Innocentive Challenge on Water and Climate Shocks

We live in an increasingly interconnected, interdependent, and complex world where the rapid exchange of goods, information, and ideas has brought opportunities and prosperity to many. Yet this increased interconnectivity has also given rise to a heightened vulnerability to systemic risks.

Skoll Global Threats Fund is partnering with Innocentive in a challenge to identify early indications of when a water or climatic event in one location, such as a flood, drought, or heatwave, may trigger direct and indirect impacts elsewhere in the world (for example: large scale migration, food insecurity, social unrest, infectious disease). This challenge:  “What are the ways in which we can identify early indications and/or patterns of complex events that can have triggering effects elsewhere in the world?” This project aims to contribute to an emerging field of big data and forecasting, and the proposed methodology would ideally allow for near-real time monitoring and a method for triggering alerts when early indications are identified.

We encourage you to look at the challenge and share widely within your networks.


Outcomes of the NYS 2100 Commission

In November 2012, Governor Cuomo of New York convened the NYS 2100 Commission in response to the recent severe weather events such as Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene, and Tropical Storm Lee.

The Commission was co-chaired by Judith Rodin, Rockefeller Foundation, and Felix G. Rohatyn, Special Advisor to the Chairman and CEO,Lazard Frères & Co. LLC. I was delighted to have been asked to be a commissioner.

The preliminary report focused on improving the strength and resilience of New York State’s Infrastructure. The Governor announced plans in the State of the State to implement and accelerate the development of more resilient critical infrastructure systems. The Governor will be reviewing the recommendations as part of the effort to help protect New York from future storms and natural disasters. The full report is located here.

The report highlights nine major cross-cutting recommendations relevant to multiple sectors and systems.

  • Enhance institutional coordination
  • Improve data, mapping, visualization, communication systems
  • Create new incentive programs to encourage resilient behaviors and reduce vulnerabilities
  • Expand education, job training and workforce development opportunities
  • Protect, upgrade, and strengthen existing systems
  • Rebuild smarter: ensure replacement with better options and alternatives
  • Encourage the use of green and natural infrastructure
  • Create shared equipment and resource reserves
  • Promote integrated planning and develop criteria for integrated decision-making for capital investments


Additional recommendations are categorized by different sectors: transportation, energy, land use, insurance, and infrastructure finance.


Skoll Global Threats Fund Joins U.S. Water Partnership

On World Water Day, the Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton launched a new partnership to improve water security. The U.S. Water Partnership is a public-private partnership formed to share U.S. knowledge, leverage and mobilize resources, and facilitate cross-sector partnerships to find solutions to improve water security around the world, particularly in countries most in need. In her remarks, the Secretary stated: “We believe this Water Partnership will help map out our route to a more water secure world: a world where no one dies from water-related diseases; where water does not impede social or economic development; and where no war is ever fought over water.”

The Skoll Global Threats Fund is proud to be a founding member of the Partnership. We will be working very closely with the partners to shape an initiative that focuses on water security and transboundary water management. The recently published Global Water Security Intelligence Community Assessment by the State Department’s National Intelligence Council may provide a framework to approach about water security as a global security challenge. The Secretary called the study “a landmark document that puts water security in its rightful place as part of national security… It’s not only about water, it is about security, peace, and prosperity.”

Click on photo to enlarge


Visualizing Groundwater Depletion

Even though about two billion of us use groundwater for drinking and cleaning, industrial processes and irrigating our crops every day, most of us aren’t aware that our groundwater resources are being severely depleted around the world.  Water professionals have struggled to get the message out to the public.

I have been fortunate enough to be part of the judging panel for a design competition to try and change this – to try and make the invisible substance of groundwater more visible. and HeadsUp teamed up to challenge design professionals to bring more attention to the sad state of our groundwater depletion.

All the judges were impressed with the caliber of entries. The winner, Richard Vijgen, was able to innovatively highlight seasonal trends of groundwater for the past decade AND long-term groundwater depletion trends around the world.

Thomson Reuters/Nasdaq has generously donated the billboard space in New York City’s Time Square to celebrate the next World Water Day on March 22, 2012. The display will run for one month. Be sure to watch for it! You can also watch it from afar via webcam starting on World Water Day.

A key challenge we had at the beginning of the contest was locating the right set of data to run the competition. Luckily, Leonard F. Konikow from the U.S. Geological Survey and Jay Famiglietti from the UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling, using NASA’s GRACE satellite, had just the right set of information. It has been a very interesting process to connect world-renowned scientists in the water field with design/advertising professionals to get an easier-to-digest groundwater message out to the general public.

So, is any one up for the challenge to bring similar competitions to other major cities in the US and around the world? Or have even better ideas of how to get the message across? Peggy Weil was a one-person tour de force in making this competition happen.  We hope there are others like Peggy who are interested in bringing this to Amman, Beijing, Delhi, Dubai, Mexico City, Sydney, or other places where the groundwater depletion story needs to be told.