On Pivoting a Global Hackathon to Tackle the Pandemic

How IBM’s Call for Code, in it’s Third Year, Will Now Address COVID-19 in Addition to Climate Change.


In partnership with the United Nations and The Linux Foundation, IBM and the David Clark Cause launched the third annual Call for Code Global Challenge just as the Novel Coronavirus pandemic was shocking the world. As anyone who spends over a year planning a multi-national event will tell you, it’s no easy task changing the nature of this challenge to shift the focus from solely climate change to solve immediate crises caused by COVID-19. In 2018 Call for Code drew 100k participants from 156 countries, and it beat those numbers in 2019 with 190k participants from 165 countries. The goal of the Call for Code challenge is to use open source technology on the cloud to take advantage of artificial intelligence, data science, IoT, and platform development in making an immediate impact in our response to disaster. Our hope for this new COVID-19 portion of the competition is that the solutions built will provide crisis communication, remote education, and community cooperation.

Image sourced from IBM’s response to COVID-19.

In our efforts to build immediate solutions to provide urgent aide to address the global pandemic, we’ve decided to accept early submissions for the COVID-19 solutions by April 27th. The top three solutions to address COVID-19 submitted by April 27th will be announced at IBM THINK on May 5, 2020, which has pivoted from the physical venue in San Francisco to a FREE digital event experience. You can register for IBM THINK now. The top 3 submissions announced at IBM THINK will receive an immediate assignment of IBM mentors to quickly get the application deployment ready. IBM, in partnership with the IBM Service Corps, Charitable Partner the United Nations Human Rights, Program Affiliate The Linux Foundation and Creator David Clark Cause will also identify and facilitate the engagement of organizations that can use your solution. If your COVID-19 solution isn’t chosen at THINK you can continue working on it through the global deadline of July 31, 2020.

“We are at a critical point in the global response to COVID-19 — we need everyone to get involved in this massive effort to keep the world safe,” says Dr. Tedros Adhonom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

To help jump-start your COVID-19 solution, we’ve created starter kits that explain the scope of the problem in the three focus areas — crisis communications, remote education and community cooperation. Using these starter kits you can begin building applications tied to easy-to-understand use cases in a matter of minutes.

We’ve made Starter kits to help you tackle COVID-19 which are focused on crisis communications, remote education, and community cooperation.

If your idea includes the need for open data or open source deep learning models, feel free to take a look at the Data Asset eXchange (DAX) and the Model Asset eXchange (MAX.) They are both curated and maintained by my team here at IBM’s Center for Open Source Data and Ai Technologies.

Call for Code differs from other “technology-for-good” competitions in that we invest time and effort to deploy winning solutions through Code and Response. While the chance to win $200k is nothing to sneeze at, this competition isn’t just about the money. Winning projects get support for open sourcing their project through The Linux Foundation. IBM provides access to mentors and potential investors to make the project a reality. You can get help getting started from me and my co-workers directly by joining the Call for Code public slack organization.

The IBM Developer podcast recently hosted John Walicki to discuss who can get involved with Call for Code and how Call for Code hopes to address the global pandemic.

Learn more about IBM’s response to COVID-19 at a macro level, which could help to inspire ideas for your own technical solutions to address the societal impacts of the pandemic through your Call for Code submissions. Aside from submitting to Call for Code, even your computer can help power research through donating your idle processing power to help scientists find treatments for COVID-19 with OpenPandemics.