« Hack the Goals »
Enabel organised a series of 6 “Hack the Goals” hackathons, in Senegal, Niger, the Palestinian territories, Morocco and Uganda.
Hackathons are 48-hour events which bring together teams of digital experts with citizens or civil society organisations.
Their challenge? Co-create innovative solutions for addressing the challenges of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With this 1st edition of “Hack the Goals” Enabel wants to show that it does not take a digital expert to meaningfully contribute to digital solutions.
Two of our Junior Experts have actively contributed to the event in their country of assignment, Céline Mewissen in Niger and Laura Schillemans in the Palestinian territories.
A few days after the hackathons they shared their experiences with us.
What was your input in this 1st series of Enabel hackathons?
Céline: “I helped organise the Hackathon in Niger with Rona, a National Technical Assistant of the Health Sector Support Programme (PASS). He is responsible for digitisation and organised such an event in the past. For me, it was a first, and I am thankful I could rely on his expertise! Together, we managed this event from A to Z in coordination with Enabel’s Brussels head office and with the help of the Incubator Centre in Niger, which was our partner of choice “
Laura: ”I was the local contact person for Enabel in Palestine. I was in charge of finding and following up the right partner organisations for the events in the West Bank and Gaza (where the lead was in the hand of our representative Haneen Abu Nahla). In addition, I participated in the sharing sessions with the other organising countries, I worked at the information folders targeting both participants and jury members, I organised brainstorming sessions with local experts to decide which SDGs we would focus on and I promoted the event on the social media.”
Where did this initiative originate? What was the goal in your country of assignment?
Céline: “Hack the Goals is an initiative that was developed in Brussels. It aims to promote the rebranded Belgian development agency Enabel and to position it as a Digital for Development (D4D) leader. The Enabel Representations in Belgium’s partner countries were invited to participate in the initiative. Enabel in Niger responded with much enthusiasm, for several reasons.
First, this event allowed people in Niger to develop solutions for challenges that directly concern them. For us it was important to contribute to an initiative in which the partners take a key role in their own development. The Hackathon weekend showed us that the ideas are there and only need to be given a forum to be shared. Furthermore, Niger is a country of which little is heard outside its own borders. So, the event offered an occasion to put Niger and the people of Niger in the spotlights and to make known the challenges which the country is facing. Finally, two Enabel programmes were launched a few months ago, each with digital objectives, among others. This Hackathon could help launch the digital approach “
Laura: ”In the Palestinian territories we covered several themes: access to health care for inhabitants from isolated areas, facilitating discussions on social issues, long-distance work for inhabitants of Gaza, knowledge about civil rights and strengthening the relations between local authorities and inhabitants.”
Does such a contribution fall under your current Junior Expert tasks?
Céline: “Yes and no. For a Communication & Knowledge Building Junior Expert Hack the Goals is indeed part of my tasks because it is a means to help promote Enabel. But organising this event was outside the scope of my normal work. It was a project just by itself, with a major budget that had to be managed, with reliable partners and providers that needed to be found, and with logistics that needed to be coordinated during the actual Hackathon weekend. And the work is not finished yet, because now we must send our winning team to Brussels and support them to have them succeed in further developing their idea.
Yet, as I think of it, Junior Experts are well-placed to organise such a type of event. I believe we are here to boost the energy and creativity within our projects of assignment. After all, the Junior Programme is first and foremost an opportunity for acquiring as much experience and skills as possible. And that is what involvement in the Hack the Goals initiative in Niger offered me.“
Laura: ”Absolutely! Organising events suits a communication officer perfectly. Because I have a ‘transversal’ role, I knew about the various themes and was in touch with our local experts. It also was an ideal moment to develop adapted communication materials for the event.”
Was the event a success in your country of assignment?
Céline: ”In Niger, such an event was a risky undertaking. Some partners already pay attention to digitisation, but the Digital for Development approach is not very much developed yet. The context is not really fostering digitisation, because infrastructure is limited and mobile and internet connections may be of poor quality.
Yet, it turned out to be a success! Very nice ideas emerged from these 48 hours of intensive work. The needs exist and the ideas and talents to address these are present in Niger. But they just need the chance to be expressed and developed through such events as Hack the Goals. Many attendants and experts expressed their interest in disseminating this experience.“
Laura: “Enthusiasm during both Hackathons was huge. Many youths considered this an opportunity to help start initiatives that really make a difference in their country. It was also simple for them to connect with the various themes. It soon was clear that digital knowhow is well developed in the Palestinian territories, especially among the young.”
