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Hackathons – Where FinTech and Social Impact Meet

By Joanne Jacobs

For the last six months or so, Disruptor’s Handbook have been sponsoring and supporting a series of social impact hackathons hosted by youth entrepreneurship organisation, Vibewire. Over this time, the participants and challenges have transformed. Where once the concepts were more idea focused, these days, we’re seeing digitally-enabled, data driven solutions that combine the best UX, tech and data talent with subject matter expertise drawn from all parts of society. The most recent “hack for impact” focused on financial inclusion – with the result that most of the solutions felt more “fintech” than “social impact” – or perhaps “fintech with a social heart”. Here’s a snapshot from the inside.

We started with a simple hypothesis — that our “problems worth solving” approach to corporate innovation could be applied to social impact. Working with youth entrepreneurship organisation, Vibewire, we identified some of the most pressing social challenges — homelessness, family and domestic violence, mental health and financial inclusion — and began our research.

We connected with the social impact sector — organisations like NSW Council of Social Service, Jewish House and St George Community Housing. We engaged with people with lived experience of these challenges and encouraged them to share their stories. And we tapped the corporate sector — QBE Insurance and Domain.com.au — and the startup and entrepreneurial communities.

What we discovered was that there was a hunger to solve these “wicked problems”. Over the last six months, having hosted four social impact hackathons — what we call Hacks4Impact — we’ve had around 400 people actively workshop and develop solutions. We have seen dozens of social sector organisations provide mentors, support, data and insight to almost 50 new startup teams. The Minerva Collective corralled data scientists who brought a new perspective to our challenges, and online platform uBegin helped support the teams, individuals and groups to not only share their work and results — but to join a global community of problem solvers.

You can learn more about the hackathons for homelessness, domestic violence and mental health here.

The hackathons have connected — and given voice to — vulnerable and disadvantaged people, prioritising their stories, experiences and ideas. It can be confronting, challenging — but equally amazing — to see teams of strangers come together to work on a vision for a new future.

The most recent of these hackathons was a Hack for Financial Inclusion. Vibewire partnered with icare NSW (how do we improve the quality of life for injured workers and enhance their return to work prospects), Inside Out Aboriginal Justice Consultancy (how do we improve financial opportunities for indigenous businesses and break the cycle of incarceration) and NSW Council of Social Service (improving financial literacy for women and girls) to frame the “problems worth solving”.

The winning solution was built by a team that “pivoted” three times over the course of the weekend. Focusing on indigenous financial exclusion, the team developed a recommendation app designed to connect international tourists with indigenous owned and operated tourism businesses. The overriding question for the team during each of their pivots was — “are we solving the problem”.

In our work with innovators — whether they are corporate, government or social in purpose — we constantly coach and direct teams away from “ideas” and towards “problems”. In the event report for the financial inclusion hackathon, Steve Ng, from the winning team, explains that the unrelenting focus on the “problem worth solving” kept his team on track. What the report doesn’t show is the behind the scenes support provided by indigenous mentor, Keenan Mundine, tech and business mentors from Disruptor’s Handbook, Vibewire, NCOSS and Frollo.

Changing the game around disadvantage takes a village. And we believe these Hacks4Impact are showing just how vibrant a new digital / social enterprise village might be.


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