The Geneva Challenge 2018

2018 Advancing Development Goals International Contest for students

Award Ceremony of the Geneva Challenge 2018

2018 Advancing Development Goals International Contest for students

The 2018 edition of the contest addressed the challenges of climate change. The five finalist teams, one per continent, publicly defended their projects on 27 November in front of a jury chaired by Ambassador Jenö Staehelin and composed of Janet Peace, Florian Schatz, Maria Luisa Silva and Masao Takahashi. Ambassador Jenö Staehelin and Mrs Nane Annan presented the prizes to the teams:

In 2018, 336 teams composed of 1,284 graduate students from 101 different nationalities registered to take part in the Geneva Challenge.  66 project entries were submitted by 259 students from teams hailing from all over the world.

Columbia University Team Wins 2018 Geneva Challenge on Climate Change

2018 Geneva Challenge Winner: DASH – Data Analytics for Sustainable Herding

First prize

DASH - Data Analytics for Sustainable Herding

Mobility is a central component to the pastoralist economy, which, together with agriculture, account for 90% of Sahel’s GDP. Historically, mobility has made pastoralists resilient to harsh climate. However, increasing Climate-variability, population growth and agricultural expansion have resulted in an intensified competition between farmers and herders over limited resources leading to violent conflicts.

Their solution - Data Analytics for Sustainable Herding (DASH) - aims to improve climate adaptation capacities and secure the livelihoods of increasingly vulnerable pastoralists. DASH will do it by deciphering complex interactions between climate change, human mobility and violent conflict in 3 ways:

  • By mapping and visualizing the changes over time in climate, migration patterns, and natural resource use;
  • By mapping the conflicts and analyzing the drivers;
  • By producing a near real-time prediction model of natural resource shortages and potential violent conflict using machine learning.

DASH will create a blueprint for applying data analytics and Artificial Intelligence for better policy-making under deep uncertainty.

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.


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.


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.

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2018 Geneva Challenge Finalist: Green Urbanization from Bangladesh

Second Prize ex aequo

A Step towards Sustainable Ecology: Green Urbanization from Bangladesh

Their proposed solution is a business model of urban plantation using a mobile application named ‘Shamol’, a platform to encourage and assist Dhaka city residents in 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 green 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.

The Team from Asia: BRAC University


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.   


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 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 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.

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2018 Geneva Challenge Finalist: Constructing reservoir dams in deglacierizing regions

Second Prize ex aequo

Constructing reservoir dams in deglacierizing regions of the Nepalese Himalaya

Glaciers act as natural water reservoirs. In high mountains, the rapid melting of these glaciers is one of the most visible indicators of climate change. 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 bedrocks, loose debris, steep slopes, sparse vegetation and a lot of glacial lakes.

They propose an unconventionally bold and provocative project involving the construction of reservoir dams, particularly where glacial lakes exist or areas where new glacial lakes can form, so that the hydrological function of glaciers in deglaciated high mountain environments can be maintained. To meet the aim of this project, they propose a series of actions, which can be used as a blueprint.

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.


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.


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.

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2018 Geneva Challenge Finalist: Maji Uhai

Third Prize ex aequo

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

Kenya faces both economic and physical water scarcity. Over 80 percent of country’s land mass (580,370 km2) comprises Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs). These are areas that receive an annual average of between 200mm and 500mm of rain per year compared to the approximately 1800mm of rain received in some humid, non-arid zones of the country. Women and children are the most vulnerable populations and often times walk long distances of up to seven kilometres round trip in search of the precious commodity.

These challenges among others potentially veil the opportunities vested in these areas. In Kenya, livestock production accounts for 24 per cent of the total agricultural output, 70 per cent of which comes from ASALs. Maji Uhai is a multi-faceted rainwater harvesting, storage and distribution project that serves as an active intervention. Through this project, we seek to ameliorate problems faced by and expand opportunities for communities living in these areas. With a unique combination of dimensions, the project enhances the capacities of households to harvest and store water. At the household level, surface runoff is harvested, filtered and stored in shallow wells. On the other hand, rooftop collections are stored in tanks and excess water is channelled through piped meters to a central reservoir that also houses a community resource centre.

The Team from Africa: Kenyatta University


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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2018 Geneva Challenge Finalist: SEVI Seed of Life

Third Prize ex aequo

SEVI - Seed of Life

Tree coverage on the face of our planet has greatly diminished over the last couple hundred years as a consequence of human depredation of the environment. The enormous scale of the problem requires solutions that escape the capabilities of isolated organizations; a change in our collective consciousness is needed. This is the reason why their proposal focuses on trees and citizen’s awareness.

They propose to include the project “Seed of Life” (Semilla de Vida) in our country’s educational models. The project intends to provide tree seeds to students between the first and third years of secondary school to raise awareness through one’s own experience of taking care of the environment and the understanding of trees as living dynamic beings,indispensable to our subsistence.

As a motivating factor, and complimentary to this project, they present a virtual pet named SEVI. This application will follow the growth of a tree seed until it becomes an adult plant, for which care the students will be responsible. 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 about their environmental behaviour.

The Team from South America: University of Buenos Aires


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 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 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.

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