We continually read about the problem caused by the low representation of women in the technology sector, both in the education process and in the labor market. With this in mind, we started the call for what ended up being the first 100% virtual hackathon in Paraguay.
In a couple of weeks, we had more than 230 people registered. We were very happy! What took us by surprise was that we had to put into practice strategies to face two completely unexpected challenges: how to motivate the participation of a greater number of men and how to keep this initiative going amid the pandemic and under strict restrictions on mobility.
Kuña Mbaretech – Kuñanguérape g̃uarä
The hackathon Kuña Mbaretech – Kuñanguérape g̃uarä (which means strong woman in tech in Guaraní) was an event led by the Ministry of Women in alliance with the Ministry of Information and Communication Technologies, with the technical assistance of the IDB, the coordination by KOGA, and financing by the Government of Japan. Its objective was to solve creatively, through the incorporation of digital technology, the challenges faced by women in vulnerable situations in their daily lives.
Four thematic areas in which teams could work on were identified in workshops with representatives of civil society, the private sector and academia: digital decentralization of services, prevention of violence against women, education for empowerment, and construction and exercise of citizenship.
After three days of virtual work sessions, the 14 teams presented their proposals to the jury. The winning team presented a mobile application that, through voice recognition, detects help requests and grievances suffered by the victim, and issues an alert to their emergency contacts using the device location. Currently, the project is receiving mentoring from KOGA, to support them in the development of a minimum viable product that they will deliver to the Ministry of Women.
What we discovered in the process
Beyond the final results, in terms of winning hackathon solutions, there are five learnings we would like to share:
- Women are not necessarily intimidated by technology. Unlike other technology events where there is a low level of female participation, at Kuña Mbaretech women were interested in the topics presented and felt they had a lot to contribute to the matter. In just a few days we registered 188 women. A similar experience was from Hackea la Crisis Edición Mujeres y Niñas 2020 where 218 virtual volunteers from all Latinoamerica collaborated to develop solutions to the challenges faced by women and girls during the COVID-19 lockdown.
- Hackathons are powerful awareness tools. To think of a solution, the first step is to fully understand the problem, followed by a validation of the prototype solution by its potential users. The process of discussion of the problems and collective construction of the solutions that takes place in mixed teams creates an ideal space to break down paradigms. Hence, the importance that a large group of men participated in the Kuña Mbaretech hackathon, since only when we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes is that we can understand their points of view. Only when women and men understand that gender problems affect us all as a society, we will be able to overcome them.
- Public institutions can improve their services through technology. Although there was initially some skepticism about why a Women’s Ministry was organizing a hackathon, the process demonstrated three things: first, the public sector has a lot to gain by promoting innovation; second, on any topic – including gender equality – digital technologies allow the development of innovative solutions to traditional problems; Finally, collaborative work for the development of creative solutions between citizens and government takes citizen participation to a new level, which in turn allows services to be better adapted to citizen’s needs.
- Diversity generates value. The experience of the hackathon showed us that the most diverse teams, both in terms of academic training, experience, and gender, are more effective since each brings a different and complementary perspective to the project. That is why Kuña Mbaretech was not a hackathon of women, but a space to add collective intelligence in favor of solutions at the service of women.
- Adaptability to change is an indicator of leadership. The Kuña Mbaretech hackathon had been planned as a face-to-face event, for which we had defined the methodologies and budgeted all the logistical aspects. But if there is something that we did not have in our plans, it was the coronavirus. Given the uncertainty about how long we would have to postpone the event, under the leadership of the Ministry of Women and with the skillful organization of KOGA we decided to take the challenge and modify all the preparations to carry out the first virtual hackathon in Paraguay. The participants surveys and the proposals generated by the teams confirm that we made the right decision.
Inspiration for the region
Our recent experience in Paraguay, a small country with significant gender gaps and incidence of violence, has shown that technology-based solutions can be found, with large female participation, with open source, in record time, and through a virtual exercise. The issues that were tackled during the hackathon are common difficulties for women throughout the region. We trust that some of the solutions designed in Paraguay can be replicated or serve as an inspiration to solve similar issues in other countries.
Have you seen the DemoDay video? With which of the lessons learned have you felt most identified? Or how else do you think this type of event can promote gender equality? Add your comment below!