Summing Techfugees’ first hackathon in Africa up!

The first Techfugees’ African hackathon took place in Nairobi from the 3rd till the 5th of April 2019 and was held at the iHub, one of the leading incubators in Kenya and East Africa (and Google for Startups’ fellow as well as Techfugees!).

As of today, Kenya hosts no less than 471 000 refugees and asylum seekers, the majority of whom live in the two main camps, Kakuma in the North-West part of the country and Dadaab next to the Somali border.

The conversations initiated by the lead of Techfugees’ local chapter in Kenya, Benjamin, with the Kenya Red Cross Innovation team, led us to focus on specific challenges faced by the social health workers in the Kakuma Camp. The close relationship we had with the team was a necessary step in order to find the right challenge, define a problem statement and come up with the adequate technical specifications.

The Kakuma refugee camp was created by the Kenyan government and the UNHCR in 1992 as countless people fled the Sudan civil war. It was initially built to accommodate 23,000 Sudanese. Today Kakuma camp hosts close to 200,000 refugees coming from different parts of Africa (mainly South Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, and DRC).


The health-related Challenge

The Kenya Red Cross (KRC) is constantly trying to find innovative solutions to enable local health workers and community leaders to provide early health warnings and avert more serious health problems in Kakuma refugee camp.

Reporting health issues relevant to KRC in local communities is challenging. Some of the problems include:

  • Difficulty in finding the location: the names of locations inside the camp and surrounding areas regularly change, making it difficult to identify where problems are once KRC staff hear of them;
  • Delays in reporting: it can sometimes take several days (or more) before problems identified in communities reach the right people at the KRC;
  • Describing the seriousness of the problem: with language barriers and literacy often a problem, those wishing to report issues often have trouble describing the full extent of what they have found.

Michael Ayabei, Head of Operations – Kenya Red Cross Clinic in Kakuma Camp


The Applicants

Before the hack started, we estimated to be receiving around 100 applications from different students and coders across Nairobi. Our expectations were exceeded, as no less than 200 developers and designers submitted their profiles on our website 🔥 The selection process was complex as we had diverse but highly skilled hackers. At last, we managed to carefully select the most appropriate profiles cross-checking their motivation and relevant past tech-projects.

Stacy, trainer and hacker from the Youth For Technology Foundation, Nairobi


📊 Some figures about the hack 📊

  • 48 hackers (developers, designers, engineers, data scientists, business analysts…)
  • 10 teams
  • 12 women
  • 5 refugees
  • 7 nationalities were represented.


Finding the right sponsors

Because Nairobi has a vibrant tech scene, it was important to get the right support from the tech community, in addition to the NGOs partnerships. Beside iHub, Google, Oracle, as well as the research center Samuel Hall, contributed by giving their time and best mentors/engineers that could accompany each team in delivering the tech health-related solution.

Nekesa Were, iHub Managing Director on the opening ceremony

Being backed by such organisations implied that we could offer a valuable award to the winning team: a year free incubation at iHub, $5,000 in development tools from Oracle, support in developing, prototyping and testing the solution in Kakuma and Kalobeyei from the KRC, development tools from Google 🏆

On the hack days, 7 jury members and 4 mentors were assisting and advising the hackers on their prototype. We were honoured to have such experts on board, and 7 amazing jury members: Elly Mathenge (Oracle), Michael Ayabei (KRC), Ingeborg Ponne (Policy Officer for migration at the Embassy of the Netherlands), Nekesa Were (iHub), Frank Tamra (Google), Benjamin Hounsell (Techfugees Kenya & Samuel Hall), Caroline Njuki (ITO).


The hack days: countdown & lights on

The opening and closing ceremonies saw 65 curious minds from the Nairobi tech and humanitarian worlds, with great speakers joining to share their insights and vision. No A/C inside iHub 😅 but stimulating conversations and powerful speeches!

We were able to bring hackers from across the country, as two well-known coding schools partnered with Techfugees Kenya: Learning Lions in Turkana region and Tuna Panda in the slum of Kibera (Nairobi).

The participants hacked for nearly 30 hours and some of them stayed overnight: last minute pizza order to provide some energy to those teams!


Friday: closing day, pitching session and jury deliberation

Friday morning saw all 48 hackers rushing to finalize their presentations and training for their pitches. Around 70 people were gathered at iHub, cameras and flashes on, live tweeting ready to record all presentations and seize this waited event. In less than 2 days, all ten teams achieved an impressive work both in terms of creativity, technology approach as well as team building capacities. Most of the hackers didn’t know each other before the challenge!

As for choosing the participants profiles in the application process, the final jury deliberation was not an easy task since all teams managed to come up with different but adequate prototypes responding to the pre-defined challenge.

Pitching sessions and careful jury members


The Winners

Faceless Hackers was finally elected as the winning team of this first hack edition in Nairobi, as they addressed the challenge with such a level of technicity, with a reasonably valid business plan and a well-proven prototype and data storage system 🎉

More specifically, their solution was divided into three modules: an android application, a USSD application, and a web application. All three communicate to achieve efficient communication between the health workers, the refugees, and the Kenya Red Cross.


Conclusion & next steps in East-Africa!

This first hackathon showed that the potential in Kenya is huge when coming to gather people from various sectors and entities (humanitarian, tech, startups, coding schools, etc.). Nairobi is one of the leading tech hubs in Africa and therefore, is able to convey such initiatives and serve as an example for an entire region. The level of participation and interest demonstrates that coordinating the tech community around refugee-related issues is possible and that each and everyone can become a protagonist in this positive ecosystem.

Most importantly, refugees in Kenya and East-Africa must be progressively included and empowered through these programs, because they are who understand better than anyone else the real challenges in camps and urban.

Having 5 refugees amongst the hackers was not enough, yet it is a starting point and is one of Techfugees’ Kenya main priorities.

The Nairobi Techfugees hackathon is meant to be the first of a great list of events to be held in the region!

STAY TUNED 🗓#hack4refugees

Spreading the Techfugees message in Kenya: hacker, Frank Tamra from Google, Elly Mathenge from Oracle, Samuel Hall and Priscilla from Techfugees


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