The Geneva Challenge 2018: Finalists

2018 Advancing Development Goals International Contest for students


The 2018 edition of the contest addresses the challenges of climate change. The five finalist teams, one per continent, will publicly defend their projects on Tuesday 27 November from 14:00 to 16:30 in front of the Jury members chaired by Ambassador Jenö Staehelin. The Jury will then deliberate and announce its decision at the Award Ceremony, which will take place at 18:30.


A Step towards Sustainable Ecology: Green Urbanization' from Bangladesh


The Team from Asia ¦ BRAC University


Sachina Paudel.jpg  

Sachina Paudel is undertaking a Master of Public Health at BRAC James P Grant School of Public Health, Bangladesh. She is from Nepal. She completed Bachelor in Public Health from Central Institute of Science and Technology, Pokhara University in Nepal. She had almost 3 year experiences as a public health professional in the field of emergency nutrition, tuberculosis, Community Based - Integrated Management of Neonatal and Childhood Illness, family planning, and women’s health in Nepal for different INGOs and NGOs. As a part of her master’s thesis, she is currently researching the effects of workplace stress on productivity among the employees of Pharmaceutical companies in Bangladesh.

Salman Khan Promon.jpg  

Salman Khan Promon is currently a Master student in Biotechnology at BRAC University. He completed undergraduate in Biotechnology from the same university. In addition to his graduate study, he is also working as the Manager of Operations at Beyond Innovations and Technologies Ltd. He has published several scientific articles and presented his works in several national and international conferences. Mr. Promon is one of the co-founders of ‘BioBangla’, a nonprofit organization in Bangladesh which is working on making biological research and bio-hacking available for the society. He is also very fascinated by research and willing to promote community science education for social benefits by the organization “Mechamind” founded by himself.

Shagoofa Rakhshanda.jpg  

Shagoofa Rakhshanda is currently undertaking her Master in Public Health from BRAC James P. Grant School of Public Health. She completed her Bachelor and Master degrees in Biotechnology from BRAC University. As a part of her master’s thesis, she is currently researching on menstrual hygiene management among the adolescent girls living in Rohingya refugee camps in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Her future interest is in using knowledge in Biotechnology to promote public health using bioinformatics as a tool in the mitigation of public health issues that continuously arise in a developing country like Bangladesh.

Syed Hassan Imtiaz.jpg   Syed Hassan Imtiaz is currently pursuing his Master in Public Health from BRAC James P. Grant School f Public Health. He completed a Bachelor and a Master on Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology from the University of Dhaka. He hosted a television science program for three years. He has experience in wet-lab. He has research experience on identifying SNPs, laboratory screening of GM foods and currently researching on palliative care in Bangladesh as a part of his master’s thesis. In future, he wants to be a policy-maker on biotechnology in his country, Bangladesh.   


The project


Our proposed solution is a business model of urban plantation using a mobile application named ‘Shamol’ for providing a platform to encourage and assist Dhaka city residents for rooftop gardening, the most available alternative for plantation in urban area. Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh and one of the most densely populated cities in the world, is also experiencing the adverse effects of climate change. This proposed model aims to assist in increasing the greenery spaces in Dhaka city to address the problem of rising temperature due to the effect of greenhouse gases. Thus, attainment of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 11, 12 and 13 are targeted in this proposed project. 

‘Shamol’ is a Bengali word means ‘Green’. Our proposed mobile app ‘Shamol’ will offer a range of services - information about techniques of rooftop gardening, availability of seeds and accessories necessary for plantation in the nearest local market, technical assistance on day-to-day troubleshooting regarding growing vegetables and fruits in the rooftop gardens. A large group of people can easily access those services by installing ‘Shamol’ app and registering their rooftops to the larger network. There will be two service packages in the application with monetary benefits for both client and Shamol. In package 1, registered users can give their rooftop as rent to the Shamol where Shamol will produce vegetables and fruits according to market demand. Shamol will earn revenue by selling vegetables and fruits in the local market and the building owner will earn money from rent. In package 2, registered users can hire Shamol to do farming on their rooftops on behalf of them. Users will be responsible for use of the produced vegetables or fruits. They can either consume those or sell in the local market and earn money. Shamol will also link interested people with local marketplaces to sell their products. Thus, both the users and Shamol will get monetary benefits from enrolling to any package. In both packages, the ultimate purpose is to increase people’s participation in the urban plantation.

