Auburn leaders, students prepared for Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition Summit

Published: September 13, 2016
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Auburn University is playing a significant role in the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition, or GODAN, 2016 Summit Sept. 15-16 in New York City, where 1,000 leaders from academia, governments and the private sector will gather to discuss how universal access to data can greatly accelerate universal food security.

Presidents United to Solve Hunger, or PUSH, an initiative started by Auburn's Hunger Solutions Institute, is one of five main organizers of the event along with the governments of the United States, United Kingdom and Kenya, as well as the ONE Campaign.

PUSH began in 2014 as a way of bringing university leaders together to address the global issue of hunger. Nearly 90 presidents from universities around the world have joined, making a commitment to work collectively towards zero hunger campuses, communities and nations.

Auburn will be represented at the summit by a number of administrative leaders, faculty, staff and students, including two political science majors who earned their invitations by winning part of the international GODAN Open Data Challenge.

Seniors Ruthie Wofford and Molly Rhodes were the only challenge winning team exclusively from the United States or a U.S. university.

GODAN, which works to support global efforts to make relevant agriculture and nutrition data available and accessible for unrestricted use worldwide, issued a global challenge for anyone to develop practical solutions to remove obstacles to open data. The contest focused on solutions in two tracks: policy or market.

More than 30 submissions were received from 50 participants at 23 universities in 17 countries. Finalists received a cash prize, acceptance into the GODAN Mentoring Program and admission to the summit.

"I decided to enter the competition because I knew it would be a good way to challenge myself to be innovative with the knowledge I have been gathering about hunger these past few years," said Wofford, an intern with Auburn's Hunger Solutions Institute, which serves as secretariat for PUSH. "Because my entry needed to incorporate open data, I recruited my tech-savvy friend, Molly Rhodes, to help me."

Rhodes used her expertise in coding and open data analysis that she gained from internships with the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department, while Wofford brought her experience with fighting hunger she learned at Auburn.

While with the Humanitarian Information Unit of the State Department, Rhodes said she partnered with the United Nations to develop the beta for the Humanitarian Data Exchange, which utilizes open data to coordinate humanitarian aid in crisis areas.

Since arriving at Auburn, Wofford has volunteered at a local food pantry, joined the Committee of 19, and added minors in philanthropy and nonprofit studies and hunger studies. She is currently an intern with the Hungers Solutions Institute.

The Auburn pair opted to compete in the market track and finished second with an idea for Sow2Eat, a mobile app/text message service that would address food deserts by giving users the information and data they need to plant, raise and eat their own produce. In addition to providing relevant gardening information to users at the correct time in the growing cycle through a mobile app, it would also offer healthy recipe ideas during harvest time and tips on where and when to buy equipment or supplies.

"Hunger is an issue that my generation not only cares about, but now has the tools to solve," said Wofford. "As I look toward graduation, my goal is to work for an equitable world where no one is limited by external barriers or lack of opportunity."

"I am anxious to talk with others about how they are utilizing open data," added Rhodes. "It is incredibly adaptable and can be used by so many people in different ways. There is always something to learn about how people are applying open data to their problems."

Speakers at this year's summit include Shenggen Fan, director general of the International Food Policy Research Institute; Ban Ki-Moon, United Nations secretary general; Tom Vilsack, secretary of agriculture; and Kerry Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights.