Technology is becoming increasingly ingrained in people’s daily lives, with 90% of future jobs requiring digital skills. Despite its potential to empower women, technology careers are enmeshed with existing gender inequality, hindering women’s participation in the production, management, and use of technology. In this context, in line with UNDP Accelerator Lab’s Mission of reducing the Gender Digital Divide and increase female representation in the Bangladesh’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) space, an all-women digital hackathon was organized in July 2021. The Accelerator Lab’s women’s digital innovation hackathon aimed to promote ICT skills and innovation practices to female students and young professionals. While it was organized as a competition, the aim was to offer encouragement and learning opportunities to the participants.
UNDP reached out to over 20+ universities, women, and technology groups for this event. The application was open to only females from Bangladesh including students currently enrolled in a university program, recent graduates, young professionals, and entrepreneurs aged 18 – 30 years. Applicants formed their own teams comprising of 2 -5 persons. Majority of the teams were participating in a hackathon for the first time.
The hackathon had two Challenge Tracks: Digital Transformation & Smart City. There was 200+ applications submitted. Eventually, a total of 90 participants were selected forming 30 teams to participate in the hackathon. Applicants submitted ideas based on digital technology and that is associated with one of the 2 hackathon Challenge Tracks and which they developed further during the hackathon.
The Hackathon was carried out in partnerships with Women in Digital, UNLEASH Innovation Lab, Reaktor, University of Helsinki, and UltraHack. Women in Digital was responsible for marketing, promotion, and coordination of the hackathon. UNLEASH Innovation Lab provided resources on the innovation process and it served as the official format of the Hackathon. In addition, 10 UNLEASH Alumni connected virtually during the Hackathon period from Bangladesh, India, Denmark, Japan, USA, Germany, and Hong Kong over the hackathon days and served as facilitators to guide the teams through the innovation process and the hackathon activities. UltraHack provided the technical infrastructure for conducting the hackathon virtually. Finally, Reaktor & University of Helsinki conducted workshops on their online ‘Elements of Artificial Intelligence’ course and made the course available at free-of-cost to 100 hackathon participants.
The Hackathon Timeline
The hackathon started with a webinar titled ‘Women, Digital Skills, and The Future of Work’ and launching event on 7th June 2021. The webinar covered how automation, artificial intelligence, the gig economy, and demographic and social shifts are defining a 'future of work' that is already affecting companies, supply chains, and workers around the world. It highlighted the unique implications this changing nature of work has for women: disruptive technologies are affecting both the quantity and quality of women’s jobs while systemic constraints impact the ability of women to transition into new sectors; workplaces are increasingly requiring new skills and calling for experience in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), but the lack of women in STEM fields and gaps in digital skills could hold women back.
The Orientation Day took place on 1st July 2021, 06:00 pm – 08:00 pm, Dhaka time, virtually. This comprised of a welcome and ice breaker session followed by introduction to problem framing and ideation and a workshop on “Building AI and inclusivity in tech” by the University of Helsinki and Reaktor.
The Hackathon took place from 2 – 3 July 2021, 10:00 am – 06:00 pm Dhaka time, virtually. The Hackathon was co-hosted with UNLEASH Innovation Lab and followed their innovation process as the format. The Hackathon focused on the first three phases of UNLEASH’s five phases – Problem Framing, Ideation, and Prototyping.
Pre event, the teams developed an “insight” i.e., a definition of why their selected challenge exists by identifying potential solutions that may already exist and if not, trying to understand why no solution currently exists.
Day one of the hackathon comprised of problem framing i.e., developing a problem tree for their chosen insight to determine root causes by developing a “solution canvas”, answering the ‘why’, ‘who’ and ‘how’ to narrow the problem focus. This was followed by theory of change and value proposition mapping to develop prototypes of the solutions, a lecture on rapid prototyping and pitching, and finally concluding with time for the teams for their video pitch preparation. The teams were provided feedback and mentorship during their allocated team times.
Day 2 involved the video pitching by the teams, evaluation by judges and announcement of the finalists, followed by another round of pitching and Q&A and the announcement of the 3 winners. The teams’ performances were judged based on 4 criteria – innovation, impact potential, feasibility, and team performance. The event was held on zoom with social media used for communication.
The Hackathon winners
The first prize winning solution was a Self-Controlling Spider Robot designed was designed to collect, detect, and separate wastage for a model Smart City. The solution would use technologies such robot technology, sensor technology, artificial intelligence, machine learning, etc. The solution is particularly timely as garbage management is a huge challenge in Bangladesh and if garbage is not managed properly, not only will diseases increase but also soil, air and water pollution will be exacerbated.
The second prize winning team designed a Real Time River Water Quality Monitoring System. The model had 4 parts - Power module (Solar panels), Sensor module (Sensors to measure BOD, COD, DO, pH, Temperature, EC, TDS, TSS, Turbidity, Fluoride, Nitrate and Carbonates), Microcontroller module (Microprocessor to read data and send to database), and Output module (Server to monitor the sensor values and alert if threshold limit exceeds). The objective of the project is to constantly monitor water quality parameters to alert the authority to take urgent steps. This is particularly important as water contamination is a big challenge for Bangladesh.
There were two winners for the third prize. One was an AI based Dengue Monitor & Control System. This solution will effectively predict dengue outbreaks in different areas of an urban city depending on weather, garbage data, mobility, google search records, aedes population survey data etc. The team aims to build a warning system that will help a city to prevent future dengue outbreaks in a smart way. The other solution - Eco360 - is a mobile application that keeps record of its users’ household plastic consumption. It would determine a footprint potential and make graphical comparisons to encourage cutting down unnecessary plastic usage. Eco360 booths would be located at major residential areas for collection of its users’ household plastic wastes. A monthly push notification would be sent to users as deposition reminder. Depositors would receive reward points according to plastic type (single-use or multiple-use) and waste amount. These points could further be used as e-currency.
The top 3 teams of each Hack received funding to grow their innovative solutions after the event, with the Gold award being worth $1500 USD plus scholarships to edX’s professional certificate series in Deep Learning and Fintech, Silver award being $1000 USD and Bronze award shared between two teams being $500 USD. All participants received scholarships to University of Helsinki and Reaktor’s “Elements of AI” online course.
The UNDP Bangladesh Accelerator Lab is determined to create a ‘Future of Work’ that works for women and is acting to ensure women receive the opportunities to improve their digital skills and are part of a highly skilled and innovative workforce positioned for future success. The current digital divide in Bangladesh can be addressed by helping women improve their digital skills. Initiatives like Hackathons and Challenge-Prizes encourage more girls to pursue STEM careers and helps to build the advanced digital skills women need to succeed in the ICT industry or as technology entrepreneurs. Ultimately, such targeted initiatives will enhance women’s representation in ICT related industries in Bangladesh and aid their equal participation in the digital economy. This will bring benefits not only to individual women and their families but also to society and the economy, while also contributing to the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
To that end the Accelerator lab’s hackathon helped women take part in an invention marathon, learn new skills, and co-create amazing solutions on Digital Transformation and Smart City that will help Bangladesh build forward better and expand the role of women in science and technology.