries in the mobilization of financial resources to implement the Convention and address desertification, land degradation and drought. As an operational arm of the Convention, the GM provides advisory services and works together with developing countries, private sector and donors to mobilize substantial resources for the implementation of UNCCD.

According to the UN and World Bank, 40 percent of the global population is affected by water scarcity, and by 2030, up to 700 million people could be displaced as a result.Some recent news from UNCCD and its leader, Executive Secreary Ibrahim Thiaw of Mauritania, can be viewed here: https://news.globallandscapesforum.org/36264/ibrahim-thiaw-desertified-lands/.

UNCCD (with FAO, UNFCCC and many others), contributes to the well-known Greet Green Wall of Africa. It’s just one example of the seartingly important work that they are doing across the world.

What is the Great Green Wall?

The Great Green Wall is a symbol of hope in the face of one of the biggest challenges of our time – desertification. Launched in 2007 by the African Union, this game-changing African-led initiative aims to restore Africa’s degraded landscapes and transform millions of lives in one of the world’s poorest regions, the Sahel. Once complete, the Wall will be the largest living structure on the planet – an 8,000 km natural wonder of the world stretching across the entire width of the continent.

The Great Green Wall is now being implemented in more than 20 countries across Africa and more than eight billion dollars have been mobilized and pledged for its support. The initiative brings together African countries and international partners, under the leadership of the African Union Commission and Pan-African Agency of the Great Green Wall.

Objectives

By 2030, the ambition of the initiative is to restore 100 million hectares of currently degraded land; sequester 250 million tons of carbon and create 10 million green jobs. This will support communities living along the Wall to:

  •     Grow fertile land, one of humanity’s most precious natural assets
  •     Grow economic opportunities for the world’s youngest population
  •     Grow food security for the millions that go hungry every day
  •     Grow climate resilience in a region where temperatures are rising faster than anywhere else on Earth
  •     Grow a wonder of the world spanning 8000 km across Africa.

Key Results

Since its launch in 2007, major progress has been made in restoring the fertility of Sahelian lands. Key examples include:

  •  Ethiopia: 15 million hectares of degraded land restored, land tenure security improved
  •  Senegal: 11.4 million trees planted, 25 000 hectares of degraded land restored
  •  Nigeria: 5 million hectares of degraded land restored and 20 000 jobs created
  •  Sudan: 2,000 hectares of land restored
  •  Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger: about 120 communities involved, a green belt created over more than 2,500 hectares of degraded and drylands, more than two million seeds and seedlings planted from fifty native species of trees.

How is the UNCCD supporting the initiative?

FLEUVE Project – The Local Environmental Coalition for a Green Union (2014–2018)

The Global Mechanism (GM) of the UNCCD implemented a flagship initiative under the Great Green Wall called FLEUVE. The project was financed by the European Commission in the amount of about seven million Euro and was implemented from 2014-19.

FLEUVE aimed at strengthening the capacities of local communities to help boost investments in land restoration and created employment opportunities or ‘green jobs. The project was driven by local people themselves to strengthen community resilience to land degradation, drought and climate variability.

Micro-investment projects were implemented under FLEUVE in 23 communities across five Sahel countries – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger and Senegal. The project was complemented by regional-level activities on capacity building and the dissemination of good practices on sustainable land management and innovative financing.

The Global Mechanism of the UNCCD is also supporting the development of sustainable value chains, where it is working with the private sector who guarantee purchase of dryland products in the Sahel. This leads to the creation of land-based jobs for thousands of rural women in the Sahel.