“In my personal opinion, presently there are honour killings, lynching etc happening in the country, the government is not taking any action against this. If there is a public forum where people can raise their voices against these issues, it could help. There is Change.org for online petitions. Similarly, it would be great to have a platform to know the public opinion on different issues from different parts of the country. We are looking for that kind of solution,” says Nidhiya.V.Raj, Team Random Hacks of Kindness (RHOK) Delhi speaking about the problem statement on governance put forth to the participants of RHOK Delhi.
Following its hackathons in Bangalore and Ranchi for 2017, Random Hacks of Kindness (RHOK), a social hackathon initiative by Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!, NASA and World Bank to solve civic issues, is organizing its first hackathon in Delhi on July 15 & 16, 2017. Being a hackathon with focus on social issues, the organisers have lined up a set of social issues that the participants will hack to solve. Delhi being the national capital of India, all shortlisted themes seem to reflect on issues pertaining to the city. The themes include environment, governance, human rights and digital inclusion.
Delhi’s alarming pollution rate will also be addressed as an issue during this hackathon. Participants can choose to design a solution measure the air quality of the space anyone is in. Apart from pollution, participants may also choose to work on waste management. The solution is not restricted to only being a mobile or web based application.
“There are several recordings in various research institutes but there is no collated data to know if people are in safe environment. Sourcing data from these research institutes, participants can develop a solution to enable people to know if the environment is safe, be it inside an office, outside offices, factory areas .” – Nidhiya.V.Raj
Three issues have been covered under human rights theme namely gender discrimination (women & children, LGBTQIA+ rights, men, sexual harassment), mental health and disability. There is no specific problem statement that is being framed for human rights. Participants can work on a solution to solve the issues faced by one of these three issues.
“How will the government know the public opinion apart from the surveys in which people aren’t even participating? The younger generation posts its opinion on social media but it has no impact. It is scattered across different social media but it is not heard by the right people. The idea is to look at building a platform to solve this problem,” – Nidhiya.V.Raj
“Aadhaar falls under digital inclusion and human rights. Aadhaar is a breach of privacy and also human rights because you are making an ID to be responsible for them to get anything – pension, healthcare. It cannot be made mandatory. How does someone access these services when they don’t have an Aadhaar? How do we know this the best solution when we already have so many IDs especially when the registration process was so unprofessional? Breach of privacy has been found. How do we handle that? These are issues that people should be aware of,” explains Nidhiya.V.Raj
With this and other challenges of digital exclusion in mind, participants are expected to build a solution that addresses the issues of access to Internet at a cheaper cost without sacrificing the citizen’s rights. It should essentially be a solution that works on the principles of net neutrality. The problem statement for digital inclusion is creating a solution to tackle the problem of digital inclusion without compromising on data privacy.
What will be the accountability with 80% being students?
As ambitious as it sounds, one can’t help but question the accountability of any platform or solution built during such a hackathon. What is the scope for it to be executed and scaled?
“Nothing about the solution should be harmful. Technology is a double-edged sword. We will ensure that there is accountability regarding data privacy. To ensure that it is a responsible solution, we will guide them (participants) through the procedure. Everything needs to be taken care of including the legal aspect. We also have a lawyer participating at the hackathon as a speaker and mentor.” – Nidhiya.V.Raj
While Kritika Bhardwaj, lawyer from National law University will be the legal mentor; Rosana Ardila, Open Innovation at Mozilla, Trishul Goel Mozilla Tech Speaker; and Faye Tangdog, Mozilla Reps Mentor & Former Community Manager, Mozilla will be the technology mentors for the hackathon. Representatives from NGO partners, Goonj and We Mean to Clean, Priyanka Jain (Goonj) and Swati Bhalla (We Mean To Clean) will also be speaking at the hackathon and mentoring participants working on the theme of environment. Rohith Jyothish & Raghuram from Rethink Aadhar will also speak at the hackathon. Nipun Singhal of VP, Ericsson. Note that Ericsson India Global Services Pvt.Ltd is the title sponsor for the hackathon and 91 Springboard is the venue partner while Women Who Code and 91 Springboard are outreach partners. Headstart Foundation is an ecosystem partner for the hackathon.
As a rule, all solutions built during this hackathon are expected to be open source. In case participants decide not to further develop the solution built, open sourcing of the solution will enable anyone from around the world to take it forward. Though an initiative by Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, World Bank and NASA, the organizer notes that RHOK is not obliged to provide any solution to these organisations. RHOK community appears to be running the hackathon on its own. The companies do not have a direct influence on the way these hackathons function.
Out of 350 applicants, 100 of them were shortlisted, of which 80% are students. Unlike Bangalore and Ranchi editions of the RHOK, this edition’s main focus has been governance, human rights and digital inclusion. Will the participants (80% students) of the hackathon have the capability to build solutions for these governance challenges? Will this hackathon really have an impact on building robust solutions to tackle such serious issues? RHOK has a different approach to address this challenge. The team thinks that information in itself could be the solution.
“I’m more than happy to have 80% students because I want the younger generation to know what is going on especially with Aadhaar. It is good to target students because they should talk about it to their peers. It should be action on the ground. It should be the talk of the town. It should be grass-root level innovation. Besides we have made sure that there is someone to talk on their topic so that people can get the right direction (to work on the solution).” – Nidhiya.V.Raj
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