The Hackathon: A Powerful Tool for Government Innovation

The tech sector is known for solving some of the toughest problems through innovative thinking. Companies like Microsoft, Apple, Google and Facebook have forever changed how people interact with each other and the world around them. These companies, their peers, and the myriad of startups inspired by them also attract some of the best talent in the world, including developers, coders, designers, product managers and other experts.

Free enterprise and business, particularly the tech sector, has a huge role to play in solving the world’s problems, including leveraging the talent they’ve cultivated. Unfortunately, many of these talented individuals are often busy with their day-jobs or simply unaware of some of the broad challenges that humanity faces when it comes to democratizing technology to serve the greater good.

This is where hackathons come in: events designed to bring together the best and brightest software and technology professionals for just one day to solve some of the toughest, most pervasive problems faced by nonprofits, nongovernmental organizations and governments today.

At AngelHack, we’re excited to be at the forefront of this trend — connecting top tech talent with governments, nonprofits, corporations and other nongovernmental organizations to improve our world.

An Environment for Rapid Innovation

While the primary focus of hackathons is problem solving, there are a myriad of other benefits at these events, which is why many traditionally non-tech companies are jumping on board (read more about this trend in this recent article from the Economist). Participants get the chance to collaborate with new people in their industry, learn new skills, find team members for other projects and win prizes. Some will build a new product, receive an offer for a new position or attract investors for a startup idea. Most importantly, hackathons have already generated numerous solutions for sustainable energy, better data usage, an improved healthcare industry and more.

The 2013 Open NASA hackathon showed just how expansive a simple idea could become, with over 8,000 participants, 52 challenges and 100 proposed solutions. Perhaps the reason events such as these have generated such a positive impact is their casual and dynamic atmosphere. The reality is that bureaucracy and process, a so-called “necessary evil” for many governments and organizations, can often hinder technological advancement. At a 24-hour hackathon, frankly, there’s no time for polite conversation, diplomacy, bureaucratic red-tape, or second-guessing. Teams meet each other, create an idea and build it in a fun, fast-paced environment with limited constraints. This rapid community-building is fostered by team-building activities including games, dancing, eating, and more — the opposite of a serious and dry mood you mind expect to find at an event focused on solving some of the most pressing issues.

Governments Creating Change with AngelHack

AngelHack is the leading host of hackathons, including virtual challenges, global competitions and white-label hackathons working with corporations, governments and nonprofits. Sabeen Ali is AngelHack’s CEO, and holds a Masters Degree in Organizational Development. Ali leads AngelHack with the intention of building a diverse community and connecting change-makers with those that need innovative solutions the most.

Specifically, we strongly believe that government has a critical role to play in leveraging technology for social impact. After all, much of the free enterprise system and startup ecosystem is fostered by and may not even have come into existence without government. Specifically in Silicon Valley, many of the biggest tech giants owe their breakthroughs in innovation to government support (find a great read on that here.)

At AngelHack, we’re open to collaborating with national, state and local governments to make change. For example, the 2015 Free Enterprise Hackathon, presented by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, aimed to propel social change by supporting small businesses. Team Growth Economic Trends Map (GETMap) came in first place with their development of an app that allows viewers to visualize the impact of small-and-medium-sized businesses (SMBs) on their respective states.

Hackathons can also serve to bridge the communication gap between government decision-makers and the general public. For example, The Kerala Road Safety Hackathon addressed traffic safety in India, where 11% of all traffic accidents worldwide take place (approximately 400 per day). This partnership initiative between the World Bank, IFC and AXA, in association with the Kerala Road Safety Authority and Department of Information Technology, supported by AngelHack and GTech, brought together hackers to develop innovative solutions around engineering, enforcement, education and emergency services.

Another example of this is The GeoHackathon 2015, organised by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), which aims to solve real-world problems using Geospatial Information Systems and Technology (GIST). AngelHack’s very own Ian Chong, Regional Manager for AngelHack in Asia, helped teams at the hackathon develop their pitches for their products that will address cultural preservation, STEM education, health, safety and more. Our team relishes the opportunity not only to organize, but also support events like this in any way we can.

Investing in startup technology, and identifying those opportunities through hackathons is another great way for governments to engage.For example, the winner of AngelHack’s HACKcelerator Global Demo Day (which brings together the top 18 teams from our Global Hackathon Series), Plain Exchange, recently received a $100,000 grant via the Cyberport University Partnership Program, which is owned and managed by the Hong Kong Cyberport Management Company Limited, which is wholly owned by the Hong Kong SAR Government. This program, which provides an entrepreneurship bootcamp with Stanford University, helps startups grow and innovate. Plain Exchange’s app allows global travelers to sell leftover currencies and purchase other currencies from fellow travelers in an affordable, efficient manner.

At AngelHack, we’re dedicated to fostering economic development and addressing tough issues in partnership with governments. For example, how can we empower under-represented populations to participate in the technology boom? How can we encourage the brightest minds to build products that address issues around hunger, poverty and inequality? Could we create a hackathon that brings hackers from different nationalities together to fight cyber-terrorism? Could a hackathon change attitudes on child marriage? Could a hackathon help solve for climate change? These are the kinds of questions that inspire the work we do everyday, and we’re excited to collaborate. If you’re interested in working with us, please reach out: rachel@angelhack.com.