The cafeteria at Engineering City in Yerevan was buzzing with innovative and unconventional ideas during the weekend of 15-16 December for the launch of the Geeks Against Gender-Based Violence Hackathon.
Comprising 14 teams in total, the hackathon brought together about 50 young IT specialists, developers, start-up owners, and gender experts to design mobile applications to help combat Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in Armenia, and beyond.
The hackathon welcomed a very diverse and creative group of people, thanks to the efforts of its co-hosts – Enterprise Incubator Foundation (winners of the World Bank’s 2018 Development Marketplace Award) and Innovative Solutions Technology Center. In addition to application developers and technology experts, the event involved students and young people from across Armenia.
“I never really imagined that I would be interested in the issue of GBV, until I came across the hackathon announcement,” says Shahane Arushanyan, a participant. “In the last 10 days, I’ve started reading, trying to slowly get into this very gloomy subject, and I am now excited, if not passionate, to deliver an idea that could eventually end up as an app.”
In the months leading up to the hackathon, the organizing team held several information-sharing sessions with experts on Gender-Based Violence to learn more about this global problem and to brainstorm about how a digital application could help combat GBV.
“It’s quite natural that ‘hacking’ solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges are becoming popular,” says Jina Sargizova, a GBV expert and member of the hackathon jury. “An opportunity to empower people through technology – particularly those who suffer – has never been more important. But, it’s really about the people and not only about technology.”
The GBV experts suggested that the hackathon participants keep five specific issues in focus: violence against women, sexual violence against children, virtual sexual abuse, GBV analysis, and sex education. The participants brainstormed in groups and also in pairs, sharing all kinds of technological ideas.
“We did our homework well,” says Robert Adamyan, on the first day of the hackathon. “Three of us searched and read whatever was available. Today we have come with a clear mind – the idea will be developed throughout the next 24-hours. We’re looking forward to the next meeting because we have a lot of questions, what comes first, what comes next, what’s the reason behind the lack of a logistical chain between many GBV organizations, etc.”
On the second day, the teams held their last group discussions, perfected their ideas, and prepared their presentations. The afternoon concluded with 14 team presentations and a Q&A session. Following that, the members of the hackathon jury retreated for deliberations.
“The presentations were incredible, and the pride that each team had in their solution was inspiring,” says Zara Hovhannisyan, Member of the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Women, and a jury member. “To me, as an expert, it was mind-boggling to see how much they have learned in such a short period of time, and the opportunities that technology provides.”
The winning ideas, selected by the jury, ranged from a digital platform on sex education for young people to an app that captures photos of aggressors and automatically contacts the police.
What comes next?
“We will continue to work with the winners to further develop the ideas they generated,” says Bagrat Yengibaryan, Director of the EIF, and a member of the jury. “In January 2019, we will announce the next phase, which will bring in tech companies, and we will try to match these ideas with technological solutions to create the next ‘must have’ apps by professional companies.”
New professional relationships and partnerships were also formed, with digital technology providing the common ground. During the two days of the hackathon, Gender-Based Violence – an issue not just in Armenia but around the world – motivated people to collaborate across generations and beyond conventional thinking, and potentially help protect people in the future.