Geek teams on two continents write poverty-breaking apps for Kenya

Tue Oct 6, 2015 9:04pm EDT
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By Katy Migiro

NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Powered by caffeine and adrenalin, hundreds of Kenyan and Canadian geeks will compete over Skype in a 28-hour 'hackathon' to develop apps to improve rural Kenyans' health, farms and access to education.

Hackathons are marathon brainstorming sessions where computer programmers get together to write software.

The Nov. 20-22 <Br/eak> Poverty Hackathon will be the first international development-focused virtual hackathon - taking place on two continents simultaneously, the organizers say.

"While it’s not common for hackathons to have virtual teams working together, we think it’s a core component of actually making impact," said Canadian Danielle Thé, who set up the charity Devs Without Borders in Toronto earlier this year.

"While people want to help, our concepts of what the major problems or roadblocks are for individuals in other countries could be very biased," said Thé, 26.

New technologies brought by outsiders often fail because the donors don't understand the local context, such as whether there are teachers to show children how to use donated laptops or how to protect valuable solar panels from theft.

Devs Without Borders is partnering with iHub, the best-known incubator for the east African nation's blossoming technology community, to ensure the geeks don't make this mistake.

"It's about understanding who is going to use the application and the exact scenario in which they will use it," said John Paul Karijo, iHub's community manager. "You have to think... about... the human being at the center of the problem."   Continued...