Pride Hacks Provided Numerous Tech Solutions to LGBTQ Charities and NGOs

Montreal’s first hackathon for the LGBTQ community made an impact we’re proud of.

As the host city for the Canada Pride 2017 festivities, Montreal’s annual LGBTQ festival was bigger and bolder than ever. The organizers opened the doors to many grass-roots initiatives within their roster of official Pride events, including Queer Tech Montreal’s first ever Pride Hacks. In collaboration with the teams from Expo Entrepreneurs and GLEE of PwC, we set lose the first LGBTQ-focused impact hackathon, a day-long event that melded technology with philanthropy and community empowerment.

Activism using technology

Us professionals in the tech sector are often unaware that we live in knowledge bubble. Though we embrace the endless slew of new digital tools that help streamline our professional and personal lives, most people at arms length from the tech sector have no idea of the existence of these helpful apps and software — many of which are available for free. This is especially true for members of the not-for-profit sector that are strapped for time and lack basic tech expertise. Indeed, many of these organisations are burdened with inefficiencies due to an inability to implement the latest digital tools on hand.

Here we saw an opportunity to act: by mobilizing the tech community, we could provide a major upgrade to the tech capacities of prominent NGOs. In turn, the efficiency gains by these organisations would enable them to provide more essential services to marginalised members of our community using fewer resources.

Structuring a hackathon to produce the best results

Members of the tech community expect hackathons to be a weekend event where geeks of all stripes come together to build cool digital tools that address problems typically defined on site. This model is less-than-ideal because it places the solutions-cart before the problem-horse.

Solutions built for problems determined with little prior analysis, at haste and onsite by participants — most of which lack specific expertise to a given problem set — often fail to produce lasting positive impact once the hackathon ends. We wanted Pride Hacks to have the greatest impact possible; we decided to throw the current model out the window, replacing it with an arguably better one.

A key difference in the planning of Pride Hacks was that our organising committee conducted a thorough tech assessment for each NGO more than a month prior to the event. Following hour-long interviews with board members and directors of the NGOs, we recorded well-defined problem sets and skills required to solve them (see below; here we anonymized the problem sets, and note that “Organisation 1” dropped-out just prior to the event, leave 5 remaining NGOs for the hackathon).

To begin the hackathon, participants perused the problem sets. We then allowed self-chosen leaders within our participants to choose a problem that interested them the most and form a team with the necessary skill sets. By the end of the day, we were able to address in some form nearly half of the problems sets.

For most tech enthusiasts and hard-core coder geeks, many of these problem sets seemed duh-duh basic. Simple, yes, but these tech issues were major thorns in the side for these NGOs; solving them within a blink of an eye provide much value. Other problems, however, did require a high level of technical skill and creativity. Revamping archaic websites, establishing new telecommunication systems and building a geo-localisation app were notable examples.

(We will soon publish an article series on our blog detailing how we organized Pride Hacks so that other members of the tech community can replicate our impact hackathon on their home turf. Stay tuned!)

Real solutions made by a diverse and devoted team

Promoting diversity and inclusion in the tech sector is core to Queer Tech Montreal’s mandate. In complement with our values, we were pleased that we attracted nearly 100 participants at roughly a 50–50 split of LGBTQ-identified and non-LGBTQ (Ally) members; unforeseen was that tech employees from many of our corporate sponsors for Pride Hacks also participated, and thus contributed both skills in addition to financial support. Overall, we estimate that our participants provided nearly 600 hours of tech support to these resource-limited not-for-profits.

By necessity, board members and directors of the NGOs also attended the event. Their presence enabled our hackathon participants to trouble shoot solutions and set up tech interventions most appropriate for their needs. Moreover, by incorporating NGOs as active members of our hackathon, participants could see with their own eyes how even small, simple tech improvements filled their board members with excitement and appreciation.

Here we share a video that provides a summary of our work and shows the warm and welcoming atmosphere at Pride Hacks.

Expect to see us at Pride Hacks 2.0

Pride festivities to date have focused on parties, cultural events and activism. To our knowledge, Pride Hacks broke new ground by being the first technology-focused event, one that enabled Ally and LGBTQ professionals to make a notable impact within Montreal’s LGBTQ community. Having validated the value we can bring to those in need, Queer Tech Montreal will commit to making Pride Hacks an annual, perhaps biannual, occurrence.

With the growing dominance technology has in our daily lives, we at Queer Tech Montreal observe that the benefits from technology is unevenly distributed in our society. Us tech professionals have a responsibility to ensure that everyone can be empowered by the latest digital innovations that are impacting virtually every aspect of our lives. Ensuring the tech capacities of charities and not-for-profits remain in-step with innovation is but one means to achieve this laudable goal.

Queer Tech MTL meets monthly; come join us for our next event. Subscribe to our Meetup group and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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