“First Hackathon to be held in Haiti: Cross-cultural collaboration to create community-driven solutions”

author: Emily Jacobi
date: 2013-01-31
title: "First Hackathon to be held in Haiti: Cross-cultural collaboration to create community-driven solutions"

February 1-3, 2013 –  This weekend, Digital Democracy – along with partners KOFAVIV, ESIH & more – is hosting “From Local Solutions to National Systems,” a Hackathon in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. We’re thrilled to be convening a talented group of Haitian & international developers, designers and issue areas experts for the first Hackathon FOR Haiti to be hosted IN Haiti.

What is a Hackathon? A combination of the words “hack” and “marathon,” a hackathon is a convening of computer programmers and others (graphic designers, user experience experts, project managers and more) to build specific tech tools, rapid-style, over the course of a few days. Our upcoming, transnational collaboration will focus on developing tools to help scale the impact of our partner KOFAVIV’s work by nationalizing the 572-Call Center and digging deep into trends and visualization of data they have collected on incidents of gender-based violence over the past three years.

As we first blogged about in October, the Hackathon has two primary objectives:

  1. design tools to improve the efficacy of the 572 Call Center by developing better ways to access and organize available information on valuable resources (like emergency care) outside the Port-au-Prince area.
  2. improve the use and visualization of data on instances of rape and sexual violence throughout Haiti. New data visualization tools will allow for enhanced visual reports on cases received by KOFAVIV, the identification of new trends in existing data and improved advocacy for increased security for women & girls.

The Hackathon will be hosted at the École Supérieure d’Infotronique d’Haïti. Not only has ESIH opened their space for the event, nine of their 3rd & 4th year students will be participating in the hackathon. As Director Patrick Attie told us:

“The first Hackathon in Haiti represents an amazing opportunity for our students to be placed in a production situation, apply their  knowledge to solving real problems and meet other (Haitian and foreign) geeks, as passionate as they are about what technology can do to help improve the harsh living conditions in Haiti. A Hackathon is a culture that we absolutely need to be able to promote and perpetuate on our own. Remembering, after the earthquake that hit Haiti on January 12th, 2010, that most hacker events about helping Haiti took place outside of Haiti, the Hackathon brought to us by Digital Democracy should also demonstrate that this type of event can efficiently take place in Haiti.”

Hosting the Hackathon in Haiti is what attracted one of our international participants, Sara-Jayne Farmer of Change Assembly, a veteran of many Hack events and open-source communities. When applying to participate, she wrote, “I led the London CrisisCamp team that responded to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Like many crisismappers, that’s how I started, it’s a very special place for us all, and I couldn’t pass up the change to come help it again. I wanted to participate in the Hackathon because it supports Haitians helping Haitians in Haiti. And I’m looking forward to meeting and working directly with Haitian developers.”

In addition to students from ESIH, local participants will include a development team from Dd’s partner Solutions, creators of Noula.ht, the technical team from KOFAVIV with whom we have worked closely over the years, mappers from COHSMA & more. Joining the Haitian developers to lend skills & expertise is a great group of international participants, coming from Prague, New York, San Francisco and Seattle. Our international participants include:

I’ll be flying down with many of the other NYC-based participants this morning, and of course, leading us all over the next few days will be Emilie Reiser, Dd’s irreplaceable Haiti Program Director. There’s excitement all around from both the Haitian & international participants. As Blaine wrote,

“I am participating in the Hackathon because I have already seen the incredible impact of the call center, not only for the women but also for the groups organizing for change, and am thrilled to think of more, innovative ways to eradicate gender-based violence.”

For Juan, who will be traveling to Haiti for the first-time, there was another reason to join.

“I’m usually quite excited about hackathons and humanitarian ones in particular. That’s why when I heard about Dd’s efforts in Haiti I knew I had to join. I’m very much looking forward to helping improve the sense of safety (hopefully many) women in Haiti have.”

For Dd, the Hackathon represents the final step in our fully transitioning the tech system we have built over the past three years into the capable hands of our partner KOFAVIV. Success – to us – means systems that last long beyond our departure. We’re excited that the Hackathon represents an opportunity to bring very bright minds together to build technical solutions in the place where they will be implemented, with an emphasis on building local capacity to maintain and continue adapting these tools. Although Hackathons for humanitarian purposes take place all over the world, they happen more rarely in places like Haiti, and we’re keen to learn what works and what doesn’t in this context. In adapting the format to build tech solutions in the places where they are needed, our emphasis is supporting Haitian participants’ ability continue fostering innovation to address the challenges facing their country.

Finally, we are grateful and indebted to all the sponsors and partners who make the Hackathon possible, both for supporting the event and believing in the vision of a Hackathon in Port-au-Prince in the first place. From our founding sponsor the Abundance Foundation to co-hosts [ESIH (École Supérieure d’Infotronique d’Haïti)][2] and KOFAVIV, partners Solutions, Geeks Without Bounds, Openflows, Openbox, and sponsors UNHCR Innovations Arca Foundation, Channel Foundation, Knight-Mozilla Open News & Tropo.

Follow #HaitiHack this weekend to join the activities virtually!