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Non-profit seeks to change squatter camps through hackathons

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Developers attending the Empire Partner Foundation hackathon.
Developers attending the Empire Partner Foundation hackathon.

Technology non-profit organisation Empire Partner Foundation is seeking to be a catalyst for social change in SA, empowering youth through hackathons to solve immediate social economic needs in informal settlements.

The foundation says it aims to bring together people with scalable ideas to create new solutions using technology that can impact social change and increase sustainability.

With the advent of digital technologies and the impact they are having on communities, Empire says it wants to inspire local developers to use technology to improve the communities in which they live.

It hopes to achieve this through hackathons, incubating the winners and helping them launch scalable businesses for social good.

Mikhial Mariemuthu, manager at Empire Partner Foundation, explains the vision and the process to ITWeb, saying: “We identified 10 challenges that we can solve using digital smart technologies; one of the ways we aim to address these challenges is by hosting monthly hackathon challenges. These hackathons are held with a different topic each month. So for this month, we focused on the informal housing sector, last month we focused on education and the month before that the focus was on healthcare.

“This month’s hackathon was held with the sole mission of making the lives of people in informal communities much more convenient or much easier.

“As you know, the problem with informal housing is that it’s not going away. A lot of informal settlements keep popping up across the country, so whilst government is trying to put its policies together to give these people opportunities, what the hackathons do is come up with amazing solutions to make lives easier, whether it’s safety and security, or education.

“Winners of these hackathons become part of our incubation, where we take all the winners and house them under one unit and get them to build a business around their solutions. After a period of six months or so, we will then take it to market.”

The 10 socio-economic challenges the organisation is trying to solve through technology are water, energy, healthcare, education, agriculture, rural development, transport, housing, unemployment and security.

Empire believes digital technologies will play a critical role in fuelling innovative responses to the needs of those living in informal settlements, and hosted its latest hackathon to seek technology solutions to improve the lives of citizens living in these areas.

The tech non-profit organisation says by leveraging digital technology and partnering with the mobile industry, cities and innovators, it can unlock innovative business models that have the capacity to make basic services more affordable and more reliable in informal settlements.

Empire says to date, it has worked with 237 young developers and hosted seven hackathons, with 12 more lined up for the upcoming months.

According to Mariemuthu, the organisation has so far incubated four winning teams who designed solutions around water, SASSA grant payments, healthcare and education.

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