08 November 2019 - After spending two days in a closed space designing a computer programme, most people would look and feel exhausted; but for 25 secondary school students who had come to Washington, D.C. this week to do just that, no amount of fatigue could begin to overshadow the excitement and sense of achievement they felt.
Invited to the event by the Education for Justice (E4J) initiative (a component of the UNODC's Global Programme for the Implementation of the Doha Declaration) to participate in a special hackathon co-organized with the World Bank and Africa Teen Geeks, these students came from Bulgaria, India, Mexico, South Africa and Tunisia to develop software solutions to one of six challenges posed by the organizers, revolving around Sustainable Development Goal 16 (targeting peace, justice and strong institutions) and rule of law.
The youngsters, split into five national teams, faced the difficult task of creating innovative computer programmes to address one of these issues affecting so many lives around the world: reducing all forms of violence everywhere; protecting children from abuse, exploitation, trafficking and violence; promoting the rule of law and ensuring equal access to justice for all; combatting all forms of organized crime; or fighting corruption and bribery in all their forms. Throughout the competition, the hackathon organizers, joined by TechWomen, assisted the students with technical mentoring and general thematic guidance.
Lindiwe Matlatli, founder and CEO of Africa Teen Geeks, said the role of technology in development was an important aspect and that hackathons were an ideal way of bringing young people together to make a difference: "Equipping young children with technological skills not only helps solve rule of law-related issues, but their being here at the World Bank this week is an inspiration for them and their peers back home."
With over 16 hours of programming behind them, the teams presented extremely creative and useful prototypes, rendering the duty of the members of the jury to choose only one winner quite difficult. In the end, Annette Dixon, Vice-President for Human Development at the World Bank, Major-General Dr. Abdullah Al Mal, Advisor to the Prime Minister and Minister of Interior of the State of Qatar, Africa Teen Geeks' Lindiwe Matlali, Amy Christianson from the US State Department, and Marco Teixeira, Coordinator of UNODC's Global Programme, agreed that Epic Queen from Mexico had the edge with its particularly impressive proposed solution to the issue of domestic violence. The app they developed presents children with decision-making tasks where they are asked a range of questions in the form of a video game. Depending on answers, this can send a red flag to teachers about potential domestic violence for their attention and action. The happy winners will also be travelling to Kyoto in April 2020, to present their app at a special event during the United Nations' 14 th Crime Congress - an event only held every five years.
Major-General Al Mal praised all the participants and congratulated the winners, stressing the importance of these events: "The Law, Justice and Development Week is the kind of place where youth can show their role in enhancing the rule of law. This week also allowed us to witness how education and young people are a source of inspiration in tackling crime."
Ms. Dixon was equally impressed, remarking: "It is essential that young people have the type of skills illustrated here - not only technical, but also social and emotional. Thank you to all of you - you are the kind of young people we need more of in the world!"
On-stage to receive their over-sized boarding pass to Kyoto, the winners from Mexico were visibly ecstatic, with their plan to refine and scale up their app for use within their country and beyond.
The Jury's Award was preceded by a People's Choice Award, giving conference participants the chance to vote live for the team they thought had presented the best solution. While the votes were very close, the team from Tunisia, AJST - or Association Jeunes Science de Tunisie - came out top with their idea for an app which allows users to discreetly report any crime through a quick button on their phone in order to send the police image, audio and location data.
The Global Programme's hackathons have brought youngsters from around the world to compete in numerous locations recently, with varied renowned partner corporations such as Symantec in Silicon Valley and Facebook in Nigeria, among others. For Marco Teixeira, the Programme's Global Coordinator, the popularity of hackathons is proof that young people are eager to be included in thinking about the future of the world: "These types of events, these hackathons, have opened up an entirely new way in which UNODC is able to work with a key group of stakeholders - young people. To those teenagers here today, your creativity has really shone through. You are not just winners - you're champions who I hope will take this rule of law message back to your countries."
The pervasiveness of technology in young people's lives today presents many opportunities on an educational level, and hackathons are just one of the ways E4J is engaging students, as it continues to work towards promoting the rule of law and instilling a solid moral and ethical compass in the next generation.
Education for Justice