What kind of audiences does such an event attract?
Céline: ”An important characteristic of Hack the Goals is the principle of co-creation. We were instructed from the onset to target various profiles: Coders and IT specialists, international cooperation professionals, staff of partner country institutions, beneficiaries, etc. That was a challenge by itself, considering that hackathons primarily attract coders!
Yet, we were able to bring together a variety of people, including a Ministry of Health official, a Tahoua stock breeder who came just for the event, agronomists, health students, entrepreneurs and coders. Each participant had the occasion to add to the work, whether in terms of technical competencies, knowledge of the challenges in the field, or creativity.
In addition, coaches offered support and expertise and provided focus and steered the teams which hailed from various – business, development sector, health and stockbreeding – backgrounds. The participants much appreciated the help of the coaches.“
Laura: ”Most participants were students. They were assisted by local experts of Enabel and of the partner organisations. In Gaza we worked with UCASTI, the technology incubator of the University College of Applied Sciences, and on the West Bank we worked with both Shiam, Bank of Palestine and TechnoPark. The members of the jury were from the partner organisations and were assisted by Belgium’s Consul and Head of Development Cooperation, Eric De Muynck.”
Which were the main challenges addressed?
Céline: ”The challenges proposed to the participants concerned the two sectors in which Enabel works in Niger: stockbreeding and health. On the one hand, stockbreeding is practised by approximately 87 % of the population. Many actors are concerned, but it is hard to develop the sector in an organised way. On the other hand, sexual and reproductive health is a challenge in that it is a taboo because of religious and cultural customs. Youths cannot access information and are therefore exposed to sexually transmitted diseases and infections and there are many early pregnancies.“
Laura: ”Especially the division of the Palestinian territories was a challenge. There is Gaza and the West Bank, which is why two Hackathons were organised so as to reach all inhabitants. There were also practical problems: It was not always possible to get connected with Gaza, which complicated the organisation and the synergy with the event on the West Bank.”
What innovative solutions have been proposed? Which concept won the 1st prize in your country?
Céline: “For stockbreeding four applications were proposed for recording sales and purchases on stock markets. That is where many actors meet and many transactions are made. But everything is done on paper nowadays. The teams consider digitisation of the process a means to make the information accessible and improve transparency of these key moments. By making information available all actors in the chain, and particularly vulnerable households, can benefit of a better redistribution of the profits.
Two teams addressed the challenges of sexual and reproductive health. Each has developed a project that was to address the lack of information channels for youths and particularly girls. Sexually transmitted diseases and infections and early pregnancies impact their health but also their school career since pregnant girls are generally forced to quit school. These teams included many girls, who were very concerned by the topic.“
The winning design concept in Niger is ‘Zôkaji’, which in a local language means ‘listen and understand’. It is an application for youths providing them, in a playful and discrete manner, with sexual and reproductive health information. This initiative aims to be inclusive. It would be made available in various languages, including French and the local Haoussa and Zarma languages, and takes into account the low rate of literacy in the region. That is why the content would be accessible in audio and use icons.“
Laura: ”The winning local team from Gaza addressed the challenge of informing Palestinians about their civil rights in the various territories where they live. The West Bank, for instance, is divided in A, B and C Areas, each with rules of its own. And the rules differ again for Palestinians living in Gaza.
The team chose for developing a ‘gamification’ concept by reproducing real-life situations in a game and explaining them.
The winning West Bank team, which eventually also represented the Palestinian territories in Belgium, developed a concept to make health care more accessible for inhabitants from remote areas. They designed a ‘Pocket Doctor’, an application that is linked to a smart watch to, among other things, forward real-time information about a patient’s health to health care providers.”
Were you satisfied with this event as a Junior Expert? Is it worthwhile to repeat it?
Céline: “No doubt! Of course, because it is a time-consuming activity, Hack the Goals forced me to reconsider and reschedule my priorities in communication. But this is not bad because I could be part of an innovative event of such scope.
As a Junior Expert it is very satisfying to experience the trust that Enabel puts in us. Managing such an initiative and assuming the responsibilities that come with it was one of the most valuable experiences that I have had!“
Laura: ”Definitely! It was inspiring to see those students at work and to look with them at different digital solutions for local issues. It gave me new insights on the challenges which people in the Palestinian territories face every day.“
Hack the Goals is officially ending on 16 November in Brussels with a festive closing event where each participating country’s finalist will attend the final prize award ceremony. The winning team will be awarded a 5 000 euro cheque to be used towards realising its idea!
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