Changemakers shine at White House’s South by South Lawn

SHAREAMERICA | October 4, 2016

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What do actor Leonardo DiCaprio, the CEO of an agricultural tech startup and funk-soul band the Dap-Kings have in common? President Obama invited them to a decked-out White House for South by South Lawn, a festival of changemakers. “Park People,” detailed Lego sculptures by Nathan Sawaya, dotted the grounds of the White House, where the president talked about climate change and Mars with DiCaprio. The noted actor and environmentalist premiered his new documentary about climate change, Before the Flood. Danielle Gould, founder of Food+Tech Connect, led a discussion on the innovative ways people and tech are transforming the future of food.

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COVID-19: How do we get out of this quagmire?

Article | July 14, 2020

The COVID-19 virus (C19) pandemic is turning out to be the event of the century. Even World War seems timid in comparison. We are in the 4th month of the virus (in non-China countries) and have gone past the lockdown in many places. Isn’t it time we re-think the approach? What if there is another wave of C19 coming soon? What if C19 is the first of many such events in the future? Before we get into analysis and solution design, summarizing the C19 quirks: While a large section of the affected population is asymptomatic, for some it can be lethal There isn’t clarity on all the ways C19 spreads It’s known to affect the lungs, heart, and kidneys in patients with weak immunity It has been hard to identify a definitive pattern of the virus. Some observations in managing the C19 situation are: With no vaccine in sight, the end of this epidemic looks months or years away Health care personnel in hospitals need additional protection to treat patients Lockdowns lead to severe economic hardship and its repeated application can be damaging Quarantining people has an economic cost, especially in the weaker sections of society If one takes a step back to re-think about this, we are primarily solving 2 problems: Minimise deaths: Minimise the death of C19 and non-C19 patients in this period Maximise economic growth: The GDP output/growth should equal or higher than pre-C19 levels One needs to achieve the 2 goals in an environment of rising number of C19 cases. Minimise deaths An approach that can be applied to achieve this is: Data driven health care capacity planning Build a health repository of all the citizens with details like pre-existing diseases, comorbidity, health status, etc. The repository needs to be updated quarterly to account for patient data changes This health repository data is combined with the C19 profile (disease susceptibility) and/or other seasonal diseases to determine the healthcare capacity (medicines, doctors, etc.) needed The healthcare capacity deficit/excess needs to be analysed in categories (beds, equipment, medicine, personnel, etc.) and regions (city, state, etc.) and actions taken accordingly Regular capacity management will ensure patients aren’t deprived of timely treatment. In addition, such planning helps in the equitable distribution of healthcare across regions and optimising health care costs. Healthcare sector is better prepared to scale-up/down their operations Based on the analysis citizens can be informed about their probability of needing hospitalisation on contracting C19. Citizens with a higher health risk on C19 infection should be personally trained on prevention and tips to manage the disease on occurrence The diagram below explains the process Mechanism to increase hospital capacity without cost escalation Due to the nature of C19, health personnel are prone to infection and their safety is a big issue. There is also a shortage of hospitable beds available. Even non-C19 patients aren’t getting the required treatment because health personnel seek it as a risk. This resulted in, healthcare costs going up and availability reducing. To mitigate such issues, hospital layouts may need to be altered (as shown in the diagram below). The altered layout improves hospital capacity and availability of health care personnel. It also reduces the need for the arduous C19 protection procedures. Such procedures reduce the patient treatment capacity and puts a toll on hospital management. Over a period, the number of recovered C19 persons