In addition, registered households will also be taught household waste management. Two different colored buckets will be provided to the enrolled households for disposing organic and inorganic households wastes separately. The household organic wastes can later be used in rooftop garden as fertilizer. A proper waste disposal mechanism will be arranged by systematic collaboration with municipalities of Dhaka.

Here urban plantation through rooftop gardening can be a potential step towards dropping the effect of climate change. This initiative will also eventually contribute in increasing food security by producing vegetables and fruits in the rooftops of the buildings. In addition, the waste management mechanism outlined in this project will contribute in reducing the production of methane from household organic wastes and thus making the city clean. Urban rooftop gardening holds the issue of space saving and plantation at the same time. Urban gardening will be a thriving issue in the upcoming generations where cities will construct the major part of the countries.



DASH - Data Analytics for Sustainable Herding


The Team from North America / Oceania ¦ Columbia University



Jessica Arnold is currently pursuing her Master of International Affairs degree at Columbia University, with a concentration in International Security Policy and specialization in United Nations Studies. Prior to graduate school, Jessica served in the African Affairs Directorate at the National Security Council at the White House, and helped coordinate U.S. Foreign Policy decisions with respect so sub-Saharan Africa. She has significant regional expertise in sub-Saharan Africa in regions including West, East, and the Horn, particularly related to national and international security dilemmas. Jessica is from Michigan, United States.


Alonso Flores is currently attending Columbia University for his Master of Public Administration degree, with a concentration in Economic and Political Development. Alonso worked as a Strategic Planning Advisor to the Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in Peru. He has five years of experience in strategy management, high-level political dialogue and technical advisory for sustainable development. Alonso has a proven track record and skills in promoting cross-sector partnerships among governments, multilateral organizations, private sector and civil society to advance the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Alonso is from Peru.


Nigora Isamiddinova is currently pursuing her Master of Public Administration in Development Practice degree with a specialization in Advanced Economic Analysis at Columbia University. Prior to graduate school, Nigora worked as a project manager and process engineer in the USA and France in the pharmaceutical industry, where she designed industrial manufacturing processes and oversaw the implementation phase of the projects. Nigora brings project management and process design skills as well as systems thinking approach to the team. She spent the summer of 2018 working in Dakar, Senegal, on facilitating access to finance using remote sensing technology for smallholder farmers. Nigora is from Tashkent, Uzbekistan.


Ji Qi is currently attending Columbia University for his Master of Public Administration in Development Practice degree. Previously, Ji was a Senior Investment Officer at the Asian Development Bank working with public and private companies on financing energy, water, municipal waste, and other environmental infrastructures. He brings significant skills in project and corporate finance, project planning, budgeting and financial management. Ji is from Beijing, China.


Nitasha Nair is currently pursuing her Master of Public Administration degree at Columbia University, with a concentration in Energy and Environment. Prior to joining Columbia, Nitasha worked as a Senior Communications Officer for International Water Management Institute (CGIAR). Nitasha brings over 8 years of experience in environment policy and management, research, marketing and Information Technology. She has worked with a diverse range of organizations from an international not-for-profit research organization, a government agency and a global technology firm. Nitasha is from Kerala, India.


The project


Data Analytics for Sustainable Herding (DASH) aims to map and analyze the changes in migration patterns, seasonality, and urban and agricultural development using data from satellites, mobile telecommunications, and GPS- enabled systems. In addition, DASH will produce a near real-time forecasting model using big data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) techniques to map the changes in climate and access to natural resources like water or grazing land to then anticipate areas of potential violent conflict between farmers and pastoralists in the Sahel.

The DASH user interface will be an online data visualization tool which is easy, open, and accessible, and would provide the user with location and time-specific climate, natural resources, service, and migration data, as well as conflict early warning alerts. This contextualized information can be used as the foundation to understand the interdependent nature of these complex multi-factorial relationships and to design effectively targeted programs, such as pastoralist extension and climate information services. DASH directly supports the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): No Poverty; Sustainable Cities and Communities; Climate Action; Life on Land; Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions; and Partnerships for the Goals.

