IBM Pledges $30 Million for Techies to Fight Natural Disasters

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IBM Pledges $30 Million for Techies to Fight Natural Disasters

By ROBERT HACKETT May 30, 2018
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IBM is committing $30 million over five years to a global initiative aimed at addressing social challenges, like natural disaster relief, the company said.

The donation will, in part, fund an annual contest called “Call for Code” in which developers can win up to $200,000 for creating tools that solve problems involving humanitarian crises. This year, the competition seeks to get engineers building software that can help people respond to, or prepare for, environmental catastrophes.

IBM said it would award a first-place team introductions to venture capitalists, tech support, and potential corporate backing, for designing aid-related tech. Examples of possible prototypes include apps that track weather patterns or supplies to help improve disaster preparedness, or visual recognition tech that can help reunite displaced families in the aftermath of a calamity.

“We cannot attempt to prevent earthquakes from happening or prevent hurricanes from happening around the globe,” said Bob Lord, IBM’s chief digital officer, who dropped by Fortune’s offices to discuss the new program. “But what we can do is unleash our tools and other tools so developers can help geographic regions get prepared for those natural disasters that happen.”

IBM CEO Ginny Rommetty unveiled the philanthropic project at the VivaTech Conference in Paris last week. Submissions are open between now and Aug. 31, 2018, and winners are set to be selected in the fall. (Guidelines for the context are available here.)

IBM is partnering with Red Cross, the United Nations’ Human Rights Office, and the Linux Foundation, on the effort. The collaboration “is an excellent opportunity to explore how technology can play a role in addressing the needs of the most vulnerable populations,” said Laurent Sauveur, head of external relations of the United Nations Human Rights Office, in a statement.

IBM gets something out of the program, too. Aside from good will, the competition is designed to motivate developers to use IBM’s technologies, including Watson AI, IBM Blockchain, and IBM Cloud.

“We think by giving access to our tools we’re really going to help people and save communities and save lives,” Lord said. “We hope that, as we evolve the program year after year, that as society is dealing with problems, we’re going to help to tackle that with our cool technology.”