Virtually Creating Education and Employment Opportunities through Technology & Innovation during a Global Pandemic
On 16th and 17th July 2020, PrivaC organized Bangladesh’s first virtual hackathon for women of ages 12 - 30. A hackathon is a 24-hour competition where participants form teams around an idea, and collaboratively code to build a unique solution or improvement to a current system. The final submission has to be a project that has been built using some form of technology, for which they generally take shape in the form of websites, mobile apps, and robots. As the competition was hosted virtually, submissions included a 2-minute video presentation to pitch their project, their code solution, and a document describing the inspiration behind the idea, individual contributions by team members, and the tools, programming languages, or other technologies that were used to build it.
To further prepare the participants for the event, there were 5 pre-event workshops hosted by The Tech Academy to teach Application Development, Game Development, Music Production, Robotics, and Animation. The Tech Academy, with their unique gamified approach to teaching programming, was able to engage the attendees who were from a wide range of ages and backgrounds. Throughout the hackathon, the participants also had a team of 15 highly-qualified technical, scientific and strategic development Mentors to assist them at any point of building their projects.
Once their projects were completed: 16 esteemed judges who have made significant contributions to technology, innovation, and community engagement in Bangladesh, evaluated the submissions. Judges included Shams Jaber (Founder of The Tech Academy), Afreen Huda (HR Director of Reckitt Benckiser), Achia Nila (Founder of Women in Digital BD), Salsabeel Khan (Investment Analyst at Anchorless BD), Sabira Mehrin (Founder of Wander Woman), Namira Hossain (CEO of Cookups), Zahra Ali and Noozyara Eshaba (Co-founders of Zesh + Co.), Moumita Mahfuz (Software Engineer at Women in Digital), Mushfiqur Rahman Saad (Co-Founder of WizKit), Omran Jamal (Founder of Bonton Connect), Umran Mustafa (Co-founder of The Capsule), Umama Zillur (Founder of Kotha), Noorin Suhaila Asjad (Founder of Medisquare Health Ltd), Shah Rafayat Chowdhury (President of Footsteps), and Fasbeer Eskander (Head of Operations at Footsteps). After 5 hours of grading, the following projects came out victorious in the listed prize categories:
Best Hack for Bangladesh: CodeBarriers by Pushpita Saha
Best Project for Women Empowerment: Cut For You by Zahra Zillur, Avita Farhanaz, Tashfia Bari and Shariqa Tasnim Shaila
Best Visual Design, and Best Community Engagement Project: ReLeaf Dhaka by Ramisha Kabir, Rayeeda Siddiqui, Sejal Rahman, and Raiaan Khan. After the hackathon, ReLeaf Dhaka also went on to win HK$ 20,000 at a Hong Kong-based Seeding Campaign competition.
Niloufer Manzur Memorial Award, Best Project for Education & Awareness: Bandhubi by Taqiya Ehsan and Rukaia Rafa
Most Innovative Idea: ImPACT by Tasnia Ishrar Rahman and Shababa Safnan Chowdhury
Most Commercially Viable Project: Circle by Durdana Kamal and Zakia Sameen Noor
Best Beginner Hack: VeganYourLife by Oranti Ahmed Omi, Afsara Tasnim, Sumedha Rahman Prova, and Fariha Mahzabin Annesha
Honourable Mention projects included WeCare, RECOVID, and Meye: projects that attempted to tackle mental health, COVID19 response, and women’s health, respectively.
The sponsors for the prize categories were Wander Woman, Cookups, Zesh + Co., Site Hub, and WizKit. Sean McKay, the founder of SiteHub which is a web development firm in Rochester, NY, mentioned, “We found out about the hackathon from LinkedIn and immediately wanted to support the cause. We believe in diversity and inclusion, and know that there are huge disparities in the USA as well as the rest of the world when it comes to women in technology. So, we wanted to make a difference however we could, and this opportunity was perfect for us. We cannot take any of the credit and are so pleased to be a part of the journey with Nuzhat and her team.”
Nuzhat Minhaz, the Founder & CEO of PrivaC, is a Computing & Information Sciences major at Rochester Institute of Technology, and Harvard Fellow for Tech x Social Impact, who focuses her work on computing security and criminal justice. PrivaC as Bangladesh’s first cybercrime countermeasure services organization, was also built at a hackathon in New York, where it won JP Morgan Chase & Co’s Best Project for Social Good Award, and gained support from international technologists to bring the project to life. On her way to creating this cybersecurity organization, the wide gender imbalance in the technical fields of the Bangladeshi education sector posed a major barrier to growth in cybersecurity, which is a relatively new field in the country. Gender imbalance in STEM fields creates a difference in the solutions that are implemented, due to lack of equal insights and perspectives. Therefore, through PrivaShe Hacks’20: Nuzhat, along with her co-organizers Shebonti Khandaker from Sunbeams School and Zahin Reaz from Washington & Lee University, aimed to create the culture of companies and organizations having the chance to personally witness the talent and diligence of women in STEM, while they are building or presenting their projects: a method of recruitment that is already prevalent in other technologically advanced communities. The anticipated outcome of this is to promote more opportunities for all genders within the technical industries of Bangladesh, so that we can thrive for more specific digital development such as but not limited to human-centered computing, cognitive programming, data management, computer security and protection.
This hackathon not only created an innovation space for Bangladeshi students from technical backgrounds, but also business and humanities students who have brilliant ideas waiting to be developed. Using their team-building and communication skills to build their projects, the participants from both technical and non-technical backgrounds successfully displayed all the traits that big corporations seek in employees in the 21st century. To the success of the event and its attendees: 2 participants were recruited from the event for Data Science and User Experience Design positions by Renata Ltd. to support front-end analytics and product R&D for health-tech projects. According to Syed Omar Kabir from Renata Ltd., “the candidates were inquisitive and keen to learn, despite being recent graduates. Events such as these hackathons, facilitate this type of thinking and innovation, as participants are proactive-- a must, for anyone working at Renata Ltd. Also, Renata has a large focus on hiring future polymaths, and both candidates demonstrated this through the interview process where they independently learned about decision-matrices in finance.”
According to Nuzhat from PrivaC, “To reach for a truly Digital Bangladesh, we have to acknowledge the need to promote and create technical learning and employment opportunities for everyone, regardless of gender, within an economy that is deeply impacted by socio-economic divisions.” She quotes a faculty member at her university’s Software Engineering department, professor Jake Brandt, “let the individual choose not to be an engineer, rather than the economy”. Through virtual events, learning platforms, and training sessions, the arms of technology can reach for all the corners of the country to include everyone in the development process which has already been drastically sped up by digital advancements. Let us all continue to contribute to the progress, especially during a global pandemic.