Tackling COVID with Technology – Great Minds for the Greater Good

Photo by AronPW on Unsplash

As a web designer and developer, I have never been so proud to work in technology and witness the positive impacts from efforts of engineers, developers, designers, entrepreneurs, small business owners, medical staff and other professionals on a global level, especially now.

In order to tackle current pandemic related issues such as forecasting data models, supporting the vulnerable, keeping small business afloat, community education, and PPE supply chain, numerous online collaborations are happening at light speed. From sleepless weekend hackathons to the living rooms of bleary-eyed geeks across the globe, it’s evident that adversity breeds creativity and innovation.

“Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is the first pandemic in human history where technology and social media are being used on a massive scale to keep people safe, productive and connected while being physically apart.” – WHO and INT Joint Statement

Some ideas are born from large NGOs such as the WHO (World Health Organization), while others are conceived by universities, corporations, former colleagues, friends or even married partners.

Here are just a few examples of projects that have taken off:

  • Neighborexpress.org – This tool powers local government programs to deliver essential items to vulnerable community members; created by a project team from the U.S. Digital Response (USDR), a 3,000-plus volunteer-run, non-partisan effort to help federal, state, and local governments meet the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Projectn95.com – An online tool helping healthcare workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis get the PPE, supplies, and services they desperately need – built by a rapid response non-profit organization.
  • Bailout.nyc – a group of friends who used to work at Venmo built this site to help support the staff of restaurants and stores that have been laid off during the pandemic
  • Covidactnow.org – Covid Act Now was founded by Max HendersonRep Jonathan Kreiss-TomkinsIgor Kofman, and Zack Rosen, with medical and policy guidance from Dr. Nirav Shah, to create a data-driven model that projects COVID infections, hospitalizations, and deaths across the United States, as well as model how public health interventions contain the spread of COVID.
  • Saveourfaves.org – Similar to bailout.nyc, this is a directory of Bay Area restaurants and coffee shops that offer online gift cards for purchase, to mobilize loyal customers and provide financial support for their favorite places in town, linking to staff donation sites, if available; started by Kaitlyn & Mike Krieger — a husband and wife duo in San Francisco. Read more
  • SupportLocal. – A website dedicated to supporting local businesses nationwide by offering links by city to purchase giftcards – allowing them to earn income and stay afloat during the pandemic; the platform is built by Gannett, a news media company.

As for hackathons, there are a number of well-known universities and organizations gathering minds from a variety of backgrounds to create innovative solutions. For instance, MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) is sponsoring the MIT COVID19 Challenge, a virtual hackathon (note that most hackathons were formerly face-to-face) hosting a series of challenges open to participants ages 13+ to create solutions to beat the pandemic crisis. The collaboration is facilitated via tools such as Zoom, Slack, WhatsApp and Google Drive. According to a recent press release, the first virtual hackathon which took place April 3-5 attracted an applicant pool of 96 countries from 49 states. The next event takes place May 1-3.

Another hackathon which aims to harness the minds of developers to build software solutions that drive social impact is the #BuildforCOVID19 hackathon.  An article in Modern Healthcare reports, “The World Health Organization and the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub—a not-for-profit research center funded by Dr. Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg’s Chan Zuckerberg Initiative—provided guidance for the hackathon that kicked off last week. That event included participants from Facebook, Microsoft Corp. and Twitter.”

And finally, the use of social media and telecommunications has been adopted by many leading organizations. Just two days ago, a joint statement from ITU and WHO announced a partnership that aims to send critical COVID info out to billions of people on their cell phones:

“The World Health Organization, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) with support from UNICEF are set to work with telecommunication companies to text people directly on their mobile phones with vital health messaging to help protect them from COVID-19. These text messages will reach billions of people that aren’t able to connect to the internet for information.”

In addition to reaching cell phones, here’s an example of social media platforms utilized by WHO to offer COVID-19 updates and public health advice for coronavirus protection: TwitterFacebookInstagramLinkedInTikTokPinterestSnapchatYouTube

It’s heartening to know that during this crisis, great minds are busy at work in the online space, safely collaborating and building solutions from a distance that have meaningful impact and solve global problems.

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