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How Goal uses technology to help vulnerable communities

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From drones that detect landslides to prepay tech for water pumps, Goal Global’s CTO talks about how tech is deployed to advance humanitarian efforts around the world.

Janet Humphreys is the chief technology officer of international humanitarian response agency Goal Global.

Having started her career in finance and treasury roles in the private sector with Xerox, Humphreys moved to the humanitarian sector in 2008. She has worked in overseas and finance management roles, gaining significant experience in operations, financial management and training.

She became a member of Goal’s leadership team in 2018 and is currently responsible for the company’s technology, risk and compliance, and logistics and procurement functions.

‘The digitalisation of cash is a game changer for the humanitarian and development sector’

Describe your role and your responsibilities in driving tech strategy. 

As Goal’s chief technology officer, I lead a dedicated team working hard to ensure that the 2,500 employees in our 14 countries in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America have the technical infrastructure and skills needed to support implementation of our programmes.

We currently have more than 110 programmes being rolled out across health, nutrition, livelihoods and emergency response. The integration of technology is vital in allowing us to be agile, efficient and accountable.

Are you spearheading any major product or IT initiatives you can tell us about? 

We have some exciting technology initiatives which are impacting on our work. In Uganda, Goal is piloting a new pre-payment technology, Susteq, which is being applied to handpumps in rural villages.

This allows community members to pay a small amount proportional to the water they use before they collect it. In this way there is money in the account if the handpump breaks down for quick repairs. Without a fresh water supply, people are in danger of picking up diseases and infections.

In Zimbabwe, we are partnering with UNICEF and mobile marketing company Promobile to provide communities with Wi-Fi access from vans. This enables people to download videos and information on better nutrition and recipes using locally available foods. Messages on Covid-19 preventions are also available to download.

In Honduras, we are using drones to do surveys of landslide-prone areas in the capital, Tegucigalpa. Drone surveys are also used to assess mangrove coverage along the north coast of Honduras to calculate carbon stock.

And in Ethiopia, where more than 11m households depend on livestock for economic and food security, we are using AfriScout, a tool developed by our US partners PCI, to help farmers get intelligence on disease, conflict, forbidden grazing, predators and water issues.

We need to ensure we optimise technology so global teams stay connected and safe. This is not straightforward given the infrastructure and connectivity challenges we face in the remote locations we operate in, and with increased remote working due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

We have a comprehensive programme of work underway in these areas, which includes upgrading infrastructure, strengthening cybersecurity resilience, cloud migration and digital skills training for our staff.

How big is your team?

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As a charity, we are always conscious of ensuring we are as lean as possible and to focus on expenditure that will impact on beneficiaries. So, we are a relatively small team – but highly effective! We have a core team of nine in our HQ in Dublin, Ireland, working on the service desk, infrastructure, solutions and business analysis.

Globally, each Goal country has an IT helpdesk and staff to support the programmes relative to the size of the operation. We are also very fortunate to work with some fantastic external partners including Dell, Microsoft and Dimagi, our technology advisory board. These connections provide a great opportunity to learn from experts and to share best practice.

As members of NetHope, a consortium of international NGOs, we are also harnessing our global impact, working closely with major technology companies on productive collaboration, innovation and problem-solving to reimagine how technology can improve our world.

What are your thoughts on digital transformation and how are you addressing it? 

Embracing digital transformation is core to our business and to allowing us to improve our impact and the numbers of people we reach every day. We are integrating digital technology into all areas of our operations and this will fundamentally change how we operate and deliver value to the vulnerable communities we support.

Digital transformation also involves a cultural change, and this requires us continually training and supporting our staff. As an organisation, we are approaching this together. It is not an IT responsibility, but it is the responsibility of all from the top management down. We need to think digital and embed it in our strategy.

What big tech trends do you believe are changing the world and your industry specifically? 

The digitalisation of cash is a game changer for the humanitarian and development sector. This transformation will not just be from an administrative perspective but will provide more accountability and security.

