Participants in Costa Rican Women's Hackathon develop software applications to solve social problems
On 30 and 31 August 2014, 39 women engineers and technologists created nine prototypes of software applications aimed at solving social problems in the north of Costa Rica, at the First Women’s Hackathon, organised by APC member organisation Sulá Batsú through its TIC-AS project, with the support of UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality.
Students and professionals from different educational centres offering training in computer science, information technology and related areas got together with women from other areas of expertise in working groups where knowledge was shared in the context of a gender perspective. The outcome was creative solutions to a number of problems, in the shape of mobile applications for smartphones, tablets and websites. The following prototypes were produced:
- A tool for implementing augmented reality applications in education, to contribute to reducing the drop-out rate and the digital gap.
- A mobile application for Android and iOS to allow visualisation of retail outlets in Ciudad Quesada, describing their location, special offers, and classifying them according to client interests.
- A mobile application for renting space to businesses and retailers in the North Zone, to support product marketing.
- A website using social networks to allow local women entrepreneurs to register and promote their businesses, exchange information among themselves and visibilise their needs for support.
- A multi-platform website to provide centralised, easily accessible information to teenage mothers about their rights, focused on visibilising young mothers’ success stories, providing information about sources of support and strengthening young women’s development.
- A mobile application for tablets running the Android operating system to facilitate assisted communication with their social surroundings for children with different abilities.
- An Android mobile application to provide information about retailers in the northern zone for local people and visitors to the region.
- A multi-platform website for teenage mothers providing information about their rights and sources of support.
- A native application for Android and iOS enabling consumers to learn about their rights, lodge complaints and look up details of retailers, immediately, from their mobile device.
We interviewed the women who took part to find out what had motivated them to participate in the initiative, what contribution they thought their applications would make to local development, and what their future plans were.
What was the experience of participating in Costa Rica’s first women’s hackathon like?
TechnoWomen team: It was a great experience. It was an opportunity to make contacts with people with a background in the field who are giving us support to continue the project. It was very enriching, both professionally and personally.
Samantha Arburola León of the Sassy team: It was quite an adventure: a new and unparallelled experience, working with my work group against the clock with a deadline only hours away, in competition with women colleagues with different levels of experience in the field. The best part was the way we were able to learn so much in so little time, identify ourselves with a cause and commit ourselves to finding a solution to meet the need. Making that commitment and accepting that challenge highlighted how much we could achieve if every project were focused on the social good, without the ambition to win but to help. It is surprising how citizens native to different places identified with the project to provide effective solutions in various geographical zones, through technology, ingenuity and overcoming the digital gap. We need these solutions now, we have the right to achieve better quality and we are motivated by the desire to collaborate; that is, for me, the ingeniousness of programming and its major contribution.
Laura Marlene Gonzalez Sanchez of the Ti-Code team: It was an extremely interesting experience; developing an idea and interacting with professionals from the business sector has given us a completely different view of our profession, and has enriched important concepts that need to be improved. We achieved group unity and this was essential for developing our idea in three different technologies: the web, iOS and Android.
Linda Torres Jiménez of the Data Team group: I found the experience of participating in Costa Rica’s first hackathon mindblowing. I am a graduate in public relations and I study journalism; I will be able to apply the techological knowledge I gained from the contest in either of my academic fields, and also in my job.
Génesis Marian Ulate Retana of the TICGirls team: It’s a wonderful experience, where you learn to work as a team, to tackle a concrete problem and find solutions in a very professional way; at the same time they are very good solutions for the particular cases.
Katherine Rojas of the TechnoGirls team: It was a very exciting experience. I was on tenterhooks over what the competition would develop because it is the first time that so many talented women with so much potential have gathered together. Part of my feelings are pride and a sense of privilege to be part of a pioneering project that demonstrates and recognises gender equality.
Carolina Damha of the Prototipas team: It was an extraordinarily enriching experience from any point of view. I had the opportunity of working in an interdisciplinary way, which was wonderful because I learned so much, and the dynamics of the team effort are different when people from two or three different worlds come together. Besides, we had great opportunities because the cooperative arranged various training sessions with professionals in different fields.
How did the idea for your prototype arise? What needs did it respond to?
TechnoWomen Team: The idea for the prototype was given to us by the cooperative itself. When we read and understood it, we felt strongly identified with it. It is an application for tablets called Izaboard that helps children and adults with cerebral palsy to communicate their ideas clearly to their parents, carers and society in general.
Samantha A.L. of the Sassy team: We responded to a need for an application with information about retail outlets in San Carlos for mobile devices running Android. We took this decision with visitors to the area in mind, and also thinking of ourselves as students in San José who infrequently visit the North Zone, where San Carlos is located. We too feel the need for information, especially the locations and telephone numbers of these businesses, so that we can contact and find them. They range from small and medium businesses (SMEs) that will repair a pair of torn pants, to the nearest pharmacies, restaurants or department stores.
Laura M.G.S. of the Ti-Code team: The event organisers provided us initially with a summary of some of the needs of the North Zone. The team almost immedately identified with the problems described by the North Zone Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Tourism. Promo Norte, as our idea is called, allows retailers to promote their main products and special offers to actual and potential clients, through a website and applications for mobile devices running iOS and Android. The main problem we are tackling is the tremendous invisibility that causes small businesses to disappear, given their small budget for marketing and advertising. Our philosophy is “clients get what they need and businesses find their clients.”
Linda T.J. of the Data Team group: The idea of the prototype arose from a suggestion by the North Zone Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Tourism in Costa Rica, indicating the absence of a site registering retail outlets in the San Carlos area. An application was wanted to provide visual information for visitors and local people. Our project concentrated on meeting this need, and also on boosting sales through a virtual shopping centre called MZN, or North Zone Virtual Mall, where purchases can be made by product category.
