The Research Center for Integrated Disaster Risk Management (CIGIDEN), is a government-funded initiative, launched in 2011 in response to one of the strongest and costliest earthquakes in Chilean history. PYXERA Global, a nonprofit implementer of Global Pro Bono programs, worked closely with corporate partners IBM and Johnson & Johnson to identify host organizations with mission-critical needs that aligned with the core skill sets of their employee base. CIGIDEN was a great fit. It is managed by four major Chilean universities and consists of an interdisciplinary team of researchers, engineers, geologists, and anthropologists, among other experts. Its cross-discipline approach created an opening to invite additional partners.
In Chile, many residents are all too familiar with their vulnerability to intensifying clashes with the forces of nature. Chile has the unfortunate distinction of being one of the western hemisphere’s biggest hotspots for such disasters.
PYXERA Global paired CIGIDEN with two employees from IBM and two employees from Johnson & Johnson to collaborate in-person for four weeks. Disaster risk reduction is a complex social challenge, and one that requires high levels of coordination between government, researchers, NGOs, and at-risk communities to be better prepared. There is also an important role for business to play, and global leaders IBM and Johnson & Johnson are among a number of pioneering companies offering pro bono consultants to support high-impact projects, organizations, and the communities they serve.
One of the ways CIGIDEN is informing its research and igniting a public conversation around disaster risk reduction is through its DroneLab project, which is capturing an abundance of aerial data. The drone data contributes to detailed mapping of infrastructure, population distribution, high vulnerability zones, and geology, among other information that can help educate and inform preparedness efforts from the household to the regional scale. However, finding a way to organize and share the aggregated drone data proved a challenge that initiated the partnership with the multinational companies.
CIGIDEN’s principle investigator, Gonzalo Bacigalupe, described the motivation for the partnership, saying, “As a publicly-funded scientific center, our focus is on research that has a significant impact on public policy in Chile around making our society more resilient. It requires resources that we cannot necessarily bring into a research center. We thought that it would be helpful to have the resources that the business community or the IT community might bring. In that way, the IBM and Johnson & Johnson partnership brings both.”
Bacigalupe feels that “some of their questions have helped us think about the platform in ways that we had not thought about.” While the engagement deliverable—a digital platform that presents the synthesized data from the drones in a user-friendly format—is not yet ready for public use, the convergence of stakeholders is remarkable, and a recipe for success. From government and academia to community-based organizations, private citizens, and international corporate employees, all stakeholders are contributing their time, resources, and expertise. An inclusive approach to disaster preparedness saves lives, protects the most vulnerable, and presents a model that can serve the rest of the global community.
Community leader Marcela Rojas, whose community suffered a devastating flood years ago, shares this optimism. “With this use of resources and technology, we hope to have solutions in advance of another traumatic event for our community, to save more lives,” she expressed.