Toronto Hackers & Capital One ‘Use Digital For Good’ to Support Canadian Charities

Pictured above: Team ‘KindaCasual’ – from left to right: Will Mero, Mandeep Wraich, Reggie Yobua, Arel Roche, Shehraz Islam. Not pictured: Sanja Resanovic.

Technology is advancing at a rapid pace but many organizations are being left behind. A recent Capital One study revealed that 74% of Canadian charities believe a growing tech gap threatens the long-term success of their organization. Investing in tech and digital provides opportunities for efficiency and greater social impact. This is the catalyst for the Capital One Gift the Code Hackathon.

Last weekend, over two hundred Toronto developers joined together for a 48-hour hackathon – but instead of competing for a top prize, these 34 teams were competing to build the best solutions for Canadian charities. Building on the success and momentum from the past two years, Capital One brought back their Gift the Code Hackathon to mobilize the Toronto tech community and help bridge the technology gap for six Canadian charities.

The hackathon, which took place on November 16-18, 2018, saw teams tackle challenges presented by six charities: Boys and Girls Clubs, Camp Quality, The Centre for Mindfulness Studies, Kids Help Phone, The Movember Foundation, and Toronto Cat Rescue. These charities were selected based on their area of focus and their accessibility to technology and innovation, and while each has a unique purpose, all share a common thread: charities often delay investing in digital development so they can funnel as many resources as possible to those in need. This means they don’t have large development teams (if they have them at all), so giving them access to the Toronto tech talent pool goes a long way to help them bridge that gap.

I’ve been to a lot of hackathons, but the energy here was different – instead of a feeling of competitiveness, there was a collaborative spirit as everyone came together to support the community. If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know I’ve long worked in the tech philanthropy space – in my previous role I worked as an external engineer and partnered with a few charities to build technical solutions to their challenges. Seeing this same energy demonstrated at scale here by the Toronto tech community is so inspiring, and I’m thrilled that Capital One is bringing their diversity and inclusion values to life with this initiative. Gift the Code is a modern-day urban barn-raising.

See a collection of my Instagram stories from the weekend here:

34 teams proposed solutions, and each charity worked with a team of judges from Capital One and the Canadian tech ecosystem (myself included) to select the team that best achieved the goals outlined in the briefs. Let’s take a look at each charity and their top solution:

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Camp Quality is a camp that provides empowering experiences for children living with cancer. Their winning solution was a web app that lets medical staff digitally track kids’ healthcare requirements so they know when and how to administer medication. Before, staff used paper records to track and record this information.

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The Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada serve hundreds of Canadian youth with after-school programs that teach collaboration and skills beyond the classroom. Their winning solution was Disconnect2Connect, a web app that encourages kids to disconnect from their devices to reconnect with each other. The app dims the screen and logs the amount of time spent “unplugged,” then allows kids to share their stats on social media and provides analytics to the Boys and Girls Club organizers.

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The Movember Foundation, famously characterized by its no-shave November campaign, raises money and awareness for men’s health and has a mission to stop men from dying too young. Mo’ Coins, built by a team from Points, is a Chrome extension-based loyalty program for the Movember Foundation, which gamifies the donation experience and lets donors contribute year-round while redeeming points for Movember swag.

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Kids Help Phone provides support to children in distress. Their winning solution was a new, kid-friendly web interface which is more engaging as children wait to be connected with a counsellor. Because the Kids Help Phone relies on staff availability, kids are put in a queue to wait for the next available counsellor – this new interface is designed to collect information in a fun and stress-reducing way.

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Toronto Cat Rescue handles the safe rescue and adoption of thousands of cats each year, and they need a better way to track health and adoption information about their cats. Their winning solution was CATalyst, a set of user interfaces built on top of the charity’s existing Google Sheets database that facilitates permissioned access and guided intake processes for coordinators.

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The Centre for Mindfulness Studies is an educational institution that teaches mindfulness in depth through 8-week programs. Their winning solution was Mind2Mind, an app that lets students continue their mindfulness studies post-program and remotely synchronize mindfulness sessions with their fellow students. “Their solution is a game-changer for us,” said Barry Patterson, Executive Director of The Centre for Mindfulness Studies.

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Patti Mikula, CEO and Founder of Hackworks

“It really shows what 48 hours, some really big hearts, and some really big brains can do,” said Patti Mikula, CEO and Founder of Hackworks, who Capital One worked with to bring the hackathon to life. While there were top teams chosen for each category, the charity partners will continue to work with many of the teams to implement their solutions. In fact, Capital One announced that it’s offering an additional $100,000 in funding to support these charities in doing just that.

As developers we have a unique opportunity to help others – we have skills that can be used from anywhere in the world to affect change elsewhere, and I strongly believe the best thing we can do is use those skills to build tools that improve the lives of others. All code from the hackathon will be open sourced and available in the coming weeks, so you and anyone in the community can get involved and build on these solutions to help local charities! You can keep up to date with the ongoing work by following @CapitalOneCA on Twitter and Instagram.

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Disclosure: this post was sponsored by Capital One Canada, who partnered with Trendy Techie to share the Gift the Code Hackathon. I’m selective with my partnerships and chose to work with Capital One because I support their mission of Gift the Code and believe their work in diversity and inclusion is thoughtful and authentic.

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