are going to increase significantly. We need to start tapping into their services to reduce the burden on the system. The hospitals need to be divided into 3 zones. The hospital zoning illustration shown below explains how this could be done. In the diagram, patients are shown in green and health care personnel are in light red. **Assumption: Infected and recovered C19 patients are immune to the disease. This is not clearly established Better enforcement of social factors The other reason for high number of infections in countries like India is a glaring disregard in following C19 rules in public places and the laxity in enforcement. Enforcement covers 2 parts, tracking incidents of violation and penalising the behaviour. Government should use modern mechanisms like crowd sourcing to track incidents and ride on the growing public fear to ensure penalty enforcement succeeds. The C19 pandemic has exposed governance limitations in not just following C19 rules, but also in other areas of public safety like road travel, sanitation, dietary habits, etc. Maximise economic growth The earlier lockdown has strained the economy. Adequate measures need to be taken to get the economy back on track. Some of the areas that need to be addressed are: One needs to evaluate the development needs of the country in different categories like growth impetus factors (e.g. building roads, electricity capacity increase), social factors (e.g. waste water treatment plants, health care capacity), and environmental factors (e.g. solar energy generation, EV charging stations). Governments need to accelerate funding in such projects so that that large numbers of unemployed people are hired and trained. Besides giving an immediate boost to the ailing economy such projects have a future payback. The governments should not get bogged down by the huge fiscal deficit such measures can create. Such a mechanism to get money out in the economy is far than better measures like QE (Quantitative Easing) or free money transfer into people’s bank accounts Certain items like smartphone, internet, masks, etc. have become critical (for work, education, critical government announcements). It’s essential to subsidise or reduce taxes so that these items are affordable and accessible to everyone without a financial impact The government shouldn’t put too many C19 related controls on service offerings (e.g. shops, schools, restaurants, cabs). Putting many controls increases the cost of the service which neither the seller not buyer is willing or able to pay. Where controls are put, the Govt should bear the costs or reduce taxes or figure out a mechanism so that the cost can be absorbed. An event like the C19 pandemic is a great opportunity to rationalise development imbalances in the country. Government funding should be channelized more to under-developed regions. This drives growth in regions that need it most. It also prevents excess migration that has resulted in uncontrolled and bad urbanisation that has made C19 management hard (guidelines like social distance are impossible to follow) Post-C19 lockdown, the business environment (need for sanitizers, masks, home furniture) has changed. To make people employable in new flourishing businesses there could be a need to re-skill people. Such an initiative can be taken up by the public/private sector The number of C19 infected asymptomatic patients is going to keep increasing. Building an economy around them (existing, recovered C19 patients) may not be a far-fetched idea. E.g. jobs for C19 infected daily wage earners, C19 infected taxi drivers to transport C19 patients, etc. In the last 100 years, mankind has conquered the destructive aspects of many a disease and natural mishap (hurricanes, floods, etc.). Human lives lost in such events has dramatically dropped over the years and our preparedness has never been this good. Nature seems to have caught up with mankind’s big strides in science and technology. C19 has been hard to reign in with no breakthrough yet. The C19 pandemic is here to stay for the near future. The more we accept this reality and change ourselves to live with it amidst us, the faster we can return to a new normal. A quote from Edward Jenner (inventor of Small Pox) seems apt in the situation – “The deviation of man from the state in which he was originally placed by nature seems to have proved to him a prolific source of diseases”.

