250 Developers Participated in the ‘Break Poverty’ Hackathon and Discussed Opportunities for New Platforms

Written by Amanda Connon-Unda

Danielle Thé at the 'Break Poverty' Hackathon. Photo by Jessie Lau.

Last month 300 developers, volunteers and mentors worked tirelessly for 48 hours during a rainy weekend to create solutions for mobile applications, with the winning app to be implemented in rural Kenya by Free the Children. While developers in Nairobi worked at iHub - an innovation hub for technologists - participants worked along with them right from our office in Toronto, for the 'Break Poverty' Hackathon that was organized by the Devs Without Borders organization, led by Danielle Thé.

Following the Hackathon, on November 24, we held a panel to discuss Toronto's impact through technology on global development, and announced the winning app: Agricate. The app can collect key data points and send carefully tailored advice via SMS to farmers about how they can improve their yield.

Winners of the 'Break Poverty' Hackathon, Agricate

The panel brought together leaders in both the international development space and the tech scene: International Manager for Programming at Free the Children, Deveney Bazinet; Tariq Fancy, Founder of not-for profit Rumie; COO of VOTO Mobile Levi Goertz; CEO of Rangle.io, Nick van Weerdenburg; and Tiago Borges Coelho, co-founder of UX, a Mozambican IT company, with Danielle Thé moderating.

The panellists shared insights on working with global teams remotely and the challenges of creating open-source and mobile SMS solutions for NGOs. Danielle Thé explained the context like this: “Since 2010 mobile phone ownership in Africa has doubled, and there are immense opportunities for making life changing impact in countries like Kenya. Developers have a better way to reach those individuals in need and provide technology solutions to health, education, farming, and small business,” she said.

"We're thrilled that we gathered such a diverse group of people to talk about how we can contribute as an industry and as a city towards tech solutions for social good, both globally and locally," said Rangle's CEO Nick van Weerdenburg. "We’re pleased to be a part of this important conversation about how modern web and mobile development can positively impact the world."

"Technology makes our lives easier, but in other parts of the world technology can be life changing. We’re spreading awareness about the impacts software development can have for international development," explained Danielle Thé.

“In our experience as local technical consultants for the WorldBank and UNICEF, most Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) platforms deployed locally never gain traction because they are dependent on donors and lack sustainability,” said panellist Tiago Borges Coelho. “Once the funding is gone, the platform is shelved because it was never designed to be commercially viable. I believe the tech industry has a huge role in developing local services that are sustainable and address social issues. Developing services that improve the livelihoods of citizens and are able to scale as social businesses is crucial for long-term impact on development,” he said.

“My perspective on development is simple,” he continued, “A poor person wants to be a consumer, they don't want to be a beggar. The difference is that a consumer chooses where to spend the money he has, a beggar just receives whatever someone thinks he needs... Something needs to change… We have to make sure that there are more of these than the billions that are spent experimenting, and that’s why I am happy to participate on this panel, because we are bringing local expertise … while adding technical know-how to ensure that things will work and scale.”

Social GoodPanel discussion at Rangle.io HQ

The people’s choice award for the 'Break Poverty' Hackathon went to Immunisave: a mobile app striving to raise immunization rates. With the app, rural Kenyans can text to find clinics their local area and register their children, plus receive notifications about outbreaks, all sent through SMS.

You can watch the entire panel discussion that was livestreamed, here:

Let us know what you think in the thread below. As we continue our involvement with and support for initiatives such as this, we want to hear from you.

You can find out more about Devs Without Borders, an online platform that connects software developers worldwide with international development projects, on their website.