Youth & Women in Tech: Hackathon @ General Assembly
A first experiment in exploring new ideation models and engaging the broader public technology community.
This coding competition was aimed at developers, designers and entrepreneurs to devise creative solutions for challenges relating to empowering women and youth.
I framed the youth technology challenge on behalf of Office of the Secretary General's Envoy on Youth, and acted as a mentor and guide for participants throughout the event.
A SAMPLING OF THE PROTOTYPES
WHAT DID WE LEARN?
First and foremost: it was completely inspiring to see 80+ people brainstorming and building through the night to create challenges with and alongside of the UN.
It clarified the opportunity (some might say responsibility) in directly engaging the public as partners in the work of advancing the global goals.
Beyond that, a few key observations jumped out throughout the event:
Where's the data? This is was the first time I realized how fragmented data sources are across the UN system. When participants asked me - "where is the data for X?" - I often had to spend time with them going through dozens of digital junk drawers to help them find what they were looking for. If we're to engage the public in meaningful collaboration, it is mission-critical to make that data as accessible as possible. This level of inter-agency coordination is no small task, and projects like the UN Data Catalog and the Humanitarian Data Exchange are important precedents for the future of UN data sharing and accessible. (For more good reading on this, see the Secretary General's Data Revolution Report.)
Where's the entry point? There were many great ideas created and prototyped during this event. But even so, there was no clear place to house, nurture, and grow these ideas within the UN system. The post-hackathon on-ramp for winners - often taking the form of a incubators or accelerators in the other sectors - was not here. Since then, I've learned about accelerators lead by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the World Food Programme (WFP), and UNICEF Innovation. Nothing like this currently exists in the Secretariat. It became clear that the public was primed to plug in and help, but that the UN system was not yet prepared to accept this help.
A catalyst vs complete solution: This won't be news for anyone who's organized a hackathon, but an event like this (even among the winningest entries) should be seen as the beginning of a conversation rather than the end. Greater involvement from UN experts and members of affected communities is required during events to turn abstract challenges into concrete realities. Commitment from UN departments and agencies to invest in and co-develop top ideas is required to guide 24-hour experiments into meaningful answers.
FOR THE WIN
In the end, the win for youth + tech entries was split between Sprout and Lemonaide. The biggest win for our team was a deeper understanding of how to consider and improvement upon how the public and the UN engage with each other.