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WaterHackathon Cairo: Unusual partners for collaborative solutions

Cecilia Paradi-Guilford's picture
How could the World Bank engage and bring together Egypt’s technology community with water specialists to solve the country’s most pressing water and sanitation challenges? This past October, Cairo hosted the first-ever WaterHackathon in an effort to find out. WaterHackathon Cairo brought together Egyptian technologists with water specialists to brainstorm innovative ICT solutions for Egypt’s biggest water challenges. 

WaterHackathon Cairo took place on October 21-22, 2011 at the American University in Cairo (AUC). The event included more than 70 participants from the technology and water communities; they formed 13 teams which worked around the clock over a period of two days. With 70% of the participants between the ages of 19 and 28, the event captured the energy and commitment of Egypt’s young people.

One example of this enthusiasm is Nagham Osman, an AUC alumna who is working on communications for the Arab Digital Expression Foundation. Nagham happened to hear about WaterHackathon Cairo while visiting the AUC campus for her morning jog. Excited by the idea, Nagham canceled her weekend plans and partnered with a young technologist she met on site. Their team, Salt & Rocks, went on to sweep the winning prize for their work on SMS for equitable water distribution.

All thirteen teams came up with creative names, reflecting the fun and informal nature of the Hackathon. The other teams included Finding Nemo, Abu Erdan, and Run Time. One of the most popular outcomes of the Hackathon was a special song, written by the local AUC ‘garbage band’: a group of students who use recycled materials to create music. The whole AUC community got in the spirit, with dozens of volunteers from AUC’s Desert Development Center chipping in to help ensure logistics ran smoothly.

To ensure that the hackathon is tied to real-world problems, the World Bank task team consulted a diverse range of stakeholders, including low-income communities in rural and urban areas, the state-owned Holding Company for Water and WasteWater, the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation, the private sector such as PepsiCo and FarmFrites and with task teams from the World Bank. This led to the identification of a number of challenges, which included more effective water conservation and water saving in industrialline or agricultural production; better feedback mechanisms from farmers on irrigation modernization in the Nile Delta for remote irrigation scheduling; providing communities with alerts on water-related emergencies; tracking sewage disposal in rural communities; and facilitating more equitable water distribution.

The participating teams worked around the clock to develop innovative concepts to solve these challenges. The judges, representing  Egyptian venture capital firms, water NGOs and private corporations, were consistently impressed by the dedication and the quality of the teams’ solutions, deliberating for more than an hour on the results. Those teams that presented the most innovative and applicable solutions were awarded with prizes from private sector sponsors, which ranged from $4000 to $1000 in cash, project incubation at hubs such as TATelecom and NokiamLabs.

The prize winners included:

1st Prize: Salt & Rocks for more equitable water distribution through a mobile and web-based application enabling farmers to remotely control irrigation, and provide data directly to the Ministry of Agriculture.

2nd Prize: Abu Erdaan for irrigation optimization and water saving in agricultural production, using an application to enhance collection and verification of field data though smart mobile devices, and aggregate data on a server or in the cost-efficient cloud. The team impressed the judges and audience by demonstrating a working mobile prototype at the event.

3rd Prize: Run Time for a concept addressing water saving in industrial line production, using data visualization and SMS and web updates on water consumption in the production process for line supervisors and production managers.

In addition to these prizes, participants also voted for their favorite team for the “Spirit of the Hackathon,” a weekend away in El Gouna, a resort town on the Red Sea.

WaterHackathon Cairo presented an opportunity for the World Bank to do things differently in the aftermath of the Arab Spring: World Bank task teams reached out to a wider set of stakeholders, engaged local communities interested in shaping the future of their country, and facilitated unusual partnerships among young Egyptian technologists and water experts, all with the goal of collectively addressing Egypt’s development challenges.

The WaterHackathon Cairo was led by the ICT Unit in partnership with the Country Management Unit, the Water Anchor and the regional Water team. External partners included the Desert Development Center at the AUC, the Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center, Mobile Monday Cairo Chapter and Random Hacks of Kindness. Sponsors included PepsiCo, Farm Frites, TA Telecom, Nokia mLabs, ElGouna, Isis, Diwan, Arabnet.

 

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