Technologists from across Bangalore gathered to code on open source platforms at the Grace Hopper hackathon.
In the digital world, we’re seeing more and more people come together online and bond around things they have in common. These digital tribes share interests over a particular subject or service. They are defined by who they hang out with on the web or through their mobile devices. They’re even tethered by the networks in which they communicate. It’s a brave new world of virtual communities bringing people together in ways that were previously unheard of.
Anthropologists generally agree that a tribe is a society consisting of families or communities linked through social, economic, religious, or blood ties. They have a common culture and customs. Tribal identity in the internet age transcends ethnicity, traditional cultural expectations and geography. We now find ourselves gathered around digital spaces like Facebook, where we tell our stories and share our ideas with those we’d never have encountered without the internet. We celebrate and we collaborate with our networks; our digital tribes.
Imagine over 100 tech experts coming together, a good-sized digital tribe, under one roof. They network, code, learn and contribute to humanitarian projects. Collaborative proposals are created and presented. New theories are discussed. They innovate and create big ideas, developing solutions for organizations that work for social good. The place is alive with the static energy that comes along with a big group discovering and connecting with it’s members while doing work that makes the world a better place.
Now imagine that those members of this tech-oriented digital tribe are women.
There’s a lot of chatter around the need for more women in the tech field. Nurturing a full on digital tribe could be a great way to get there. 100 women who work in tech came together in November for the Grace Hopper Hackathon, an event sponsored jointly by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) India and the Anita Borg Institute. But this goes beyond the scope of the run-of-the-mill hackathon that tries to create something that can turn a profit. This event was all about getting women in tech plugged into open source projects that advance social good as part of the Celebration of Women in Computing India (GHC-India) conference.
Hackathons for social good aren’t just for a digital tribe to find itself. It’s a way to push the innovation envelope that has the added benefit of making the world a better place. This hackathon did it by taking advantage of low cost (or free) open source tools. Given the tight budgets faced by an abundance of nonprofit organizations, open source makes practical sense. But open source is also freedom for an organization. It ditches the usual vendor lock-in and allows for flexibility and customization that proprietary software often doesn’t allow.
One of the clans at this women-focused hackathon used MifosX, a free and open-source financial service system. A platform was built to enable a more effective and efficient delivery of financial services to the millions of around the world without bank accounts. The platform manages and tracks funds, loans, installments, savings, deposits and related reports for accounting and analysis. A separate group built a custom crowd sourced map called Safemap. The map gives users location information for police stations, 24 hours hotels, NGOs or other safe places. It includes a user interface for adding safe and unsafe areas. The idea is to help those traveling in unfamiliar areas (especially women) to locate safer routes. Still a third group worked with the Clinical Reminders project to build a system allowing people to receive reminders & alerts on medication, tests, immunizations or examinations.
Each of these innovations can certainly be accessed and used by men, but come from a point of view that’s especially appealing to women. The discussion around the need for more women in technology is deeply important because half of the users of technology products and websites are women. Having women in positions of leadership as well as on staff to define the future of technology is in the best interest of business and social good organizations. Tapping into digital tribes that have a strong female presence is huge when it comes to engaging more women to the field.
We’re at the point where we can harness the energy of a digital tribe, helping them to become global citizen change agents. Their tribal association becomes about innovation for positive social change and how they can continually push to make things better in the world. Like any tribe they tell their stories and share their experiences. But instead using of cave paintings or books these tribes use Facebook and Twitter, inspiring new people to join and be a part of their work. And if we can continue that engagement to encourage more women to study the sciences and join the tech field, we might actually solve that ongoing problem too.