We will pilot DASH in Senegal, one of West Africa’s politically stable anchors, because it represents, at a country-level, many of the trends that the Sahel is experiencing, including an uptick in migration, resource shortages, and high-risk areas. DASH will collect data including demographic data (human and cattle), transhumance routes, climate/meteorological information, land use and cover, grazing rights, flow and availability of groundwater and surface water, markets (livestock and agricultural), night time lights, anonymized mobile information (call detail records), health (human and animal) service points/level, and vegetation biomass.

DASH will disrupt the traditional approach to international development and public policy-making by unpacking the complexity of the modern-day herding, farming, and land-use nexus. DASH will not only aid in prevention of violent conflicts between herders and farmers, but also be used to (1) design pastoralist extension services; (2) anticipate and plan for resource constraints; and (3) adopt evidence and data-based policies. DASH can be utilized to design effective and relevant policies on local, national, and regional levels for better resource management. Our project will create a blueprint for utilizing big data and applying machine learning and AI for better policy-making under deep uncertainty.



Constructing reservoir dams in deglacierizing regions of the Nepalese Himalaya


The Team from Europe ¦ ETH Zürich



Dinesh Acharya is an M.Sc. student in Computational Science and Engineering at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zürich) with specialization in Robotics. He completed his undergraduate studies from Jacobs University Bremen, Germany in mathematics. He is interested in machine learning methods such as modeling and representation learning from spatio-temporal data. Dinesh has experience in working with generative models for videos and strongly believes that technological innovations should be leveraged to attain sustainable development.


Paribesh Pradhan has an M.Sc. in Physical Geography with a minor in Glaciology from the University of Zürich, Switzerland. He is presently pursuing a Master of Advanced Studies in Sustainable Water Resources at ETH Zürich. Paribesh has significant work experience in climate change adaptation and sustainable mountain development projects, having worked with the United Nations Environment Programme – Regional Resource Center for Asia Pacific (Thailand), International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (Nepal), and the Mountain Forum Secretariat (Peru). In 2012, he trekked from the east to west of the Nepal Himalayas to document the impact of climate change on mountain communities, and in 2016 he was part of the Antarctic Circumnavigation Expedition − Leg 0 organized by the Swiss Polar Institute.


Prabhat Joshi completed his Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering from Kathmandu University (Nepal) in 2015. After two years of work experience, he started his Master’s Degree in Environmental Engineering at ETH Zürich in 2017. He is specializing in Urban Water Management and is focusing his research on urban hydrology and drainage systems. Prabhat wants to bring low impact development (LID) strategies into the mainstream of urban drainage planning. He is also interested in investigating the impacts of climate change on drainage systems, and understanding how sudden and gradual increases in water flow affect the performance of the systems.


The project


Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time. The melting of glaciers and ice are the most palpable evidence of climate change in high mountains all around the world as they act as barometers of global warming. In the last few decades, many glacial lakes have emerged and expanded as a result of glacier retreat - a deglaciation process in high mountains. This is a cause for concern because glaciers have a special function in the environmental system. They play an important role in the hydrological cycle by acting as natural water reservoirs to regulate the flow of water into streams and rivers downstream during dry periods when there is no water available from snow melt and rain. Studies suggest that most of the high mountain glaciers will either disappear or drastically diminish in size and ice mass by the end of the 21st century, leaving a fragile deglaciated environment of bare bedrock, loose debris and steep slopes, sparse vegetation and a lot of lakes. Therefore, it is imperative to think how such environments can be managed and if there are ways to mimic the hydrological function of glaciers in the environmental system.

