This guest blog post was submitted by Marlon Evans, Strategic Partnerships, Hewlett-Packard and Elizabeth Sabet, Director of SecondMuse, and builds on remarks given during a campaign webinar held on February 29 discussing marathon models of skills-based volunteer programs. This post explores HP’s role in Random Hacks of Kindness, a global consortium of innovators developing open source solutions for the social good.
HP is continuously looking for avenues for its employees to give back to their communities in concrete ways, making use of their professional skills and talents. Random Hacks of Kindness, (RHoK), a global community of innovation developing practical open source solutions for good, was a perfect fit. RHoK’s Core Partners include Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, NASA and the World Bank. For HP, RHoK was an opportunity to join a unique partnership of organizations putting aside competitive concerns to do something for the betterment of humanity, as well as a chance to collaborate further in a positive way with organizations that are both clients and competitors.
RHoK works by bringing together subject matter experts with volunteer technologists all around the world to work on projects, punctuated by intensive “hackathon” events where solutions are rapidly prototyped and demonstrated. Last October, HP hosted a Hacking Autism event, leveraging ideas from all across the autism community, including families and practitioners, to generate new touch technology applications designed to open up learning, communication and social possibilities, and to help give those with autism a voice.
With people who have on-the-ground expertise in the challenges facing humanity defining the problems, and those who have the technical skills and initiative to take on those challenges building the solutions, the combination can result in incredible achievements. Joint follow-up on the products built at the hackathons then takes those prototypes to real world implementation and impact.
A problem posed by NGO Caritas Germany at a RHoK event in Berlin resulted in the building of a prototype mapping application during the hackathon to help Caritas reliably track and share data on their disaster relief efforts. Following the hackathon, the developers were engaged to build out the prototype into a full web application, which was used by Caritas to track its response and distribution of relief supplies following the Sendai, Japan earthquake in March 2011.
At yet another RHoK event in Philadelphia, an expert posed the problem that recipients of U.S. Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program Credits (SNAP) had no way of learning about nearby sources of fresh food, even though most local farmers’ markets accept the credits. A team created an SMS application allowing anyone to text their address to a number and receive information on the nearest farmers’ markets accepting SNAP. The enthusiastic team of hackers followed up with local SNAP providers to showcase their app, and as a result the Philadelphia Food Trust now distributes information on the PhillySNAP app to recipients of SNAP assistance.
RHoK provides the platform and structure for collaborating on building open technology solutions to global challenges, but the community drives the initiative forward. All RHoK events around the world are self-organized and self-funded and focus on local people working together to solve local problems within a global context. With a community that numbers over 4,000 people in over 40 cities around the world, and with the support of over 180 government, academic, corporate and NGO partners, RHoK is truly a large-scale global collaboration.
How can you get involved?
RHoK is open to everyone, from individuals to organizations all around the world. Getting involved is easy. Individuals can simply sign up to attend an event nearby, or think about creating a team to host your own event. Companies and NGOs can help to define or refine problems to be worked on, host or support local events, encourage employee participation, and support the continued development of prototypes coming out of the hackathons to implementation and real-world impact.