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The Deadly Coronavirus Crisis is Also an Opportunity

Article | August 13, 2020

Unless America and China assume joint leadership for global economic recovery, reconstruction of the post-coronavirus world could take years, with unimaginable consequences for the world’s 7.8 billion inhabitants, including unprecedented levels of global unemployment, famine, and even war. In the pre-coronavirus world, suggestions for a partnership between the world’s two superpowers would have been met with gales of laughter. But now, despite the two leaders’ daggers drawn posture, hundreds of doctors and scientists in the U.S. and China are already working together on clinical trials of potential coronavirus drugs; and one of China’s biggest property developers has funded a five-year $115 million project between Harvard University and the Guangzhou Institute for Respiratory Health. But the window of opportunity for acting together is short. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to decimate the world’s economies. Unemployment in the U.S. now tops 22 million, a level not seen since the great-depression of the nineteen-thirties; while China’s economy stopped growing for the first time in four decades as half a million small and mid-size businesses, the backbone of China’s economy closed; and Italy, the second largest manufacturing economy in the EU watches helplessly as the pandemic axe dismembers its economy. Were India and Africa were unable to control the coronavirus the results could be catastrophic. So, are there issues of such import and mutual benefit that they would convince President’s Trump and Xi Jinping to work together? I believe there are. My two cents worth below. The two superpowers could leverage China’s vast, trillion-dollar global infrastructure project—the Belt and Road Initiative or BRI, that aims to build infrastructure in over 120 countries of Asia, Europe, and Africa. The BRI is designed to act as a conveyer belt to transmit Chinese investment and technology into these countries to improve their economies, and to link them to China. But now Covid-19 has crimped China’s ability to sustain BRI’s trillion-dollar underwriting tab and President Xi Jinping’s grandiose vision is at risk. On the other hand, the United States, which has been searching for a counter to BRI, has settled on an initiative called the Blue Dot Network or BDN. The idea behind the BDN is the U.S. would rigorously vet infrastructure project applications in developing countries to ensure high levels of transparency, sustainability, and economic viability before seeding them with startup funds from the U.S. Government. The BDN hallmark would then inspire confidence in the projects to attract private U.S. funding. But the relatively paltry BDN budget of $60 billion (versus China’s 1000 billion or trillion-dollar BRI budget) and developing countries’ skepticism of Western (read U.S.) dominated standards for infrastructure construction have hobbled the BDN. If the U.S. and China could find a way to combine BRI and the BDN it would ensure a stream of dollars from private U.S. companies into BRI and ensure its projects remain on track to create jobs and raise living standards around the world. The compromises required by America and China to weld BRI and BDN together would ensure the U.S. gets a seat at the table to influence the adoption of standards for starting and executing BRI projects. Here’s another idea: The U.S. military is especially qualified to help fight natural disasters. In 2004, for instance, 3,000 U.S. military personnel were deployed to West Africa to help combat a deadly Ebola epidemic. Their work included constructing 17 hospitals, field training, and deploying assistance by air to remote villages. Today the U.S. military is being used to rapidly set up hospitals in U.S. cities to handle the burgeoning coronavirus caseload. The People’s Liberation Army meanwhile seems determined to play a more active global role in peace-keeping projects around the world. Coronavirus-aid projects delivered to less-off countries through joint U.S.-China military teams would double what the U.S. and China could do on their own. And help establish the military to military connections that the U.S. has tried to foster with China for some time. A working relationship between the two nations’ militaries might even lead to a more stable geopolitical balance of power. The Chinese word for crisis contains two characters. One signals danger, the other opportunity. Presidents Trump and Xi Jinping should boldly find a way to join forces to convert the deadly Covid-19 crisis into an opportunity that would supercharge global economic recovery and might well change the course of the 21st Century. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity that ought not to be squandered.

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U.S. catching up on overdue bridge construction, repairs

