A few months ago I met an ex-pat from Spain. I started talking to her about my experiences from working as a music therapist at an orphanage in Riruta Satellite settlement in Nairobi, my concerns about possible involvement of human trafficking at the orphanage, the complexity behind it, and my ambitions to get involved in the fight to combat this global issue. After my experience in Kenya, I started researching about the perpetual expansion of modern-day slavery, ranging from sex slavery to forced labor and child abuse. I watched TED talks, read books by long time fighters and survivors, and visited sites of NGOs to look up their research. In all honesty, it was hard to swallow what has been going on, what the victims endure, and just how large of a problem this is. In times of media getting flooded with COVID and politics behind it, I couldn’t help but question why no one’s talking about another pandemic – modern-day slavery. Modern-day slavery is an organized business with profits larger than any tech giant out there. It is estimated to rack up $150 billion profit. I’ve posted about it, talked to people about it, but I was starting to feel like someone with a case of humanitarian douchery when I got some silent treatments. I realized talking about it wasn’t enough, that it was time to stop being hypersensitive and put myself together, grow a thicker skin, start thinking strategically about how to address this, and try to find a solution. I told my new friend that I was astonished about the lack of awareness and wanted to find a group of people who would like to collaborate with me to work on a solution that would change that. She immediately suggested a humanitarian hackathon organized by CERN. I have always been interested in hackathons, but I was not aware that there were HUMANITARIAN hackathons. I was excited and applied right away with an idea for an app with a focus to combat human trafficking. I was thrilled to hear back that the idea inspired them to list human trafficking as one of the main topics for 2020 and that team was being assembled to collaborate with me on a prototype of a tech idea that would address it. I met with the team and we began researching a topic couple of weeks before the three days of hacking, three days that turned out to be one of the most empowering, inspiring, and exuberating experiences. I wanted to share some main aspects of the humanitarian hackathon that make this event a perfect opportunity for just about anyone who feels passionate about tackling any complex humanitarian challenge we face today.
When I met with the team, I was energized by their spirit, motivation and readiness to tackle the issue we were addressing. We were very diverse in terms of location, cultural and professional background, age and skillset. A large portion of the team needed a basic introduction to the human trafficking problem. Due to me being the creator of the initial idea, I was asked to share my story and possibilities in creating a technical solution. This ignited other members to suddenly recall a certain moment in their life where they suspected if they were unaware witnesses of a possible human trafficking scenario. Human trafficking is everywhere around the globe, everywhere around us and we began realizing that with more awareness people would be willing to work together to spot it and fight it. We decided to spend few days researching the topic and regroup to share our findings. All of my teammates were astonished about the severity of the problem and even more eager to address it. Being an interdisciplinary team had a lot of advantages. Not only did we learn a great deal from each other and our perspectives, but we also used the diverse skillsets to work through a very productive brainstorming session that resulted in several distinctive ideas. We began with going over some of the most pressing challenges in the fight of human trafficking and what type of a solution would make the most substantial difference. The biggest plus of our interdisciplinary team was that we all had a set of different skillset that would uniquely contribute to the success of the project and take an ownership of our areas of expertise. I loved that not all of us were designers and developers, but that we had entrepreneurs, scientists, marketing managers and others with a shared enthusiasm for technology. The dynamic between all of the teams participating in the hackathon was also incredible. If we needed an extra set of hands with development experience, we could reach out to other teams and see if anyone was interested to collaborate. We were simply energizing each other with ideas and shared passion for the possibilities technology gives us to make a world a better place.
Inspiring Learning Experience
Hackathons are always one of the best ways to learn how to strategize, manage, collaborate, innovate and influence. One reason this is so effective is because participants have only 2-3 days to get to know complete strangers from initially unknown professional backgrounds and quickly learn to collaborate with them while coming up with an original idea and find a way to bring it to fruition within a tight deadline. It becomes so prominent in one’s career, because many times the participants discover how to work fast under pressure and apply all their creative juices while they share their enthusiasm with their teammates. Having a working prototype of their idea within 2-3 days is a great feeling and inspiring. Another reason hackathons are inspiring is that at the end of it all teams get to share their products with everyone and inspire each other. It becomes a great opportunity to network, because sometimes members of different teams become interested in other’s idea and if their skillset are needed to continue on actually taking the product to full heights and making it available to the public, they can begin to collaborate and get involved in the idea’s mission. This aspect makes hackathons one of the best ways to find your team if you have a vision on how to tackle a problem or fulfill a life value you hold dear and an idea of a product to accomplish that. Humanitarian hackathons are perfect for those who are passionate about having a positive impact on the world and making others’ lives better.
Overall, I cannot stress enough how much of a life changing, inspiring and empowering of an experience humanitarian hackathons can be for innovators with various skillsets and professional backgrounds, who can spot world’s most pressing issues by experience and empathy and value technology for its potential to enhance people’s lives.