In north-west Syria, where Goal has its biggest programme supporting more than 1m displaced people every year, we have introduced an electronic voucher system to increase food security. In 2021, 52,000 extremely vulnerable households will be transitioned to this e-voucher system, which has many benefits when compared to paper-based vouchers.

It is more secure, as lost vouchers can be deactivated and replaced. And the e-cards can be topped up remotely. This is a distinct advantage when working in fragile and Covid-19 affected contexts.

In general in the countries we work, 5G networks will be transformational in enabling people to engage with technology – be it at home or work. Trends that might not seem major in Ireland have huge impact in the countries we work. For example, the use of mobile messaging.

In terms of security, what are your thoughts on how we can better protect data? 

Cybersecurity is a threat no matter where you work in the world. We have a phrase in our organisation that our data is only as secure as the weakest link – so we need to continue to ensure that we secure our networks and keep on talking to staff about the importance of cybersecurity and of taking responsibility in protecting data.

For my team, it is important to keep abreast of new trends on managing emerging risks, and we work with many partners to try and keep ahead of this threat and importantly to learn from the corporate sector.

Learning from others is important for us as an agency committed to continuous improvement. Ultimately, everything we do is about improving our world in meaningful ways and that is something worth driving hard to achieve every day.

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Pushing Buttons: Happy 50th birthday to Atari, whose simple games gave us so much | Games

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Welcome to Pushing Buttons, the Guardian’s gaming newsletter. If you’d like to receive it in your inbox every week, just pop your email in below – and check your inbox (and spam) for the confirmation email.

Sign up for Pushing Buttons, our weekly guide to what’s going on in video games.

This week marks a truly important video game anniversary: it is 50 years since Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney incorporated Atari Inc, the company that laid the foundations for the video games industry. There have been many appraisals of the company and its landmark achievements in the games press over the past few days – from the arrival of a Pong machine in Andy Capp’s Tavern in Sunnyvale, California, in 1972, through classic titles such as Breakout, Asteroids and Missile Commands, to the iconic home consoles. So many moments of creative genius, so many genres, concepts and conventions bursting into existence at the hands of scruffy engineers and designers such as Ed Logg, Larry Kaplan and Dona Bailey.

But one element that often gets overlooked in these nostalgic reveries is the way in which Atari taught the first generation of electronic gamers how to think symbolically. With two rectangles and a square, Pong invited us to visualise tennis, while Night Driver’s series of moving rectangles convinced us we were driving a car. Some will point to the 1972 console the Magnavox Odyssey as the originator of these concepts, but it was Atari putting them in arcade machines – and later consoles –all over the world.

It was also Atari that generated a whole universe around its simple games. Through beautiful cabinet designs, expert use of iconography and graphic design, and the gorgeous illustrations on its Atari VCS cartridges, the company sought to simulate the imagination of players before they even held the controller. The boxes for titles such as Berzerk and Defender, all highly abstract and visually simple games, were alive with drama; they showed human characters, explosions and colours that were impossible to achieve on screen at the time, quietly providing players with the imaginative tools they needed to become immersed. Would we have cared so much about the fate of the lifeless rock at the base of the screen in Missile Command if it hadn’t been for George Opperman’s package art? The tense commander at his desk, the explosions, the missiles seemingly scorching out of the box itself …

It was George Opperman who also designed Atari’s now legendary logo, consisting of three simple lines, the two exterior shafts curving inwards toward the peak. Over the years Opperman claimed many influences for his design – Mount Fuji, Japanese alphabet symbols, Pong itself – personally, I’ve always viewed it as a spaceship. But it’s how the image seems to sum up the excitement and futuristic promise of the company that really matters. When we see the logo flash briefly on the screen in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, it’s a quick visual signifier that this is a highly technological landscape. It fits in perfectly with a world of androids and flying cars.

Nolan Bushnell saw how video games could naturally bleed from the screen into real space, meat space. During the 1970s, the industry started in pubs and taverns, then moved into arcades and eventually the home, and they had effects on all of them: they changed behaviours and got written into our lives in subtle ways. His introduction of the Chuck E Cheese pizza restaurant chain, which combined family eating with a video game arcade, brilliantly monetised the ways that games, although graphically simple, had worked their way from the TV screen to dinner table conversation. We laugh about how the original VCS console had wood panelling, but this was a deliberate attempt to ape the aesthetics of the 1970s living room, with its wooden furniture, TV and stereo cabinets. Atari understood that assimilation would be a vital element of success.

