It was a cloudy morning in Geneva when I headed to my first Hackathon. I was excited and curious for the challenge of using technology and communication techniques to develop projects on the refugee crisis, along with other marketing professionals, journalists, programmers and developers. The event was organized by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), in a partnership with the Radio et Télevision Suisse (RTS) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
Although I had read a lot about Hackathons all over the world, I didn’t know what to expect when I entered the beautiful and impressive building of RTS. I was welcomed by a friendly team and very quickly started to make contacts among the participants. They were producers, editors, designers, entrepreneurs and curious with different origins and interests, but with the same goal: to discover how technology can help with good and meaningful projects.
The refugee crisis is the theme of the moment. Europe has been flooded by millions of migrants and refugees for years now, in a situation that has been aggravated by misinformation, prejudice and radicalism from both sides. Communication is key here – and that is the reason why EBU, RTS and UNHCR decided to organize a Hackathon over the refugee crisis.
How non-specialists in refugee policies could possibly develop communication tools and projects for this seemingly endless challenge in 24 hours? Well, this is what Hackathon stands for: it is a “Hacker” marathon. And when I thought of hackers I had all the misinformation and prejudice I could get: people trying to steal passwords or to transfer money from bank accounts by breaking in computers. I was surprised when I discovered that, in modern computer science language, to hack is to find a solution for a problem or an inefficient process. And this is what we were willing to do, after all.
We were coached for specialists in many areas: a content leader of the UNHCR, a media and data professional on Google, a young journalist who discovered appalling stories on Iran, Afghanistan and Syria using data and crossing information, as well as professionals from media outlets as Deutsche Welle and RTS itself. They were there to provide inspiration and to help us by sharing knowledge and advices.
My group of 6 people started working on a project to connect young refugees with local people, since our focus was integration. We identified problems as isolation, lack of communication between both groups and prejudice. The idea was to develop an educational app to “match” them according to their hobbies and common interests, like music, sports, career aspirations. We spent the night working on programming, design and content for our project, as well as the other teams. We needed and we had great help from the coaches and even from our “competitors”. We could exchange people from groups if we felt interested on a different project.
After many hours of work, we were ready for the pitch session. It was amazing to see how, in a short period of time, all groups had developed great ideas for the refugee crisis. Two of them were focused on the refugee travel. Using real time information, they could show the best route for refugees based on their profile: families, men, women, mixed groups. Other tried to raise awareness on the refugee crisis, showing a European or American person how hard it is to live in a refugee camp or to travel thousands and thousands of kilometers, using data and storytelling tools. The winner group developed an app with information about all European countries such as refugee policy and laws, health care system and shelters.
After 24 hours of working together, we didn’t feel we were competitors, as it is common in group contests. We were sharing skills and inspiration, feeding each other with purpose and will. We celebrated the best project because it was indeed a great idea and didn’t feel sorry for not being chosen as winners. Most important, we showed the UN Refugee Agency many possibilities and paths they can take from here.
Personally, I have got made new friends, new abilities and a full set of ideas I will use and share in my work at Horyou. As a social network for the social good, we have the same goals and aspirations I experienced on this Hackathon: to connect for good, to help solving social challenges by using technology and communication and to build a better world. I didn’t know it by then, but we are all together social good hackers.
Written by Vivian Soares