‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’
We’ve all heard this saying and we love to quote it, but how many of us can actually walk the talk? The Civic Hackathon, held in Karachi, gave an invaluable opportunity to citizens to use their skills and make their city a better, more efficient place to live. Organized by Pring, P@SHA and The Second Floor, the Hackathon pulled together developers, students and other professionals to create apps to solve civic problems. The two-day event was inspired by Code for America, a non-profit organization that gets city leaders and web enthusiasts to come up with innovative solutions to promote public services.
Sheba Najmi, a fellow of Code for America, initiated this project to encourage citizens to take matters into their own hands. Speeches and tutorial sessions were held on the first day of the event and eleven teams were formed. We introduced Raven API, our ground breaking API that lets anyone create SMS apps using simple HTML. The judges themselves suggested the use of Pring as an SMS interface, so that the maximum number of people could access services, without the internet.
A number of incredible apps were created. There was an app that tackled one of the biggest evils in Karachi: muggings and target killings. It allowed citizens to report the crime, along with precise location and time where it occurred. Another great app enabled people to get authentic information on government procedures, such as obtaining a driver’s license or getting an application processed. It gave direct facts and consequences of failing to go through the legitimate procedure. Along with empowering citizens, this method would do away with illegal mafias that exploit the ordinary man’s helplessness, while eliminating bribery.
One team was of the idea that corruption is so ingrained in society because citizens are not always aware that an honest transaction can take place. Their app allowed people to submit details of the bribe, i.e. the amount, the name of the officer, location, etc., to the relevant government department. And it would all be anonymous.
There weren’t just people from an IT background, but healthcare professionals, NGO representatives, and graphic designers. The response was so overwhelming that you couldn’t help but think that we could rid all of society’s ills if we just take into account what the educated youth has to suggest.
The actual development of the applications kicked off on the second day. Seven out of ten teams used Raven API to make their apps, because anyone with any kind of mobile phone can use SMS to communicate. Pring’s developer tools, the Raven Simulator, and the Raven Sandbox assisted developers speed up the development time. Judging criteria included ease of access, mechanics, simplicity, how well defined the problem was, success in resolving the issue and adaptation on Pring as an SMS interface.
“We’re very proud of what was attempted and accomplished in less than 48 hours. If we can sustain the same zeal, our civic problems will disappear.” said one of the speakers, Jawwad Farid.
P@SHA’s Innovation Fund announced it would be investing Rs. 850,000 for any team that has a workable idea and wants to go ahead with it. Plug & Play is keen on providing business incubation space for those who want to further develop their application. Participants were so enthusiastic about Raven API that they pledge to carry on with their projects and meet up every month at T2F to share progress and new ideas.
Thanks to the judges Farzal Dojki, Shahjahan Chaudhry, Imran Mohiuddin and Sabeen Mahmud. It was a noteworthy initiative taken by Sheba Najmi, Jehan Ara, Sabeen Mahmud and the volunteers who made this event happen.
If you think this is the end of it, think again. Lahore, we’re coming your way next, so get the geek out in you and gear up to do some good!
Posted by Haseeb Tariq and Hiba Moeen