Génesis M.U.R. of the TICGirls team: When we analysed the series of problems raised, we chose the issues experienced by teenage mothers. The idea of this prototype is to serve as a means of information and communication, accessible from any electronic medium, whether personal computer (PC), tablet or mobile phone (smartphone). These young women can keep abreast of their rights and opportunities as teenage mothers, and can claim them more effectively. The page also provides information for before, during and after pregnancy to help the young women deal more positively with their situation.
Katherine R. of the TechnoGirls team: Our project emerged in one of the first training sessions we attended at Sulá Batsú, and was chosen from among the problems experienced in the San Carlos region. It responds to the need to open up opportunities for women’s business enterprises on a broader platform.
Carolina D. of the Prototipas team: I studied law at the University of Costa Rica, and as a law graduate I am aware of the vast amount of information that people could have access to, and the positive impact it could have on their lives. People are afraid of the law. On the other hand, my two women team mates were overwhelmed by the huge amount of regulations they have to check every time they are in doubt about something, and so they just do not do it. We wanted to work on something involving retailing and the law, and the idea arose to produce something on consumer rights that would not only be informative but also interactive. This is why we added five key functions to the prototype: informing, adding to favourites, blogging, filing complaints and ranking retail outlets, all from smartphones. [img_assist|nid=19751|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=800|height=300]
How does your proposal relate to women’s rights and ICTs?
TechnoWomen team: The general idea of the contest was to give women the opportunity of demonstrating that they are as capable as men (the gender that predominates in ICT) of developing technological proposals with a promising future, as well as of forming technological businesses headed by women.
Samantha A.L. of the Sassy team: We assert women’s right to education. Our government allows us to study and gives us a free choice of career, so I have academic freedom in my education. The Women’s Hackathon showed the population that women have the ability to create and present quality software prototypes, so that after conversations with a client, they can deliver 100% functional applications, in which gender is of no importance. Technology increasingly requires wider professional points of view, including women’s perspectives, to satisfy the needs. Technology is expanding, and ICT courses need more students, because they are academically demanding and have one of the highest drop-out rates. By taking women into account they will see that we are not all the objects that society has made of us in recent years; instead, some of us can excel in a patriarchal environment which has stereotyped women’s behaviour and roles.
Laura M.G.S. of the Ti-Code team: Women have the right to lead important technology projects, to disseminate their work and its significance through the popular media, and to show the world the myriad useful ideas we can contribute. Our ideas should not be excluded from society because of the different paradigms and gender roles that prevail nowadays. All women have the right to participate in essential technological processes to help build a better society.
Linda T.J. of the Data Team group: Our project is an example of a creative and innovative solution for a rural area, created by women. The hackathon is an opportunity to highlight the right to education as an instrument of development, transformation and social change which is needed by any country in order to progress.
Génesis M.U.R. of the TICGirls team: This proposal is very closely related to women and ICTs. It seeks the inclusion of teenage mothers in the utilisation of information and communication technologies, so that they may be well informed and assert their rights and make the most of their opportunities, with access to the help they need.
Katherine R. of the TechnoGirls team: The connection is that women’s creativity, ingenuity and innovation must be recognised on the same terms as those of men. We should be recognised as being capable and empowered to develop any idea or project in the technological sphere that strengthens cooperation and solidarity with women’s ideas.
Carolina D. of the Prototipas team: The idea of “Está Legal” (which literally means “It’s Legal”, but also means “It’s Great!” in colloquial Spanish) is to extend it to other areas of the law, including one specifically for women. However, women will benefit equally from this tool, because we are a significant proportion of consumers and retailers. The project is linked directly with ICTs because ultimately it is a technological tool to popularise knowledge of a specific area of the law. Since it is a native mobile application, it will be easily accessible to a great many sectors of the population.
What future plans do you have for your proposal?
TechnoWomen team: We are already working on the application and we will complete the not-for-profit project. As a group, we are in the process of forming a business, taking advantage of the opportunities arising from the hackathon event. Our vision is to be the first technology company run by women in the North Zone.
Samantha A.L. of the Sassy team: As a first-year student, my first goal is to learn more so that in future any collaboration on applications development should be as efficient as possible, user-friendly and simple to use, fulfilling a specific purpose. Specifically for our “UbiCarlos” (“Find Them”) application, if we have sufficient resources in the future, we would be glad to develop the application with complete functionality. It would be launched free of charge with free membership for users and retailers, since our main goal is to provide easy access to local retailers, not to make a profit. In the future, as Costa Rican women programmers, we want our application to provide an example of excellence for our fellow countrywomen and countrymen.
Laura M.G.S. of the Ti-Code team: Our goal in the Ti-Code team is to make a real market success of Promo Norte. We will put our best efforts into this, putting into practice what we have learned and knocking on every door so that experienced women professionals, institutions and companies join our cause so that our idea keeps on a good course.
Linda T.J. of the Data Team group: MZN is an interesting project. However, before reaching its full potential the application needs some adjustments to maximise its benefits for retailers as well as for its final users.
Génesis M.U.R. of the TICGirls group: Our plan for the future is to continue as a team and develop the website and everything necessary for it to work properly, so that teenage mothers in our country can use it. But in order to carry out our project we need financial help, because we are all students and we do not have enough money to develop it.
Katherine R. of the TechnoGirls team: I would like to patent it and showcase it to foster women’s participation and inclusion in the technology sector, which traditionally has been a male-dominated sphere. I would also like to expand it and improve it to satisfy needs in this zone.
Carolina D. of the Prototipas team: We hope to develop it and meet with people who have a longer track record in entrepreneurialism and ICTs, so as to be able to form our own small business.