NPO’s benefit from pro IT skills in charity hackathon

Explore Assurity 20 December 2013 Alice Chu

Two months ago, the organisers of Charity IT – including myself, Jonathan Scher, Althea Carbon and Melanie Bourke – came up with the idea of a charity hackathon. We set ourselves a slightly ambitious date for the event of the first week of December.

Our vision was to bring Non-profit Organisations (NPO’s) and IT professionals together over a weekend to help these NPO’s solve small IT problems that could make a big difference to the daily running of their organisations. The clock was ticking and we had no time to waste. And we had three major obstacles to overcome.

First, to find NPO’s who needed IT solutions that could be realistically achieved in a weekend.

We started by contacting NPO’s in Wellington. Initially, they seemed a bit dubious, as we had no track record in such an event. But we persisted and news of our event started to spread among local NPO’s.  Some jumped at the opportunity and we soon had four NPO’s signed up and committed to the weekend

Secondly, to find sponsorship to help with the costs of running the event and provide a venue.

Next, we needed a venue with reliable Internet access… and some funding. Fortunately, Jonathan and I work for Assurity who are very supportive of staff initiatives. So we approached them and secured their Wellington office as the venue, plus a comfortable budget to pay for expenses. Assurity upgraded the guest Internet connection (thanks to the WeTest Conference for testing the network first!).

And finally, to find IT volunteers who would participate during the weekend

Two weeks before the event, we were still missing one very crucial component – the volunteers! We set about using all our resources to reach IT professionals in the community. Social networks proved useful – Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Reddit. We attended Wellington MeetUp Groups and made full use of our personal contacts. Within a week, registrations rocketed and our event was finally coming together.

After overcoming these three hurdles, we still had to plan the event! This included catering for 40 people, setting an agenda and communicating with all the participants in the lead up to the event.

Then came D-day!

Our volunteers and NPO representatives arrived on the Friday evening and we kicked off with presentations from each NPO outlining who they are and why they needed help in their IT systems. It was great to witness such an abundance of enthusiasm and energy in the room when volunteers were given the opportunity to talk to the NPO representatives afterwards and decide on the organisation they would work with. A few deep conversations later and everyone left with an excited anticipation of what would be achieved over the weekend.

On Saturday morning, all the participants arrived fresh-faced, enthused and eager to get started. Fuelled by some fresh coffee, the volunteers grouped with their NPO’s and began hacking away on their laptops. Amazingly, within the first three hours, the team working with the Wellington Soup Kitchen already had something to show and gave a quick demonstration to everyone.

By the end of the day, all the teams had produced something tangible and were supporting each other in their missions. 

Sunday quickly came round, our volunteers appearing slightly fatigued from Saturday’s hard work. But they committed themselves fully to the job at hand to ensure the NPO’s had something of value by the end of the event. The volunteers’ dedication to the task was humbling – something I’m sure the NPO’s would testify to. 

At the end of the event, each team – the NPO’s and the volunteers – jointly presented their IT systems. The energy and passion demonstrated throughout the weekend was absolutely incredible and inspiring.

Thanks to Assurity for supporting the Charity IT Hackathon with a great venue and for fuelling the participants throughout the weekend. Thanks also to the NPO representatives who took time out of their busy schedules to participate in the event. A special thumbs up to two Assurity staff – Ceedee Doyle and Norbert Lee who provided much-needed extra support that helped the event run smoothly.  And last, but not least… a great big thank you to all our volunteers for their dedication and commitment.

The organisers and support staff