We propose an unconventional and provocative project where the hydrological function of glaciers in deglaciated high mountain environment is resuscitated by constructing reservoir dams, particularly where glacial lakes exist or areas where new glacial lakes can form in future. To meet the aim of this project, a series of actions is proposed, starting from detecting the changes in glacier mass and predicting its future evolution such as glacier retreat and formation of new glacial lakes. Machine learning algorithm is proposed to exploit the available time-series satellite data to predict depletion of glaciers. This will be complemented using remote sensing techniques to obtain information about glacier geometry, elevation, terminus positions, accumulation, and ablation rates, and the overall mass balance of the glacier. The core of this proposal is to develop a methodology based on machine learning algorithms and remote sensing techniques which will be used to construct a map that will show the most probable sites for field investigations and surveys to construct a reservoir dam. Thus, this proposal provides a technical basis to develop projects for reservoir dam construction in high mountains that can mimic the hydrological function of a glacier.

The complete project entails a climate smart approach that includes both mitigation measure and adaptive response - to build resilience among various stakeholders and local communities downstream. It further helps in managing the risks and uncertainties associated with climate change and turn its challenges into new opportunities. For the purpose of this contest, a pilot project of Koshi basin in the Nepalese Himalaya is considered as a case-study. The linkages and benefits of such approach to energy security, environmental sustainability, food security, agriculture, biodiversity, migration, displacement and disaster risks are discussed, as well as how it can address poverty alleviation and contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).



Maji Uhai - Rain Water Harvesting Solution for Arid and Semi Arid Lands


The Team from Africa ¦ Kenyatta University



Joyreen Wanyeki is a monitoring and evaluation expert possessing a wealth of knowledge in finance and programme management in development cooperation. She holds a Bachelor of Economics and Statistics, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and is currently pursuing a Master in Economics Cooperation & Human Development at Kenyatta University in Kenya.


Fenton Okoth is a Kenyan national with a rich bi-cultural background and focus on community collaborations. He has had several volunteer opportunities and community leadership roles. Fenton received his Bachelor of Economics and Statistics at Kenyatta University and currently pursuing a Master in Economics Cooperation & Human Development at Kenyatta University.


Mercy Nyakangi is a Master of Economics, Cooperation and Human Development (MECOHD) candidate at the Kenyatta University under the FAI Scholarship. She has a bachelor’s degree in Arts with an Economics major from Kenyatta University. Her current research focuses on women economic empowerment through women groups in Kenya. She has a passion for gender equality and creating safe spaces for all especially the girl child to ensure sustainable development in the rural poor areas in Kenya.

Thomas.png   Thomas Mbaru is a Bachelor of commerce-Finance Holder from the University of Nairobi, currently pursuing a Master in Economics Cooperation and Human Development from Kenyatta University. His passion in finance and small business management has seen him set up and preside over several community-based economic empowerment initiatives mostly in ASAL areas.
Lawrence.png   Lawrence Kinuthia is an MSc Applied Economics student at Kenyatta University, Nairobi Kenya. He holds a Bsc in Project Planning & Management from Moi University, Kenya. His current research interest is on housing access among the low-income earners in urban areas in Kenya – on which his dissertation is based on. Lawrence also has a deep interest in development and nurturing young talents more so in Music.


The project


Kenya has a land area measuring 580,728km2, 88% being Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs). According to the 2009 national census, ASALs support approximately 36% of the national population and account for 70% of the national livestock production. Annual rainfall in ASALs ranges between 150 mm and 850 mm with high temperatures during dry seasons.

ASALs also exhibit low values in Human Development Indicators with high levels of poverty, illiteracy, food insecurity, and mortality. Water availability and accessibility are the main constraints to achieving livelihood outcomes. The key coping strategy for people in these areas is mobility in search for food, water, and pasture for their animals.

Driven by the need to activate the potential of ASAL areas through water availability and accessibility, Maji Uhai Project, an innovative water harvesting, storage, and management solution was birthed. The name Maji Uhai is a Swahili phrase meaning Water is Life. The project seeks to contribute towards the widening of rainwater harvesting capacity in ASALs.

The project team together with the community will dig shallow wells, fit rainwater gutter systems, build a simplified water filtration system (gravel, sand, and biochar), install meters, and piping systems at every household and institution in the area. The institutions will receive 10,000-liter water tanks, while households will each receive a 5,000-liter tank and a domestic water purifier.

Water harvesting will be two way. First, is surface runoff that will be harvested, filtered and directed to a shallow well for domestic non-portable uses. Second, is roof catchment that will be directed to a tank and the excess water piped to the central reservoir through a meter and recorded on individual accounts.