Article | July 29, 2020

Bridges, a critical part of America’s infrastructure, need immediate attention. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s 2019 National Bridge Inventory database shows that 81,000 bridges should be replaced and more than 46,000 are structurally deficient. In spite of the data, millions of motorists cross these structurally deficient bridges every day. The American Road & Transportation Builders Association estimates that the cost to repair the country’s bridges is approximately $164 billion. If that statistic appears startling, consider this - at the current pace of repair, construction could easily take more than a half-century. Rhode Island currently has the highest percentage of structurally deficient bridges in the nation. Other bridges in disrepair include New York City’s Brooklyn Bridge, Washington, D.C.’s Theodore Roosevelt Bridge, and the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge that crosses San Francisco Bay. Time and the environment will continue to play a huge role in the deterioration of America’s bridges. Repair and reconstruction needs will only become greater. Hundreds of immediate projects are available for construction and engineering firms that perform bridge work. Illinois The Illinois Department of Transportation approved a $21.3 billion highway program this month to improve 8 million square feet of bridges and more than 3,300 miles of roads over the next six years. Of this amount, $3.15 billion has been allocated for the current fiscal year. An Interstate 80 project, with a cost projection of $1.1 billion to replace two bridges, will have funding disbursements that span from 2021 to 2026. In 2021, $74.5 million is allocated for replacements, superstructures, widening, reconstruction, new construction engineering, and utility adjustments. Many additional projects are outlined in the state’s transportation plan. North Carolina Beaufort County will receive $120 million from the state to fund what is referred to as the U.S. 278 corridor project. This project will overhaul the only connection between Hilton Head Island and the mainland. Cost projections exceed $272 million. Components of the project include widening the entire corridor to six lanes, adding right-turn only exits off U.S. 278, and building an underpass on Pinckney Island. Another part of the project involves the construction of a multi-use pathway over the bridge. Maryland Prince George’s County has released its 2021-2026 Proposed Capital Improvement Program and Budget for the Department of Public Works and Transportation. One project is the replacement of a 30-foot concrete bridge in Clinton over Piscataway Creek at a cost of $5.7 million. Design of the bridge is scheduled for 2021, and construction will begin in 2022. The Livingston Road Bridge, another structure that crosses the Piscataway Creek, will be replaced at a cost of $8.4 million. A total of $29.6 million will be dispersed from 2021-2026 to fund the replacements or rehabilitation of county bridges in the state. Maine This state currently has 314 bridges in poor condition, the seventh-highest percentage in the country. Bridges in Maine are inspected every two years and receive posted warnings or become closed when there is danger to the public. Many of the state’s bridges are more than 90 years old. Approximately $38.1 million in federal funding has been secured, and seven bridges have been selected for repair as part of the National Highway Freight System program. The Maine Department of Transportation will contribute another $14 million and construction is expected to begin 2022. The bridges include Interstate 95 over Webb Road in Waterville, I-95 over Broadway in Bangor, Main Street Bridge in Solon, Red Bridge in Rumford, and the double bridge on Stillwater Avenue in Old Town. Arkansas The Fort Smith Board of Directors, Arkansas & Missouri Railroad, and the Western Arkansas Planning and Development District agreed July 21 to facilitate a $15 million project to repair a railroad line. The district will manage the procurement of engineering services, as well as procurement and supervision of the construction contract for the renovation of the Arkansas River railroad lift bridge and wooden trestles from Fort Smith to Missouri. The district also will manage other procurement responsibilities for two railroad bridges in Crawford County. Louisiana Funding has been approved through an agreement with the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (LDOTD) for the replacement of the Cheniere spillway and bridge. In 2019, the LDOTD announced it would contribute $4 million to replace the bridge and substitute a fix-crested weir for the parish-owned spillway. A weir is a low dam built across a river to raise the level of water upstream or regulate its flow. The bridge and spillway were damaged by floods and the LDOTD agreed to fund the repair. Procurements for the project will begin soon as construction is also slated for 2020. In the city of Baton Rouge, planning will begin soon on a new Mississippi River bridge after LDOTD finalized an agreement July 7 with an engineering firm on a $5 million planning and advisory contract. The contractor will be responsible for developing a purpose and need statement, producing a navigational analysis, and analyzing various traffic models for this more than $1 billion project. The state has a backlog of road and bridge projects that totals more than $14 billion. The Capital Area Road and Bridge District will consider alternative funding methods for the new bridge, including tolls, public-private partnerships, and state funds. The project is moving rather rapidly. There will be no shortage of opportunities for companies interested in bridge construction and repairs throughout the country. Mary Scott Nabers is president and CEO of Strategic Partnerships Inc., a business development company specializing in government contracting and procurement consulting throughout the U.S. Her recently released book, Inside the Infrastructure Revolution: A Roadmap for Building America, is a handbook for contractors, investors and the public at large seeking to explore how public-private partnerships or joint ventures can help finance their infrastructure projects.

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How local government scaled up for remote workers

Article | June 25, 2020

The biggest IT challenge local governments faced during the COVID-19 pandemic has been scaling existing infrastructure to accommodate many more workers than they had planned for, IT leaders said during a June 17 panel discussion. “Our remote access solution was originally scaled for a major snow day, not for 3,000 to 4,000 remote users,” Charles Gore, IT security manager for Loudoun County, Va., said during a webinar presented by CompTIA’s Public Technology Institute. “We were looking at 500 users remote. We had to spread the scoping across multiple technologies, which we had, but we needed to very quickly adjust to accommodate the new users.”

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