The real point of global hackathons

By: Sara Terp

TL;DR: it’s global community!

I’m sitting in the iHub Nairobi today, waiting for Space Apps Challenge to start.  I’ve been in Kenya for a few days now, spending time with the amazing techs here, and getting more and more impatient for the first Brcks to go on sale (and not just because I’m about to be working in rural Tanzania).  Because the one thing that holds people back here, and in many other “developing” countries, is connectivity. The ability to connect to the global community of information that the internet and all its pages, apps, and datastores offers without having those “I would get you that information but the power just went off / the internet just went down” moments.  Brck is designed to help solve that type of connectivity problem.  But there are other forms of connection happening across the internet: the human ones.

Back in 2010, Spike Foote and I spent 48 very long hours connecting people across the world working on similar problems (or the same problems) in different Random Hacks of Kindness cities.  I still remember the shock from the iHub, and especially the AkiraChix, that people outside Nairobi were watching what they did, and wanted to reach out and connect to them.  Yes, there are many comments about how effective the projects from global hackathons are and aren’t, and there are things that could be done better, like organizing global lists of for-good hackathons and projects done and to do (which is one reason that OpenGoodHacks was created), but the one thing that I always point to, that I always come back to, is that global hackathons create global hacker communities.  These are the people who really solve the problems in a country – the people from those countries, working together with people around the world, sharing ideas.  In 2010, I watched the Nairobi hackers teach US hackers about mobile phone programming.  These are the kinds of connections that make us strong together.

And now, as I sit here waiting for Nairobi to start, whilst checking comments from SpaceApps sites around the world, in a space that has fostered many local tech companies and many great local hackers, I think about the challenges ahead for this globalized world.  I am more aware than ever that we have to connect across borders and continents, and that the best way in for many many people is through global hackathons like this.  That, and remembering to create low-bandwidth versions of the tech pages that people here need access to!