The third annual NYU Abu Dhabi International Hackathon for Social Good, which was held on February 16, saw students from the region and around the world convene at NYUAD Downtown Campus to compete. The computer science students also had opportunities to interact and network with venture capitalists, technology professionals, and successful startups over the three-day programming marathon.
Teams were tasked with creating innovative mobile and web applications for the benefit of social good in the Arab world. The ideas varied from civic innovation application, which reminds mobile user to silent their phones in the vicinity of mosques, to an application that helps tourists plan trips in the region by generating itineraries and activities. Each team was also paired with mentors who guided them through the programming marathon.
Alexandra Qin, a member from last year's winning idea Take Flight, was invited back to mentor team Murshed, who came up with the idea to crowdsource direction questions to places when online maps are inaccurate. Asking about her role as a mentor, Qin said, "I help them work on their idea and figure out features, keeping the team on schedule and motivated."
With just four minutes to present their ideas, each team put up a strong show to wow the judges and audience. Ultimately, the first prize went to team Tabibi, which came up with a digital nurse application that reminds the elderly to take their medication. It also features an alert function that sends emergency notification to patient contacts when health problems occur. This high-energy team also won the Audience Choice Award and the Liwa Ventures Social Impact Award, walking home with AED 6,000 in prize money.
Ecstatic to have won, Khalifa University senior Abdallah Zoubir Ourad said: "I've been to a lot of such events and I've never seen such a strong and well organized Hackathon. It is really an honor to win this one." Adding to what makes the Hackathon amazing, Ourad said, "You have to use your skills to finish an idea in three days with whatever technology you have."
The first runner-up prize went to team Jedis, which created an SMS-based platform to allow local Arab businesses to instantly create a web presence. Team WellSense, which came in third, was made up of mainly NYUAD students; they created a cost-effective solution for monitoring water levels in wells to benefit NGOs and local populations. WellSense is also the only team to have created both a software and hardware application for the Hackathon.
NYUAD Clinical Professor of Computer Science Sana Odeh, who organized the event, said there were 95 participants with an impressive zero dropout rate. The number of teams also grew to 15, from 10 last year. With an increase in participants, Odeh said that one of the challenges she faced this year was having "so many good ideas but a limitation of time and space." On the bright side: a significant increase in female participation. "The usual percentage of women participants in Hackathons outside the Arab world is under 10 percent. But here, it is more than 25 percent," Odeh said.
Odeh credits the interest and increase in female enrollment in technology and computer science fields in the Arab world due to the lack of stigma. "People simply think it as a new field which is innovative and empowering. It's also very flexible for women as they can work at home and still be an entrepreneur here in the Arab world."
Read about the NYUAD Hackathon's coverage by The National .