At the center, the water will be filtered, stored, and converted into credit points known as Water Bongas. During dry spells, the water is made accessible to the community. Water access will be through a USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) system where households and institutions will redeem Water Bongas up to a pre-set level of liters per day. The USSD system will also allow individuals to top up cash to access more units as well as sell Water Bongas to other households or the center in exchange for ready cash.

The center will also have a surface runoff and rooftop collection system to increase water availability and earn revenue. Apart from water harvesting, the center will have resource facilities for community empowerment.

The project is expected to support efforts by the national and county governments towards attainment of SDG Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation by 2030. The projected improvement in water accessibility is expected to affect other human development priorities such as educational outcomes, food security, health, and economic empowerment in Kenya.



SEVI - Seed of Life


The Team from South America ¦ University of Buenos Aires


Sara Olguin Flores - SEVI..jpg  

Sara Olguin Flores, is an architect, graduated from the Juan Misael Saracho Autonomous University (U.A.J.M.S. - Tarija) in Bolivia. She is studying the specialization of landscape design and planning at the University of Buenos Aires (U.B.A.), in Argentina. Currently, she is working on architecture projects linked to the landscape and as a volunteer in social work related to the improvement of living spaces. Nature, landscape and ecology are her main interest in research and work.

Julieta Sicardi - SEVI.jpg  

Julieta Sicardi is a passionate about ecology, recycling and sustainability. She raises awareness among her family, friends and takes care every day of reducing her ecological footprint. She gradueted as architect from FADU, University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and is currently specializing in landscape planning in a postgraduate degree. She worked as technical assistant in the General Directorate of historical heritage at the Ministry of Culture and now in the Secretary of National transportation planning.

Laura_Yamakoshi - SEVI.jpg  

Laura Yamakoshi is an architect from the University of Buenos Aires. She is pursuing a postgraduate specialisation degree in Landscape Design. She currently works at an architectural firm developing residential projects in Buenos Aires. She has lived and worked in Argentina and Japan. Laura is passionate about nature and the development of a sustainable habitat, and she seeks to incorporate those issues to all aspects of her practice. She is involved, as part of her postgraduate thesis, in an ongoing project about the relationship between educational game activities and sustainable habitat in impoverished neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires.


The project


The main natural answer to climate change is, broadly said, “more trees”. Greater tree cover produces important mitigations, which will offer multiple benefits over time. Tree cover can help us mitigate climate change over a long period of time, as a well-kept tree may outlast more than a hundred years. Currently, we have alarming data on natural disasters and human depredation of our environment with the pretext of urbanization, commercialization and infrastructure improvement. One of the many consequences from these actions is deforestation; 15 thousand million trees disappear from our planet every year. This forces us to notice and reflect on the scale of the impending disaster and the uncertain future that awaits us provided we continue this kind of behavior. This is the reason why, our proposal focuses on trees and citizen’s awareness.

As an answer to this issue, we propose to include the project “Life Seed” (SEMILLA DE VIDA) in our countries educative models. The project intends to provide tree seeds to 3rd year Secondary School students (9th or 10th grade), with the goal of raising awareness through the own experience of taking care of the environment and the understanding of trees as living dynamic beings which are indispensable to our subsistence. As a motivating factor, and complimentary to the “Life Seed” project, we present the virtual pet SEVI. This app (Smartphone application) will follow the growth of a tree seed until it becomes an adult plant, of which care the students in the last tree years of secondary education will be responsible.

The virtual pet SEVI represents a seed which will grow and get stronger according to the care that each user provides; caring that should be applied on the real seed. All the care that a seed needs will be included in the platform of the application, but they will be reinforced by means of in-school workshops. SEVI is an instrument for following and monitoring, which intends to turn students in a main actor in the care and growth of a seed in a fun, dynamic, unique and enriching experience. Through this experience, students will acquire awareness and sensibility to our environmental behaviors.

This project intends not only to generate awareness, but also to create a sufficiently big bank of saplings to plant in demanding local areas or as a repository in the event of environmental disasters, such as forest fires.