The NYUAD campus where the hackathon for social good was hosted April 26-29, 2018
More than one hundred hackers, mentors, and judges from over thirty countries and universities converged on the idyllic campus of New York University – Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) to participate in the hackathon for social good founded by Professor Sana Odeh. Universities represented included Al Ain University of Science and Technology, Al Akhawayn University, American University of Beirut, Harvard, King Saud University, MIT, Oxford, Princeton, Stanford, Wellesley College, and Yale. Institutions represented included Bloomberg, CNN, Facebook, IBM, Google, Microsoft, United Nations, and great startups, some with connections to prior NYUAD hackathons.

The three-day programming marathon (agenda here) took place over an intense long spring weekend (26-29 April 2018) in Abu Dhabi. The experience included eating pizza at midnight as teams raced through the night to solve problems and deliver their hackathon projects – while entrepreneurs, faculty, students, industry professionals, and other participants indulged in intense tech discussions, initiated new projects, collaborations, and friendships that will last well beyond the hackathon itself.

Eighteen ideas, suggested by participants, to support refugees, minorities, and underprivileged, and to increase awareness and understanding of diverse cultures were reduced, through voting, to ten wonderful projects that were implemented by teams that formed during the hackathon. The projects were presented to outstanding judges on the final day. The projects were:

  • Boosala – Compass – Bring the lost home through the use of facial recognition technologies
  • Dawa – Medicine – Tackle counterfeit medications in the MENA region (hyperledger was at the core of the solution)
  • Huwayeti – My Identity – a blockchain hyperledger solution to manage the identity of refugees
  • Insahny – Advise Me – Collect in-class refugee camp live metrics of student participation using Emotion AI
  • Kuwaikeb – Small planets – An uplifting game for children to increase self-esteem and work against some of the recent self-harm games that have emerged on the Internet (2 amazing children participated in this project)
  • MedLughati – My Medical Language – to ease communication between medical staff and refugees through images, NLP & machine learning (Med Image Net was used)
  • Sawa – Together – A chat app to connect refugees to locals who want to learn colloquial Arabic.
  • ShoofChef – Sharing stories of Arabic cuisine via processing restaurant menus, recipes and more
  • Tataoua – Volunteer – An app to manage and foster volunteering with a leaderboard
  • Wadhafni – Hire me – an employee and employer matching app that operates through SMS benefiting the disadvantaged
The NYUAD hackathon for social good 2018

The teams presented, often extraordinary statistics, in support of their projects, e.g., the percentage of counterfeit medications in the region, or the number of refugees without any identification. The use of NLP (Natural language Processing), AI, and hyperledger was popular. Mentors were assigned to teams over the whole weekend and worked with the teams to overcome issues. The team assigned mentor approach helps build enduring relationships between mentors and hackers, and fosters community. Slack was used extensively through the event between and across teams. The code for the hackathon projects is posted on GitHub

One third of the mentors were inspiring alumni from prior hackathons, who gave lightning talks during the early part of the hackathon – such as:

The judges included Caroline Faraj, CNN’s Vice President/Arabic Services; Mark Wood, Engineering Manager in the Bloomberg; Khalil Ramadi, Co-Director of MIT Hacking Medicine, MIT; Toby Harward, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

As well as spending time with the hackers it was wonderful to talk in person with IBM colleagues from across the globe. The international IBM colleagues (some of whom were alumni of prior NYUAD social good hackathons themselves) devoted their weekend to the event by mentoring teams or acting as judges. They included:

  • Dr Kaoutar ElMaghraoui, Research Scientist, US
  • Hananah Ghibeh, Strategy Consultant, UAE
  • Naiyarah Hussain IBM Cloud Developer Experience Team Lead, UAE
  • Susan Malaika, Senior Technical Staff, US
  • Nikita Mathur, Cloud Developer Advocate, UAE
  • Dr Shaila Pervin, Research Staff Member, Australia
  • Saif ur Rehman, Cloud Developer Advocate, UAE

Jen Stammers, IBM Innovation & Developer Experience Leader, joined us for the final day and it was fantastic to meet her for the first time, having worked with her over a number years. Topics we covered included the role of gender in developer advocacy.

On my return to the US, I encountered an immigration officer (we go through US immigration in Abu Dhabi) who was enjoying piecing together what a hackathon is, as he had talked to many hackathon participants on their way back to the US. He was impressed when I told him I had been a consultant and judge.

Many congratulations to all the teams – and I hope our collaborations will continue after such a stunning weekend – working together for social good and building community in the region. Thank you Professor Sana Odeh.


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