Even now, in this age of near photorealism, video games rely on the kind of abstractions that Atari perfected. The heart symbols to denote the number of lives we have left; the heavy use of icons and exterior narratives; the endless references to familiar cinema tropes. We saw Atari being played on TV shows and films, we saw Atari in comics. While its games were still being drawn with two sprites each a single byte in size, the iconography of Atari was out there in the world. It’s something Nintendo would learn from, and later Sony, with its cultural melting pot of a console: the PlayStation. Atari was a myth maker too: from the Easter egg hidden in Adventure to the buried copies of E.T. in the California desert, the company itself became a source of digital folklore that took on meanings beyond anything portrayed on your TV.

50 years ago, Atari began to show us that games exist in a strange liminal space between the screen and the brain, and they are constantly able to escape. The dots on the screen are only ever part of the picture, and the picture never stops moving.

What to play

This week we recommend the knockout Capcom Fighting Collection.
This week we recommend the knockout Capcom Fighting Collection. Photograph: Capcom

While we’re in a nostalgic mood, I’m really enjoying Capcom Fighting Collection. You’d probably expect a dozen famous titles from the Street Fighter series, but that’s already been covered by Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection. Instead, we get five games from the spooky, goth-infused Darkstalkers series, the mid-1990s fantasy-themed Red Earth and a bunch of offbeat Street Fighter dalliances including the ridiculously compelling Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, which brilliantly combined fighting game dynamics with … Tetris. The games are filled with blistering attacks and truly imaginative character designs, all lovingly updated for the modern era.

Available on: PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One
Approximate playtime: As long as you want

What to read

  • Eurogamer is running a whole series of features for Pride, including this piece talking to Captain Fluke about being the first openly trans esports commentator and this one on the joy of gay fan faction and mods. Elsewhere, IGN has listed its favourite ever LGBT+ characters in video games.

  • Verge has a really interesting piece on a group of creatives making branded worlds for big companies in Fortnite. Everyone talks about Facebook when referencing the coming era of the metaverse, but I’m pretty sure Fortnite is going to be just as important as an explorable shared space for interconnected worlds – and the advertising potential therein.

  • We also found out this week that Hidetaka Miyazaki, the creative genius behind Dark Souls and Elden Ring, is almost finished on his next project. This is good news for me as, after 225 hours, I’m nearing the end of Elden Ring and would be very happy to slide straight into his next game if possible.

  • If I’ve got you interested in Atari’s design and illustration philosophy, The Art of Atari by Tim Lapetino is a gorgeous book. For a more technical analysis of the company, try Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System by Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost.

What to click

‘A little bit addictive and the right amount hard’: new video game is based on poems of Emily Dickinson

Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest review – lovable gamers on mission to break record

Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes review – wild battles liven up a familiar anime franchise

Melbourne startup raises $9m for mental wellness game based on tending houseplants

Question block

This week’s question comes from Tim and his daughter Caitlin, and is answered by Keza:

“We got really into Hades over lockdown, loving the ‘it’s the same each time but really different too’ concept as well as the lore and the artwork. Can you recommend a similar game that we could play together?”

Hades is what’s known as a roguelike – one of those games where you have to start again from the beginning each time, but each playthrough throws different challenges at you – and, happily for you both, this genre has been having a moment over the past few years. Hades is a contender for the very best game in this genre, so it’s hard to rival, but here are some others to try.

Dead Cells is a kind of cyberpunk-fantasy action game where you gradually explore a shapeshifting castle; Spelunky 2 has you delving down below the Earth through caves full of amusing hazards, and has a great sense of humour (you can also play co-op); Into the Breach is something a little different, a strategy game where you have to defend the world from hostile invaders, travelling back in time after each failed attempt. And for a story and art style as good as that of Hades with a different gameplay feel, try developer Supergiant’s previous games Pyre, Transistor and Bastion, if you haven’t already.

