The past weekend saw the 4th edition of the global Random Hacks of Kindess (RHoK) event where 30+ cities and 3000+ participants all over the world dedicated a weekend of their time to work on problems related to humanity and the environment.
I organized the first Southampton edition in June which was so well received I organized the December edition this past weekend as well. This time with some great help from Alejandro of HackaSoton. For more information on the concept of a RHoK event see the FAQ I wrote earlier.
Of the 50 people who registered 32 attended, which, by hackathon standards, is a good turnout. We had a nice space to work in and just the right occupation to give it a cozy, community feel. We kicked off with about 8 problem statements covering such things as adolescent health in Kenya, music therapy for Alzheimers patients, data analysis to improve young lives (from Keyfund), sanitation (presented live from Tanzania), and mapping health services. There was also a presentation by Rich Wilson from import.io, a tool participants could use in their solutions.
Attendees then had time to talk to problem owners and select the project that interested them the most. Eventually we had 6 teams working on 6 very different problems and by the time everybody had settled down it was time for lunch.
At this point we had a number of short talks planned: Mark Lunney from London Google Developer Group (who were very kind to sponsor this event), Jack Townsend from CleanwebUK, and Justine MacKinnon, founder of CrisismappersUK.
Unfortunately Justine didn’t manage to make it but I think everybody enjoyed the talks by Mark and Jack.
From then on focus turned to architecture diagrams, flow charts, and laptop screens. A shared Spotify playlist ensured ambient background music, resulting in a very chilled out atmosphere, characteristic of the whole weekend.
A global event
One of the great things about a RHoK is that it’s a global event and this really adds an extra dimension. Every location has a dedicated ustream channel and we had a number of locations projected throughout the weekend as well as a live Twitter feed. We also had a hangout session with some of my fellow compatriots at RHoK Belgium.
At around 6pm it was time for pizza and a brief intermezzo in the way of a presentation by Benjie Gillam, founder of Southackton, the local hackerspace group. Hacking then continued until 11pm when we had to vacate the building.
Work resumed the next morning at 9am, kicked off by The Lion King opening song, soon followed by David Guetta’s Titanium. Heads started bobbing, feet started tapping, and the chilled out atmosphere soon returned. Another short intermezzo at lunch and a short talk by me on RLabs.
The end of lunch marked the start of the sprint towards the final presentations and demos, the atmosphere growing ever more frantic as the deadline approached.
Presentations kicked off at 3:30pm and each of the 6 groups was allotted 15mins to show what it is they built. Like last time, judging happend in a peer-to-peer fashion: everybody had to fill out an online score card (a Google Form) for each of the other groups. Results were then averaged and ranked.
The overall winner turned out to be team EnergySource, led by Jack Townsend:
Second place was shared by Mindfull Music (Alzheimer Music therapy, pitched by Mark Blackwell) and Team Alex & Tom (Rhythm training, pitched by Vanessa Cobb of Atass Group). Third place was for Jipange (family planning information and education, pitched by Fiona Ngarachu from the Global South Forum).
The top 4 teams received RHoK T-shirts and the teams in second place each received a Gadgeteer kit, courtesy of Microsoft Research Cambridge. The winning team received RHoK winners T-shirts as well as what was left of the budget, to be spent wisely and in the spirit of RHoK.
It was late when I finally managed to crash in my sofa at home, put my feet up, and reflect upon the event. As an organizer its a lot of running around before, during, and after but seeing everybody happy, well fed, and enjoying themselves always makes it worth it. It was great seeing people connect, share stories, learn, and work together on something useful.
Sure we didn’t solve world hunger. Nor did we forget that technology is just a tiny piece of the overall puzzle and the work done only makes an indirect contribution to the reality on the ground. However…even if many projects stop here (and most do) we must not forget one thing: over the whole global RHoK event more than 3000 people consciously took a weekend off, away from their family and hobbies, to work with a bunch of strangers and donate their skills and expertise to do something for the better. However small or indirect each contribution might be, in each case somebody stood up and actually did something, without expectation of reward. Given the people they met and the ideas they were confronted with, who knows what they may do next.
On that note I want to end this blog post with a big final thank you:
- The University of Southampton and Mike Bartlett for ensuring space and equipment
- The sponsors for helping out with food and prizes: Google, Enterprise at the UoS, Microsoft Gadgeteer, ATASS Group, Tangent Web Design
- Alejandro Saucedo for helping out with the organization and providing a soundtrack to the event
- Lisa Harris, Ivan Melendez, Amir Arya, Farahnoosh Berahman, and the rest of the digichamps team for doing such a wonderful job of managing social media, taking pictures, doing video interviews, etc.
- Mark Lunney, Jack Townsend, Benjie Gillam, and Rich Wilson for doing short talks
- All those who registered, attended and put in hard work to have made this a successful event.
And last, but certainly not least, my family for letting me disappear for another weekend in order to make this event happen.
To all the teams: I hope you keep working on your projects and keep me posted. I look forward to seeing you again soon.