Three Months Later: A Reflection on Last February’s Climate Change-Makers Challenge!
130+ Youth Registered. 15 Countries. 5 Continents. 16 projects to fight climate change… When we launched the Climate Change-Makers Challenge three months ago, it was hard to imagine how important the event would be as a chapter in our organization's evolution! To update on some great things that have happened since & to honour the incredible change-making youth who took part, here’s a bit of a reflection. 😊
The Inspiration... Credit: Ocean Bridge + Hack the Earth!
When joining Ocean Bridge at the start of 2020, it was out of a longing to do something about the environmental crises that confronts us. As a Bengali-Canadian, it was hard to avoid the reality that my country of origin in Bangladesh was quite literally sinking due to climate change (Schleien, 2020). And even my adoptive home of Halifax NS, which lies in the unceded territory of the Mi'Kmaq peoples, was going to be subjected to sea level rise in the next decade (Dini, 2019).
To this end, I was inspired to apply for Ocean Bridge, a program run under the Ocean Wise non-profit, and designed to help Canadian youth take action for ocean conservation. The program taught me so much, but in particular challenged me (and all its youth) to engage in service projects that can make a difference.
This led me to Hack the Earth! Hackathons were these super-fun 48-hour events, where folks came together from different backgrounds to network, learn & develop ideas to address our world’s biggest problems.... And with Hack the Earth, here was a chance to properly develop that idea for OATHE that had been percolating for a few hours, ever since I resolved to pick up one piece of litter a day after hearing what plastic pollution does to turtles (our origin story here).
The result? That initial concept for OATHE won "Best Pollution Hack" in the hackathon, but that was the smallest of what we gained... The real prize was the chance to work on an idea that spent too long sitting on the shelf. It was the opportunity to network with people all over the world including someone in Germany (Leon) who ended up becoming a future OATHE board member (he was actually on the competing team that won the best overall hack!). It was the chance to create something that could make a difference for our beautiful planet, indeed the spark for what has now become an incorporated non-profit with hundreds of followers, an amazing team & lots of great initiatives.
The hope with Climate Change-Makers was to give back to the broader world some of what we received from folks like Ocean Wise and Hack the Earth. And if not for their help, the logistical support of SURGE from Dalhousie, the organizational know-how of Earth Hacks & so many others, our own hackathon would not be possible. Indeed, behind the scenes was literally hundreds of hours from all our partners, for which our OATHE team is incredibly grateful!
The Weekend Itself: What Fun It Was!
And here’s what happened! Truthfully, as newbies to hackathon organizing, we had to learn FAST, often making things up as we went... Our initial goals were to get at least three partners on board, $1.2K in prizes, 24 to max 120 participants, a 20-40% increase in our social media following, 5 mentors or judges & have a bunch of great projects of which at least one might be developed after our event. Looking back, we definitely blew those metrics out of the water!
On February 26th, about two thirds of our 130+ registered youth gathered virtually for the opening ceremonies... And they came from a wide variety of backgrounds too: 48% identified as female. 70% were considered hackathon “newbies”, having competed in fewer than two hackathons before. Ages ranged from 10 to 60+. And there were a wide variety of educational backgrounds, ranging from engineering to environmental science to business & more... Joining too were 25+ incredible mentors & judges from four continents, with $5K+ in total prizes thanks to Ocean Wise's support.
And the weekend itself was full! Day 1 featured our opening, some match-making events, getting everyone settled onto our Slack & a super-fun environmental trivia event, courtesy of Hack the Earth. Day 2 saw teams brainstorming, doing lots of market research, connecting with mentors, a Slideshow Karaoke to end the day & a bunch of great workshops in between that were run by some pretty rad partners, on topics like the value proposition canvas (courtesy of SURGE), food waste (Zero Waste McMaster), prototyping (Hack the Earth) & environmental justice (Watering the Grassroots).
And Sunday had more sessions + workshops but was also deadline day, with teams working hard to put together their concepts, build out their prototypes, make lots of last-minute pivots & to fit their epic stories in a four-minute video to share to the world.... Although it definitely was not easy! In the words of Swati from Dhiray Kapde, which provides a platform for stores selling second-hand-clothing, "There was a point I felt like withdrawing, but everybody gave me confidence in my idea, and encouraged me to go for it... It was really beautiful." And in the end, with each team having their own unique journey through the hackathon weekend, many meeting each other for the first time, some going through moments where they wanted to quit, others trying to figure out meetings across 10+ timezones, we received 16 submissions. And, to use Swati's words, all were inspiring, uplifting, truly "beautiful."
The Grand Finals Weekend
After the first round of judging, a total of 12 teams qualified for the final round of judging at the Grand Finals on March 6th, 2021. This was supposed to be a small, private-ish event but with how everything thus far exceeded our wildest expectations, the organizing team decided unanimously that we should make it a "thing"... And what did that mean? We went on a marketing blitz, encouraged teams to invite their friends, families & others, brought in some pretty epic guests to speak at an AMA (ask-me-anything session) & completely re-did our finals plan last-minute!
And it turned out pretty super! 100+ tickets sold. 10+ judges joining us from some of the foremost climate action organizations across the world. And 12 teams which left us collectively awestruck with the level of innovation, creativity & passion they brought, with powerful stories told through pitches + the live Q & A. It was something truly inspiring to see.
The results? As we told our peeps through the course of the hackathon, the real "winner" would be anyone who took something away from the event: One new friend. A new skill.. An idea that sparks more. A mentor connect... Still, there were folks who got a chance to take home a prize as well, and here they are:
Climate Connections is a website that helps support disadvantaged and marginalized youth with their climate change activism ideas. Youth will use the websites to get inspired and either join or create their own projects.
CHOMP is a mobile app that helps individuals track their carbon footprint based on their food consumption. The app provides data that allows for food redistribution and food security in local communities, while reducing food waste.
Fish 'N Chips uses blockchain technology to lets consumers track where their fish is coming from. This serves as a deterrence for governments to overfish, and can help policymakers make more informed decisions.
Be sure to check out their full submissions in our public gallery on Devpost (here)! Truly, all the submissions were high quality, with judges sharing that it was a tough decision, especially after a long period of deliberation
Some Reflections: Five Take-Aways
With many months now passed, it is interesting to look back! Honestly, in the midst of a pandemic & climate crisis, the hackathon for the OATHE team was just an uplifting experience. We were inspired by all the participants & how they rallied together behind a common cause, how they worked so hard to turn an idea into something bigger, how they took things on the chin & adapted on the fly, even when we were learning alongside them & changing plans often too-last-minute (a constructive that we will need to improve, also identified in our feedback received).
On the whole, participants reported a 95%+ rating for the hackathon overall, but what lifted our spirits even more were the testimonials. For instance, 10-year-old Zoe from team "I Forgot!" shared how "It was really enjoyable and so much for to create/ collaborate with my friends! Winning the hackathon was just a big bonus, and I was blown away by the other projects." Prajna from SolarUp felt it was "one of the best hackathons she attended this season," sharing that she was "very passionate about climate action and found it an absolute delight having a hackathon that echoed that passion."
A lot more was shared, with constructive notes mixed in with the positives, and reflecting on this all, here's a few things we see as key lessons, both in terms of what we could have done better & what we did well/should strive to continue in the future. Here's our five big takeaways from the weekend: