People with purpose: Meet 5 IBM volunteers fighting climate change

By | 6 minute read | September 12, 2022

People can accomplish incredible things when they combine talent, skills, and passion with purpose. This is certainly the case for some particularly enthusiastic IBM volunteers bringing technology solutions to tackle environmental issues affecting the most vulnerable communities across the world.

Since IBM launched the IBM Sustainability Accelerator in February 2022, IBM volunteers across the world have been sharing their time, energy, and expertise for projects in the pro-bono program’s first cohort on sustainable agriculture. As these two-year projects have progressed with our first group of partners Texas A&M AgriLife, Deltares, The Nature Conservancy India, Heifer International and Plan21 Foundation, the program has offered IBM volunteers the opportunity to show and grow their professional experience while making an impact on the environment by tackling issues like droughts and pollution in water and air.

Meet some of the IBM Sustainability Accelerator volunteers.

 


Rob Wiesener digging a water storage pond near his home in The Netherlands that serves as water storage and a natural filter for cleaning wastewater.

Rob Wiesener

“The most pleasantly surprising part of this project with Deltares has been how much IBM volunteers ramped up so quickly with technical skills they needed to build the solution because of their high level of motivation.” – Rob Wiesener, IBM Consulting Netherlands Project Manager.

Rob Wiesener is an IBM Project Manager with IBM Consulting based in The Netherlands who applies his knowledge of water pollution, which he learned from building his own climate neutral house on a 17,760 square foot eco-friendly residential lot, to the “Nitrate App” in the IBM Sustainability Accelerator’s project with Deltares. His coordination of design, market research, and technical workstreams has enabled IBM to rapidly deliver actionable recommendations through the IBM Garage. Rob’s leadership has assisted the production of a technical roadmap that is now being implemented for the enhancement of Deltares’s Nitrate App to detect nitrate pollution in water and scale its usage in Europe.

 

Paola Simonetti preparing to present a design thinking workshop for entrepreneurs in Ecuador.

Paola Simonetti

“It has been amazing to see the excellent synergy between the partners involved in the Plan21 Sustainability Accelerator project with IBM. Plan21 brings strong expertise and community connections in agriculture across Latin America, and they are benefiting from the broad and deep technical expertise of IBMers participating in this project.” – Paola Simonetti, IBM Corporate Social Responsibility Project Manager and Consultant based in Argentina

Paola Simonetti is a Project Manager and Consultant with IBM Corporate Social Responsibility based in Argentina. A long-time 7-year and counting volunteer with the Plan21 Foundation for Sustainable Human Development, she identified an opportunity to leverage IBM technology and expertise to enhance an early-stage mobile application for measuring and communicating environmental footprints of agricultural produce that Plan21 was co-created with students from the Costa Rica Institute of Technology. In doing so, Paola has enabled IBM to support both environmental sustainability as well as valuable job skills development in Latin America. Her love of sustainable tourism to improve the environment and agriculture across Latin America has motivated her work with Plan21, and she is especially proud of how IBMers are playing a key role in mentoring Costa Rican university students with technical skills to deploy and scale an agritech platform, YVY, with IBM Cloud and the IBM Environmental Intelligence Suite.

 

IBM Research Scientist Fearghal O’Donncha at the Texas A&M AgriLife Blackland Research & Extension Center to test the deployment of the Liquid Prep app.

Fearghal O’Donncha

“One of the coolest aspects of working with Texas A&M AgriLife on this water for sustainable agriculture project was the ability to work on rapidly deploying solutions we developed in IBM Research to the real-world solutions.” – Fearghal O’Donncha, IBM Ireland Research Scientist

Fearghal O’Donncha is a Research Scientist with IBM Research based in Ireland and applies his background growing up on a small farm near the ocean to the IBM Sustainability Accelerator agriculture project with Texas A&M AgriLife. As a specialist in ocean modeling, he planned and is now co-leading an effort with Texas A&M AgriLife to leverage machine learning to enhance watershed insights. Fearghal’s scientific and technical expertise are enabling the integration of watershed scale situational awareness with local soil moisture readings to deliver “when to water” decision support to farmers in drought prone regions of the United States. During this summer, he worked with a team of interns to file for a U.S. patent for using machine learning to estimate soil moisture using neural networks.

 

Tyler Philips at his remote work station at home outside Toronto, Canada while volunteering to help Heifer International empower farmers in Malawi using technology.

Tyler Philips

“Throughout this project, I have been very inspired by the cause to end global hunger and poverty by helping these farmers in Malawi who are subject to the changing environmental conditions including extreme weather. I feel lucky to be part of this project, which is the proudest work I’ve done in my career so far to have a chance to work directly with farmers. It’s a privilege to hear directly about these farmers’ needs and hopes for using technology to help them be successful.” – Tyler Philips, IBM Canada Software Developer

Tyler Philips is a Developer with IBM Software based in Canada who is volunteering his technical skills to the Sustainability Accelerator project with Heifer International’s team in Malawi. He is one of the original co-creators of OpenHarvest, an open-source application for managing agricultural operations, which is being adapted for use by Heifer International in supporting smallholder farmers in Malawi. Tyler’s technical skills and collaboration with team members including Ryan Pereira, Jonathan Scialpi and Vess Natchev have enabled quick, agile delivery of a solution that extends access to agricultural insights (e.g., weather forecasts, inventory management, etc.) to users who often lack digital connectivity and/or literacy. He joined the IBM Sustainability Accelerator at his manager’s urging to build up his skills and network. He’s now working in the Heifer farmer advisory project using IBM Cloud, the IBM Environmental Intelligence Suite, and blockchain, and is encouraging other developers to contribute to the opensource elements of the project.

 

Premjit Balasundaram enjoying nature in his homeland of India.

Premjit Balasundaram

“What inspires me is the personal and social connection I have to this project with The Nature Conservancy India. Crop residue burning is a widely known issue in India. I am so proud to tell my parents, family, and friends about the impactful work I’m doing to help build a platform to address this important environmental issue with the help of technology.” – Premjit Balasundaram, IBM Consulting India Delivery Project Executive

Premjit Balasundaram is a Delivery Project Executive with IBM Consulting based in India. In support of The Nature Conservancy India, he has served as Project Manager during the development of a platform and application for tracking crop burning and providing information on more sustainable agricultural practices and related resources. Premjit’s coordination of software design, architecture, and development efforts delivered a solution being piloted this fall in India. In recognition of the team’s novel use of Tableau Public to manage and visualization data, IBM received Salesforce Tableau’s 2021 Data for Good Partner Award. In his work with The Nature Conservancy, Premjit is especially inspired by how he is contributing to improving Indian society and how he can apply the agriculture background he acquired from his work with the PMI Institute.


These five individuals are just some of the many IBM volunteers coming together to help support communities vulnerable to environmental threats around sustainable agriculture. A new group of IBM volunteers will be participating in the next cohort of the IBM Sustainability Accelerator that will focus on sustainable energy, with new partners to be announced later in 2022.