Girls in Tech, the San Francisco-based nonprofit that promotes girls and women in technology jobs, kicked off a global series of hackathons with its first event in Melbourne, Australia.
Dubbed Hacking for Humanity, the events give women-led teams a few days to create prototypes for technology that can address complex social problems. The hackathons are aimed at using technology to benefit charities, while also encouraging impassioned women to engage in innovation and entrepreneurship.
The basic idea is to form a team, solve a problem, create something awesome, present it to the audience, and win prizes. In this case, a team in Melbourne created an online tool to help families searching for missing persons. The targeted charity won $2000 and has quickly added a feature that makes it much easier for people to launch missing person search campaigns.
The hackathons are part of a year-long series that will take place around the world. Girls in Tech has more than 50,000 members across more than 60 chapters. VentureBeat is a media partner for the event series.
With the Melbourne event, Girls in Tech gathered around 80 participants. Judges included Nigel Dalton, chief inventor at the REA Group; Claire Bourke, general manager of the Australia Post; Susan Brown, managing director for Girls in Tech in Australia; and Geoff Campbell-Burns, chief operating officer at IE Digital. Other groups provided mentoring. Each charity had about five minutes to state their case, and the hackathon participants went to work helping them.
The winner of the hackathon was Missing Persons Advocacy Network: Missing Persons Guide. The founder, Loren O’Keeffe, spent years searching for her brother Dan, after he went missing in 2011. (His remains were later found in 2016). She decided in 2013 to apply for the Vodafone World of Difference grant to create a resource for people searching for missing persons.
A hackathon team — Alexandra Post, David Johnson, Alex Chavet, Carlotta Criel, Sarah Crooke, and Daniel Sterry — created a new “start campaign now” feature for O’Keeffe’s network. The feature makes it easy to collect donations online, create content for social media, and personalize campaigns. It allows for integration into ad servers for paid advertising campaigns. Users can also create posters that can be printed easily so they can hand out flyers and widen a search.
The group was judged on criteria that included attention to the problem statement, quality of the prototype or solution, preparedness and readiness for the charity to continue on with the work, innovation and uniqueness of the idea, and commercial viability.
Other entrants in the hackathon included mAdapt, which uses mobile technology to provide refugees with information concerning their most pressing reproductive health needs.
mAdapt provides users with real-time information about locally accessible reproductive health care services, in their own language. The group addresses some of the serious problems that refugees face, such as loss of access to contraception, an increased exposure to sex trafficking, increased risk of sexual assault, and poor access to prenatal health care and safe birthing practices.
Another entrant was Emerge Women & Children’s Support Network, which was established in 1975 to provide service to victims of domestic violence in Melbourne’s Middle Southern Metropolitan Region. The group is seeking ways to engage with its community and provide better support for victims of domestic violence.
Also participating was Headspace, the National Youth Mental Health Foundation, which provides early intervention mental health services to young people from 12 to 25 years old, along with assistance in promoting their well-being. It covers mental health, physical health, work and study support, and alcohol and other drug services. The group focused on creating an online peer support forum.
Lungitude Foundation (Lung Transplant Research Australia) also entered the contest. The group aims to improve survival rates and outcomes for lung transplant recipients and those who care for them. The group hopes to use data to visualize how to engage better with patients and carers.
The Korin Gamadji Institute, backed by the Richmond Football Club, focuses on leadership development, education and training, and career pathways. The group is seeking to strengthen its engagement with indigenous youth around Australia through social media. Those young people need more accessible and culturally sensitive health support, particularly mental health resources and services.
Another participant was Sacred Heart Mission, which provides meals and other help for the homeless in Melbourne. The group focused on making a targeted website section for disadvantaged people experiencing homelessness, who may have complex needs and/or a history of trauma and who often do not seek help from the service system or do not use main communication channels.
Little Dreamers Australia is a nonprofit that supports people under the age of 25 in Australia who have been put into the position of caring for a parent or sibling with a chronic illness, mental illness, disability, or drug and alcohol addiction. Founded by Madeleine Buchner at age 16 in 2009, Little Dreamers works to improve the emotional and physical health, well-being, and resilience of young carers to ensure that caring is a responsibility shared by government, community, and family. The group aims to reduce social isolation for these individuals.