That's what the team – software engineers, hackers, ui/ux designers, product developers, social thinkers, civic-minded organizations – said when talking about using technology to solve global challenges problems.
It began with a Twitter conversation. A contact at Alliants – Simon Kaye – started with 'How's the new year going?' A few exchanges later, he was asking if I had any charity digital projects to submit for Nukanti. 'How many and where do I submit?' I couldn’t turn down that kind of offer.
GeekList’s global hackathon – #Hack4Good – challenges IT pros worldwide to solve local problems with innovative thinking and quick-launch solutions. Over the 48 hours, teams form and tackle problems using their unique strengths in technology;
Based in Southampton (UK), Alliants - a technology solutions company driving better customer experiences for the brands they serve. On the weekend of 7-9 February 2014, it hosted the local meeting for #Hack4Good. Over 48 sleepless hours, the team from Alliants collaborated with two nonprofits, Nukanti and a local charity known as Learning through Landscapes, for whom the team designed apps geared towards motivating kids to go outdoors and get away from their screens.
After Nukanti was shortlisted (five in total were selected), my team and I presented the idea of re-designing; our website. Our existing site – built on Joomla – did not provide the capabilities we needed to publish a blog and distribute newsletters. With our site redesign, we also pitched two other projects: an assessment of our current ecommerce site, for the Nukanti Shop (which ran on a separate site) and an online community for children that would function to build relationship and enable correspondence as a penpal program run by UNICEF in the late-1970s/early-1980s;
The projects received great feedback and we were invited to setup a global live broadcast to promote the projects to the #hack4good community, the video went viral among the community and got more than 1600 views, we were excited about who would choose our project over the weekend.
What happened next still seems like a blur! It all flashed before my eyes and from the kick off in Alliants offices Friday night to the 3am or so stop, till then Sunday morning and waking up to a new site built in 24 hours and our first order. Exceeding my expectations and demonstrates what can be achieved with a small team with a common goal. It blew me away. The energy, passion and drive to meet Nukanti Foundation's requirements was phenomenal. The support via the Geeklist community was also a great atmosphere, with regular live broadcasts from all global locations and presentations along the way.
The IT challenges which Nukanti has previously faced were not just getting access to technical experts but at the most basic level, updating our website easily and efficiently. Built in 2011, using Joomla for the site and OpenCart for the online shop, the site was unnecessarily complicated to update and difficult to manage. Given that we are a grass-roots organization, we must rely on free tools and pro-bono experts who can build such solutions, we are susceptible to the capabilities and expertise available to us;
Being a fairly small (5 people), globally located team working/living across multiple timezones, we needed a site that we could to easily update without waiting for others to respond to urgent emails for assistance. This prevented us from publishing reports from our on-the-ground project teams. We also need to ensure all content is available in multiple languages. And we need to deliver a great ecommerce experience that can help us increase sales, track buyers, and engage visitors in the future.
The Southampton Hack4Good participants quickly broke off into teams and went to work on an initial review to a 'just do it' approach. They kicked off creating a whole new site, beginning with bringing the main site and ecommerce shop together. We reviewed the old site in Joomla, brainstormed ideas, planned the setup, completed domain mapping, setup squarespace, thought about user experience, analysed all the requirements and documented everything using squarespace page creation, user experience, analyzed the requirements and documented everything using a project management tool Trello.
When I returned on Saturday (I didn't brave staying awake all night like some of the team) I was delighted to discover they had an example site to review, content being re-worded and products imported. All we needed now was a green light to go and transfer to the new site. A few skypes with my Nukanti team and a few discussions later, the team rolled out the transfer. In only 24 hours, the Hack4Good team and I built Nukanti's new site and ecommerce solution!
At 9pm (UK local time), we went live. At 3am, our first order came in from Philadelphia (and no, it was not from our Director of Communications, who lives in the City of Brotherly Love). I was thrilled: The team’s solution made a difference soon after we launched the new site;
- Both our fair-trade shop and the main site are in one place, making it easier to maintain, manage, and integrate messaging.
- The new platform is easier for the Nukanti team to maintain via Squarespace. We no longer first need to acquire technical Joomla knowledge; now we can get started straight away, without training.
- Fresh, crisp, simple design, rich in features - send photos via mobile from the field, view on a smartphone, easy connects to Nukanti's social media channels.
- Multi-currency payment system Stripe, built-in with marketing tool MailChimp, so we can easily develop and send targeted offers and campaigns.
- A blog that enables us to give our followers in-depth insights into Nukanti’s programmes, volunteers, and interns, and show the difference that people can make when they work together to help others.
And it’s amazing to think that after six years of operation, all the IT capabilities we long lacked to help us get to the next level, in terms of building an online presence and reaching our key targets, was solved in one night! And it all happened thanks to a great team that formed quickly on one recent Friday evening;
- Tristan Gadsby - Alliants CEO who got back to code basics designing the 'Heart' donation button.
- Antonia Murphy - PR Marketing Alliants added all our shop products to the pages, organised the whole event and makes a mean chili.
- Sam Finding - Alliants consultant who kept asking 'how are you getting along with?...' he kept our team focused and determined.
- Lee-Jon Ball - Alliants client director who hacked away getting things transferred.
- Josh de Kock - 14 year old coder and geek in the making.
- Elbrie de Kock his Mum - 'Growing Coders' initiative lead, who only came along to support Josh and then roped into creating some of the great new pages.
- James Burrows - Southampton university student who quickly got into creating web pages for the first time
- And me, Charlotte Joyce - Nukanti Foundation, submitted the pitch, gave inputs to how to develop the content and the inventory check for the store.
A huge thank you goes out for all the cups of tea, pizza, chili, organisation, effort and smiles that went into making the new Nukanti Foundation website;
And of course, many thanks go out to Reuben Katz, Dan Cunningham, and Jedi Weller at Geeklist #hack4good who made the event a huge success. We're thrilled and motivated by the gift we have received and what the team achieved for us. We are now focusing on leveraging our new site to drive the programming, communications, and fundraising initiatives improve crucial areas, including rolling out a new communications strategy.
I finish by saying: Welcome to our new site! Please click through and subscribe to receive our newsletters and updates.