Random Hacks of Kindness

Published Jul-24-11

Global crowdsourcing events to create applications to help solve development problems, particularly during times of crisis.

RHOK, United States

The Story:

Random Hacks of Kindness Hackers of the world united in 2009 for the first global ‘Random Hacks of Kindness” (RHOK) crowdsourcing program to create software solutions that make a difference.

Since then the community of developers has grown and thousands of individuals have worked on apps that are already having a big impact. A joint initiative between Google, Microsoft, NASA, Yahoo and the World Bank the objective is to use the wisdom and genius of the crowd to provide solutions to climate change challenges and to disaster risk management.

The second global hackathon took place during the first weekend in December 2010 and more than one thousand participants met in 21 locations around the world. The two-day competition gave developers and tech-savvy enthusiasts the opportunity to meet and work with top software developers, and to devise and develop cutting edge solutions to the sorts of problems that occur during humanitarian crises.

Power and Potential of Crowdsourcing

Such is the faith in the creative power of crowdsourcing that the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon gave the keynote address at the launch of the New York event. He observed how the technologies that we take for granted can help vulnerable people around the world and he commented on the convergence of participatory development and open source technologies.

“Both movements have a common denominator,” he said, and “because people have a sense of ownership, what is created is more sustainable and effective. It empowers people at the grassroots to build solutions to their own problems.”

RHOK are community-driven, and anyone can suggest a problem that could have some kind of technical solution, with participants joining in to help solve it. Developers use open source technology that’s public and collaborative and spend more than 30 hours making pitches, scribbling down ideas, and discussing and debating in the hope of generating world beating solutions. And it's all fueled by gallons of coffee, mountains of pizzas and an endless supply of enthusiasm.

Winning Apps

Everyone hopes to come up with the kind of useful innovation that Andy Gup developed in a previous hackathon. He created a software solution that picks up Twitter messages to pinpoint crisis hotspots. It was put to immediate use in Haiti and continues to be used by dozens of aid and relief agencies.

One of the winning applications from the second hackathon came from the Washington DC event and it allows engineers to easily visualize landslide risk which will help their rural development and building planning. So effective is the idea that it is being piloted by the World Bank in the Caribbean.

“I’m OK” was a winner of the very first Random Hack of Kindness and it allows users to inform their friends and family that they are OK in the event of some kind of disaster. During crisis situations the telephone systems are overwhelmed, but this mobile app helps you to send a single “I’m OK” message to a server which then relays it to friends and families.

Winners of each of the events are awarded prizes such as flip phones and other gadgets and on occasion free beer, but they all know that the real rewards come later when their apps are used in the field.

Crowdsourcing in this setting demonstrates how communities and technologies can come together to make the world a better place.

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