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China says it has photographed all of Mars from orbit • The Register

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China is claiming that as of Wednesday, its Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter has officially photographed the entire Red Planet. And it’s shown off new photos of the southern polar cap and a volcano to prove it.

“It has acquired the medium-resolution image data covering the whole globe of Mars, with all of its scientific payloads realizing a global survey,” state-sponsored media quoted the China National Space Administration (CNSA) announcing.

Among the images are one of Mount Askra with its crater, shots of the South Pole whose ice sheet is believed to consist of solid carbon dioxide and ice, the seven-kilometer deep Valles Marineris canyon, and the geomorphological characteristics of the rim of the Mund crater.

Mount Askela

Mount Askela. Click to enlarge

Mars South Pole

Mars South Pole. Click to enlarge

Valles Marineris

Valles Marineris. Click to enlarge

Geomorphology of the rim of the Mund Crater

Mund crater. Click to enlarge

Tianwen-1 had been in orbit around Mars for 706 days. The orbiter circled Mars 1,344 times, as of an announcement from CNSA. The space org said Tianwen-1 has completed its scheduled missions.

In conjunction with its rover Zhurong, Tianwen-1 amassed 1,040 gigabytes of raw scientific data through 13 onboard scientific payloads.

The mission has allowed CNSA to observe solar occultation and solar wind together with international observatories – including those in Russia, Germany, Italy, Australia and South Africa – to improve the accuracy of space weather forecasts. Good news for Matt Damon.

CNSA said it will share more scientific data with the international community in due course.

In December, Zhurong and the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft performed an in-orbit relay communication test to demonstrate it was possible to relay data from Zhurong back to Earth via Mars Express. The demonstration was successful, if a bit complicated – Mars Express had to “listen” for Zhurong since the rover was unable to communicate directly because the frequencies used don’t match.

Even though the mission is officially over, the orbiter and rover are still in working order. The orbiter will stay in orbit and continue its remote sensing and data relay activities while Zhurong will hibernate until weather conditions improve – likely in December. ®

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Collisons join A-list backers of Entrepreneur First’s $158m Series C

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Founded in 2011, Entrepreneur First’s portfolio has grown to more than 500 companies, which together are worth more than $10bn.

London-based scale-up investor Entrepreneur First has raised $158m in a Series C funding round, with backing from some of the world’s biggest tech founders.

The funding round included participation from Stripe co-founders Patrick and John Collison. They were joined by Wise co-founder Taavet Hinrikus (who also launched a new VC fund this week), LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg, Monzo co-founder Tom Blomfield, Nested co-founder and CEO Matt Robinson, and many others.

There was also investment from longstanding institutional backers such as Transpose Platform, Vitruvian Partners, Encore Capital and Isomer Capital.

“It feels right that this round of funding comes from the most successful technology founders of today,” Entrepreneur First CEO Matt Clifford said. “Their support will build their counterparts of tomorrow.”

Founded in 2011, Entrepreneur First describes itself as “the best place in the world to meet your co-founder”. It says the best companies come from co-founding partnerships, but that finding the right person can be hugely challenging.

Entrepreneur First invests in early-stage founder talent. It works to bring people together from all walks of life to help meet potential co-founders, while giving them access to advisers in a three-month programme.

The company currently has 120 employees with offices in London, Toronto, Paris, Berlin, Bangalore and Singapore.

Its portfolio now includes more than 500 companies, which together exceed $10bn in value. These companies include computer vision unicorn Tractable, employment platform Omnipresent and advertising infrastructure platform Permutive.

“We built a way for the world’s most talented people, from all walks of life, to come together to find co-founders and build from scratch,” Clifford said. “Now, that fix has introduced co-founders who wouldn’t have otherwise met, to build companies that wouldn’t have been built.”

Entrepreneur First aims to see the value of companies built from its platform cross $100bn and beyond in the years to come.

“What we do may no longer seem crazy, as it did 10 years ago,” Clifford added. “But we’re just as committed to keep innovating to serve entrepreneurs better – and be the best place in the world to find a co-founder.”

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