Hackathon for Social Good
Pham Quoc Dat, HATCH!PROGRAM, Nobita team, winner of Hackathon 2015 and Ian Robinson, Deputy Director of the British Council Vietnam ©

UNDP in Vietnam

In September this year we partnered with HATCH!PROGRAM, a social enterprise and start-up incubator in Vietnam, to co-organise a hacking competition for coders and IT experts. The theme was to develop innovative digital products to solve social challenges in three areas – creative economy, youth development, safe school and governance transparency. 

Some might find little connection between these themes – actually they were representing they interests of different partners in the competition – the British Council, UNDP and local NGO Live and Learn. 

In fact, digital has been an important part of our creative work in the last few years. In 2014, Vietnam’s finalist in our International Young Creative Entrepreneurs Award in Film/Multimedia was Phan Gia Nhat Linh, co-founder of YxineFF, the first and so far only online film festival in Vietnam. Amongst participants in our Nesta Business Training for Creative Entrepreneurs, many are running digital businesses and developing games and education apps. Hanoi Grapevine, our dear hub partner is actually a virtual creative hub itself – posting information about cultural events nationwide, organising exhibitions and cultural events.  

So we did not have to think much about our challenge for Hackathon in Vietnam. Digital businesses are booming everywhere in the country, nearly 40 million people are using the internet and nearly 22 million people are smart phone users. Demand for digital cultural content and services is enormous. VNG Corporation, the biggest internet company in Vietnam, works in online entertainment, social network and e-commerce and has a market value of US$1 billion and revenue of US$100 million in 2013. Many among us could recall ‘Flappy Bird’, the famous video game that created a worldwide phenomenon in 2013. Before its controversial removal in early 2014, it reached 50 million downloads and become the top free iPhone app in 109 countries with revenue reaching US$50,000 a day at its peak.   

So we set the challenge concerning the Creative Economy - we requested coders develop apps that ‘promote creative and cultural content digitally’. In two days in October, I witnessed 21 teams working intensively to finalise ideas and develop prototypes. Some struggled to present ideas while other groups reached the final stages of fine-tuning their products.  

We invited the manager of Nha San Collective, a creative hub focusing on experimental and visual arts to talk to coders and work with them as mentor. It has been interesting to hear about arts, culture in the discussion and how coders, amazingly, have embedded these contents in various digital products. We discussed UX and UI. And as the British Council also organises various cultural events, we gave teams input on our needs and how we want to reach audiences and what the challenges are for us.   

Convincing creative hubs to participate to be mentor surprisingly has been an easy task. It turned out that many hubs are working on digital platforms and offering digital content for audiences. Facebook has become the main channel for communication. Uyen Le, manager of Nha San Collective, said to me: ‘We want to explore different digital platforms to raise the profile of our hub and to engage potential art lovers and other audiences’. 

A total of 21 teams including nearly 100 coders participated and among five teams in the final round, two were addressing our Creative Economy Challenge.  The winning team Nobita did a great job in the final round, convincing the jury with their Zaforites - a social platform connecting art lovers, artists and art providers while at the same time, bringing new and fun access to cultural events. It also offers multimedia content, digital ticketing and check-ins as well as an event management and evaluation package for organisers. The team’s vision had been to create a product which ‘increases consumption of cultural and creative products and at the same time, enhances the quality of people’s lives’. 

Nobita received the prize award of US$1,000 as seed funding from HATCH!PROGRAM and the month incubation programme that HATCH, UNDP and the British Council developed together. The other two runners-up include apps which promote learning of traffic laws and a mobile app which reports governance and civil issues to government. 

The competition has now ended. For me these three months (September – November) were an amazing journey, from introducing the concept, working with the teams as mentor and then finally selecting a winner. What started out as a minor pilot project now has potential to give birth to at least three digital start-ups with vastly different products. 

Not only that, as I am writing this blog post, the Nobita group is meeting a number of creative hubs, new collaborations are being formed between digital experts and coder groups, government agencies, social groups and cultural institutions. I cannot help thinking about the near future, once these ideas turn into products, engaging millions digitally. Digital technology will further accomplish its most important mission - becoming a tool to connect people, to inspire economic and social innovation and help increase quality of our lives.