Trying To Save The World In A Weekend, Penn Students "Hack The Change"

Hackers hear the weekend's problem statements
Hackers hear the weekend's problem statements

The Philadelphia tech scene assembled late in the afternoon last Friday with a spectacular ambition – change the world in a single weekend.  Dubbing the event Hack The Change, University of Pennsylvania students from the Penn Society for International Development organized a new breed of hackathon where developers and development workers joined forces for a weekend to tackle big problems and effect real change.

Equal parts NGO workshop and frantic prototype sprint, Hack The Change kicked off in Philly’s new co-working space venturef0rth with a novel approach for a hackathon.  Instead of pitching business plans, social good change agents presented a curated set of problem statements, trimmed and treated to be tackled over a weekend.  Representatives were on hand from Amnesty International, USAID, STAND, and many others to present their problems, most of whom never attended a hackathon before.

Organized by Penn undergraduates Pratham Mittal and Casey Rosengren, Hack The Change saw over 20 problem statements presented.  Two days of frantic whiteboarding, hacking, ping-pong-playing and not sleep later, those statements were answered by 14 different prototype solutions.  They addressed a diverse range of issues from Abelian tackling  the tough coordination of carpooling to Twilio Food Bank providing a touchtone directory of Philadelphia food pantries and Momento to remind users when to get on and off their public transportation of choice.

DOers Doing Good

Hack The Change was all about powernaps
Hack The Change was all about powernaps

All three top prizes featured Twilio in their hacks, representing the DOer mindset in full effect.

  1. Monitor Squared – an Ushahidi-powered SMS election monitoring tool.
  2. Pots and Pans Alerts – A location-based SMS early warning system for genocide prevention and community alerts.
  3. Text The Change – A super easy SMS campaign creator for NGOs.

Something Special Is Going On In Philadelphia

The more time I spend in Philadelphia the faster I’m approach the conclusion that the Philly tech scene is blossoming into something promising.  Though small, the scene is very tight-knit, committed and unafraid to dream big, as events like Hack The Change prove.  And the beating heart of this growing tech community are undergrads like Pratham and Casey who are demonstrating remarkable leadership and organization for such a young age, and are unafraid to martial the incredible power they wield to bring into the world the change they want to be.

For all the demos, check out the recording on Livestream:

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