What do you get when 200 engineering students come together to hack for social good?
For one thing, you get 15,000 Slack messages over 48 hours. You also get 32 innovative approaches to problem solving United Nations’ priorities like clean water access, climate change, building Pacific economies and addressing rapidly scaling health issues in island economies.
The 2020 Humanitarian Innovation Hackathon, run by The Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering, saw university students from 19 universities around the country teamed with Humanitarian Mentors with on-the-ground experience in Pacific Nations, as well as Team and Innovation Mentors from industry. The result? Solutions like creating an education program to teach children in Vanuatu to build sand filters as a cheap and effective form of water filtration. This solution, from team H2ArchipelagO, took out the $5000 first prize.
WATCH: Humanitarian Innovation Hackathon organiser Ashley Brinson talks us through running a hackathon for social good.
“In a brainstorming session we looked at the sources of water in Vanuatu and found that many places used surface water which contained numerous contaminants,” says University of Adelaide undergrad student Emily Unewisse from the winning team.
“This led to discussions about filtration and sand filters, which are a simple and tested technology.
“But rather than simply giving sand filters to the community sand, we wanted the community to be involved in creating them, providing education but also establishing a sense of ownership.
“We decided that a children’s education program was the way to go. By teaching the children how to make sand filters, this both empowers the community and gets the next generation of Vanuatuan excited about water management.”
Cheaper desalination wins the judges over
Winning team member Allan Soo, a Bachelors of Engineering (Hons) and Bachelors of Business student from University of Technology Sydney loved the virtual aspect and connecting with teams from across Australia joining up and hacking for social good.
“Our team drew inspiration from some of the filtration technologies that have existed for thousands of years.
“We knew that a more basic form of filtration technology is needed where its materials are readily available throughout the Vanuatuan communities. We combined this with the educational aspects that helped raise awareness on the importance of clean drinking water for the communities living there.”
Emily says humanitarian engineering is what inspired her to do a degree in engineering.
“I was so excited about this event and being able to see the real-life positive impacts of engineering… even though I had no idea what a “hackathon” was a week ago.
“The entire event was incredible. I was absolutely blown away by not only the exceptional organisers and mentors, but the sheer creativity and professionalism of the other competitors.
“I learnt so much from the event about teamwork, idea generation, and people-centred design. And the box of snacks they sent us didn’t hurt either.”
The importance of mentors in hacking for social good
Team mentor Pradeep Murthy from the University of Sydney mentored two teams focussing on the UN priority areas of education and clean water.
“The Education team’s solution was to develop an app which could provide an additional and a more easily accessible learning platform for the local inhabitants, especially for students.
“That way, student learning could be massively improved and it could boost technology quality and availability, especially mobile data access and sharing, in the Pacific Islands.
“The Water team attempted to provide a culturally appropriate, hygienic and sanitary solution for women who are menstruating. Their solution was to generate sustainable, reusable pads made from locally available materials such as bamboo and rubber.
“This would pave the way for stronger rights and empowerment for women to be healthy and independent. Both teams did a truly SMASHING job at developing their ideas!”
Get hacking for social good and come up with innovative humanitarian solutions for Pacific Islands in this cool hackathon! You can catch all the winning entries, videos and more here.
Author: Heather Catchpole
Heather co-founded Careers with STEM publisher Refraction Media. She loves storytelling, Asian food & dogs and has reported on science stories from live volcanoes and fossil digs