Random Hacks of Kindness: How Open Data and Open Hearts Create Greater Social Good

When headlines push conversations to topics such a big data, data security, personal data privacy, and big corporate technology, it’s easy to conjure up the spectre of Big Brother. It can also be easy to accuse big tech of only caring about big profits.

With a little effort, and occasionally reading between the headlines, there are nuggets of goodness to be found. In this case, the nugget is the organization Random Hacks of Kindness whose mantra is “hacking for humanity.”

Since 2009 RHoK has been collaborating with representatives from Yahoo, Microsoft, Google, HP, NASA, and the World Bank to sponsor and support hackathons. Initially the collective efforts focused on developing open-source disaster response tools. These applications were intended to help during events such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

RHoK events have now run in over 40 cities around the world, with over 2,000 participants contributing time and skills to hundreds of projects. It’s fair to say that big corporate tech is invested in helping solve some significantly big problems.

Many open-source projects rely on volunteer developers to move forward, and hackathons have become an important tool to rally developer communities and support tool development. Increasingly, hackathons are being used to focus on specific social issues such as disasters response, corruption, and open data.

Vancouver’s own David Eaves is recognized for his work on open government initiatives, and for helping to launch the first International Open Data hackathon in December 2010. Open data initiatives continue to expand. It will be interesting to see what impact the Ontario government’s recent open data announcement produces.

As part of a larger global initiative, both Vancouver and Toronto are hosting RHoK events. Over 20 cities around the world with over 1,000 participants will be working on different projects relevant to their participants.

The RHoK events start with identifying, defining and refining problems as presented by subject matter experts and local stakeholders. From there, teams come together to develop open source solutions to address these challenges. Participating with RHoK provides a chance to be part of a global movement of technology for social good.

The impact of RHoK cannot be understated. In just two days, developers and volunteers at a previous Toronto event worked together to create a system to engage, promote, and improve First Nation and Aboriginal access to water and sanitation in a project called WaterVoices.

Expectations are high for Vancouver’s first RHoK event. As many as eight non-profits will put forward projects that require technical expertise, from initiatives aimed at ending poverty in Canada to connecting women peace builders. The RHoK Vancouver event is working with local talent who are donating their valuable skills and time, to supporting some very worthy causes. There are still seats available, and developers needed.

The event will be held at GrowLab on December 1 and 2 with an evening reception at 6pm on Friday, November 30, sponsored by Granville Island Brewing. For more information visit the PeaceGeeks website.