Some of Vancouver’s most tech-savvy are hunkering down this weekend, trying to come up with solutions to help some of the world’s most vulnerable.
On Saturday, PeaceGeeks, a Vancouver-based organization that helps aid groups connect with those in need kicked off its latest hackathon. The two-day event focuses on bringing together those skilled in technology and communications to develop solutions and communications strategies for aid groups on the ground in conflict zones.
“We are working on a number of projects for organizations around the world, including on the refugee crisis in the Middle East,” said Renee Black, the organization’s founder and executive director. “PeaceGeeks is about trying to help those organizations to bridge that gap and we do that in part by harnessing the technology expertise and the communications expertise of skilled volunteers here in Canada, but also around the world.”
The last time they came together for a hackathon, they created Services Advisor, a web app for Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Jordan. It’s designed to address a common problem: organizations offering help sometimes struggle to connect with people who need help.
“There’s just lots of different things, different features and we wanted it to work on mobile phones so you can have a mobile browser, but it’s also used by the people who run the actual services and so they need to have it on their desktop,” said Luke Kysow, who works as a Software Developer for Hootsuite.
PeaceGeeks worked with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to roll out the app. Black said there’s now talk of expanding it.
“We’re now also looking at an install for Greece, we’re in conversation with them this weekend and we’re hoping to be able to improve the quality of the app this weekend and expand it out to other missions as well,” she said.
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This is PeaceGeeks’ fifth hackathon to date. Over the course of the weekend, their focus will be on a few key projects: to expand the capabilities of Services Advisor, building a secure electronic registrar of human rights violations in Kenya with the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders, continuing development of an SMS-based system to document sexual and gender-based violence in South Sudan and developing a strategy for a campaign to counter ISIL’s social media recruitment.
Those working on the counter-campaign strategy say it’s all about critical mass.
“Even if it’s a single hashtag that becomes really popular and everybody can relate to it, for instance, and we’re able to have it populate and proliferate in a big way, that will have a major effect,” said Adel Iskander, who teaches at Simon Fraser University by day.
Four more hackathons are already in the works for 2016.
PeaceGeeks has also launched a crowdfunding campaign to support the work they do. To donate, or to find more information, log on to giveitup4peace.org