Fueled by determination and caffeine, more than 80 computer programmers recently faced their laptop screens with one hope: to make a difference in the Arab world. This year's International Hackathon for Social Good in the Arab World, held from February 22 to 24 at NYU Abu Dhabi's Downtown Campus, invited teams of talented student programmers from 16 nations to design computer applications that would provide solutions to issues specific to the Arab region. Topics included health, education, science, and art. During the event, participants collaborated with mentors from renowned organizations such as Microsoft Research, NASA, Google, and the Arab Academy for Science.
After just two days — during which the teams determined their concepts and completed project development — 16 applications were ready to be presented to a judging panel comprised of members from venture capital funds.
"All of the teams developed applications with strong impact," said Sana Odeh, affiliated professor of Computer Science at NYUAD and founder of the event.
Tackling the challenges of high youth unemployment rates, Seth Thompson and Geoffrey Litt from Yale University, Omar Omran from the Lebanese American University, and Alex Qin from NYU New York took first place with Take Flight, a web application that links students to mentors from across the globe through Facebook. To facilitate dialogue, users can build a profile listing what skill sets they seek to attain, as well as skills they can teach. Take Flight allows users to schedule videoconference appointments with their mentors and translation services are available to overcome language barriers.
I liked the opportunity to build something unique to the Arab world. The Hackathon provided a great opportunity to flex my programming abilities, learn from some great mentors, and showcase my development skills.
Second place went to Safe Journey, which was created by a team with members from Princeton University, Ain Shams University, and Khalifa University of Science, Technology & Research. The mobile application notifies the user's progress from one destination to another to a selected contact via SMS, aiming primarily to ensure the safety of women and children using public transportation.
The NYUAD team — whose members were sophomore Oleg Grishin and freshmen Morgante Pell and Moiri Gamboni — took third place with Landmarks, an application that addresses the common issue of inconsistent street names and nonexistent street numbers in the Arab world. "We'll be launching it publicly soon and believe it can benefit people around the Arab world by making navigation much easier, encouraging exploration of new communities, and providing a platform for increased geographical awareness," said Pell.
The judges, as well as mentors from Microsoft and Google, showed interest in funding several of the teams to implement their projects full-scale.
After three days of brainstorming and designing with fellow programmers from institutions across the globe, Hackathon participants rediscovered the power of technology to enhance society. "I strongly believe in the potential for technology to be a social equalizer. In particular, I liked the opportunity to build something unique to the Arab world. The Hackathon provided a great opportunity to flex my programming abilities, learn from some great mentors, and showcase my development skills," said Pell.
"We received great feedback from the students, mentors, and judges," said Odeh. "I think that this year's Hackathon has exceeded our expectations on all levels."