Hackathon event flier

With increasing urbanization, current dumpsites are no longer sustainable for local development as populations have grown around them. Although with a comparatively small population to the rest of Africa, The Gambia is the 4th most densely populated African country. Finding alternative dumpsites, the most obvious response, is hence not an ideal one. This was a relevant and pressing problem for the Accelerator Lab to apply experimental thinking through a Hackathon challenge. It was also an opportunity to bring like-minded people together to find solutions to a problem around which there is a shared interest, but also discover talent; and generate curiosity around a product, process, or idea, in this case, 3D printing.  

The UNDP Gambia Accelerator Lab (AccLabGM) recently concluded a 3-day hackathon event exploring the uses for 3D printing in waste management, a recurring theme in our engagements with partners and individuals. Twelve teams from across The Gambia came together to compete at the 3-day event.  The implementing partner for this test was Make3D, a 3D printing technology start-up. They will now support the Hackathon winners, Women’s Initiative Gambia (WIG), in a six-month incubation and mentorship to further develop their concept at a co-working space called The Disruptive Lab. The AccLab will provide oversight to this process.

Designing the Challenge

With waste management as a theme for the hackathon, the task was to then develop a challenge that was relevant, engaging, thought-provoking, but most importantly, fun for the participants. The AccLabGM unit decided to create a challenge around a fictious country call Futuria with three key municipalities that were all challenged with waste management.

Challenge: The surrounding land around the main landfills in the ABC, LMN, and XYZ municipalities in Region 1, are all under threat of the environmental effects of toxins and leachate due to unregulated dumping. Residents have complained of poorer water and air quality, and a spike in fires originating from these sites. The country’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism, and this sector has come under severe threat due to increased awareness around the hazardous environmental conditions around these communities. The government has already introduced a ban on the sale and use of plastic bags, but it was discovered that plastics still make up 35 percent or approximately 40 tons of the waste at the landfill. The other 65 percent comprises of sand i.e. 30 percent, and various forms of solid waste i.e. 35 percent. To tackle the problem, the authorities from the three municipalities have decided to come together to experiment around the potential uses of 3D printing in managing plastic waste.

In the urban settlements of The Gambia, the National Environment Agency (NEA) works in close cooperation with the three local district and area councils to coordinate on waste management in the Greater Banjul Area (GBA) region. These councils are namely the Brikama Area Council, the Kanifing Municipal Council, and finally, the Banjul City Council. A 2017 study commissioned by the GEF (Global Environment Facility) funded Technology Needs Assessment (TNA) noted estimates of 20, 16, and 4 dumpsites in these three councils, respectively. The study also reveals that more than 50 percent of the waste at the dumpsites is composed of non-biodegradable matter. Furthermore, methane emissions have been increasing at an average of one percent per annum for the past 10 years in at least two dumpsites in each of the regions. It’s no wonder waste management kept coming up in our conversations.

Hosting the Competition

On Day 1, teams completed their registrations and participated in a pre-hackathon workshop on 3D printing technology and its applications. A team eligibility criterion was then shared with the 50 participants, establishing rules around team size (2-6 members) and the number of teams that would participate in the challenge i.e. 10. When the hackathon challenge and prize were presented, the competitors flew out of the bleachers to finally unpack the challenge in their teams and begin ideating on solution proposals they would develop on Day 2.

As part of the pre-event workshop, all participants were required to complete a pre-event questionnaire developed in partnership with UKRI, a partner research hub to AccLabGM.  The aim of the questionnaire was to obtain personal data on the participants such as their levels of competency and income generating prospects but to also gain feedback on the implementation of the project. All these activities culminated in Q&A session on the theme and challenge of the Hackathon which built greater excitement around the third and final day of the competition or as we picked up from side conversations the ‘Pitch Day’ or the ‘Shortlisting and Selection part’.

One Day 2, five mentors were assigned to spend the day with the teams as they conceptualized or built prototypes of their solutions. By the end of Day 2, teams were to finalize their group profiles, which they presented to the larger group for peer feedback and possible mergers in build up to the selection of the 10 participating teams. In an encouraging display embodying the spirit of inclusion, four of the 12 teams opted to merge into two teams, relieving the event hosts of the difficult task of making cuts in the first round of the challenge. The day ended with 10 teams starting work on their solution proposals.

Before the arrival of the judges for the second round of the challenge on Day 3, the teams were allowed to refine their ideas on their own. AccLabGM invited judges from across the public and private sector who were recruited on the basis of their work and interest in waste management. This included a Counsellor from within the municipality where the Hackathon was hosted, known as Kanifing. A total of five judges were invited and as co-hosts alongside Make3D, the AccLabGM team acted as non-voting judges with the solo role of requesting for clarity on the viability of the solutions for waste management, but also the practicality of 3D printing usage in developing the solutions.  

In part two of this series, AccLabGM explores the findings from the Hackathon and shares the next step in this experiment. In the meantime, why not design your own Hackathon?

With some help of course, below are a few links to how you can plan a successful hackathon around…well, anything! Enjoy!

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