By Charlotte Seeley-Musgrave (MSc Public Health) and Jessica Morely (Chayn / Empowerhack).
In 2015, the news of the mass displacement of over 4.6 million refugees from Syria prompted a spectacular response from across the globe. Volunteer technology communities came together to create digital solutions tailored to refugee needs, including virtual schools, social integration initiatives, and many more.
Yet, something was missing. The responses were generic and didn’t address the fact that within the refugee community there are groups of people who are more vulnerable: 80% of the world’s refugees are women and children, and these women and girls face significant challenges relating to violence and mental health. Tackling these specific issues requires a deeper level of understanding than was reflected in the general response.
Empowerhack was created to address this. It is a diverse community that aims to build sustainable humanitarian technologies for women and girls in crisis.
It started with one weekend-long hackathon at the close of November 2015. The hack brought together a collective of programmers, developers, researchers, health advisors, community specialists, NGOs and entrepreneurs, all united by a common purpose: to rapidly produce prototype software to tackle the overwhelming issues faced by displaced women and girls.
The energy in the room was palpable and it kept the momentum of Empowerhack going long after the initial event, resulting in the development of a global collective of skilled volunteers, motivated by the potential to bring about real change. This month a follow-up design hackathon is occurring across three global cities: Accra, London and Amsterdam.
These hacks will drive forward the projects already in existence and develop further initiatives focused on core issues, such as digitally-enabled peer support for refugee safety, mental health and patient-led health data.
Empowerhack’s ethos of collaboration reflects its belief that to maximise the chances of having impact, the widest possible range of ideas must be evaluated. In order to create change, you must think differently! Empowerhack fosters an inclusive and diverse culture for all its members.
In January 2016, Empowerhack began a partnership with Dr Karl Blanchet, Senior Lecturer in Health Systems Research, and the School’s Public Health in Humanitarian Crises Group. These partnerships are built on a mutual desire to create tangible solutions for those experiencing violence and insecurity, mass population displacements, instability of living conditions and multiple sources of impoverishment.
When London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine student Aisha Berry came forward with a digital medical record concept, which held parallels with the desires of many crises focused NGOs, it made sense for Empowerhack to get behind the initiative. Together Aisha and Empowerhack have developed a design challenge which will be developed at the forthcoming hackathons in London and Amsterdam. Inclusivity is paramount in the creation of a broader health system able to coordinate aid from outside and within.
As part of the development process for this global health hackathon series, Empowerhack has encouraged design challenges to come from the community it is building for. As such, challenges have come from, women and girls who have sought refuge across the world, and the organisations which have supported them.
Empowerhack firmly believes that as these hackathons will be run on the principles of collaboration, shared ownership and open-sourced technology the outputs will expedite the change.
The London hackathon is part of a global health hackathon that kicked off in Ghana. Over the weekend minds from NGOs and other tech for good organisations, such as Chayn, Women Hack for Non Profits and UX for Change UK will collaborate to think about how we can shift the dialogue from competitive design to sustainable design and partnership. These discussions will then continue in Amsterdam at the end of the month.
At the end of April, Empowerhack hopes to have further opened the eyes of the global tech communities to the need for a global and humanitarian response to the health crises being faced by the world’s most vulnerable people, and to the impact of open and honest collaboration.
Find out more about how experts at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine are working to tackle the complex health challenges faced by refugees and internally displaced people in our feature – On the move: the race to keep forced migrants healthy.
** UPDATE 21 April 2016 – read about what happened at EmpowerHack Health LDN to build e-health solutions for a mobile population**
Image 1: Empowerhack montage. Credit: Kriselda Rabino.
Image 2: London hack. Credit: Will Edgecombe.