By: Alexandra Zinovyeva (interviewer) & Viviana Rojas (co-author)
Hack4Change, a week-long hackathon that brings students and stakeholders together to tackle pressing social sustainability issues, is organised by Dublin City University (DCU) Business School. Gathering more than 600 students and 80 industry representatives to work together to solve society’s biggest challenges, the event exposes students to numerous activities, including live talks by experts, mentoring and pitching. Overall, the event gives students practical experience in collaborating with industry partners, and students are given the opportunity to directly engage with relevant societal topics.
The process of making a change
Hack4Change has three main objectives that impact learning: it aims to 1) facilitate the development of innovative ideas to tackle societal challenges, 2) create student awareness and interest towards societal issues, and 3) help participants develop critical skills such as teamwork, networking and problem solving.
Participants in Hack4Change are made up of first-year undergraduates enrolled in the Learning Innovation for Enterprise (LIFE) module. The LIFE module is designed to help students better understand innovation in commercial, entrepreneurial, and organisational contexts. The hackathon tackles challenges in three key areas: climate, equality and mental health & wellbeing. The challenges related to climate include topics such as sustainability, fast fashion and smarter travel, while topics associated with equality may consist of diversity & inclusivity, global challenges and discrimination. The mental health & wellbeing challenges that may be addressed include post-COVID living, cyberbullying and more.
During the event, students are teamed up with one another according to their topics of interest, and develop viable social enterprise ideas based on the event’s themes. Participants go on to pitch their concepts to judges at the end of the week and are assessed based on the reflection papers they submit after the experience. Throughout the hackathon, participants receive advice from industry leaders and mentors. The event has mentors from a mixture of backgrounds and includes mentors from the university’s internal areas who are experts in the hackathon’s topics, as well as master’s students.
To bring participants in closer proximity with one another, Hack4Change makes use of the online “Gather Town” platform; a virtual world where video-calling is combined with a 2D map, which allows participants to virtually walk around and have conversations with other people on the map. Gather Town allows multiple people to hold separate conversations in parallel, joining conversations as easily as they would in reality. Hack4Change uses the platform so that students can attend talks from different speakers, meet with their mentors, and enjoy a chat with their friends in the park or on the beach.
Impacts and lessons learned
In terms of attracting participants, it was necessary to create awareness of societal challenges and the benefits that students would receive by participating in the hackathon. Furthermore, DCU was able to use its position as an industry-focussed university to easily find stakeholders and mentors that could take part in the event. Organisers of Hack4Change acknowledge that involvement of external stakeholders is critical for making participants’ experience more enriching and engaging, and stress the importance of creating an interdisciplinary experience, considering the multifaceted nature of societal challenges.
Alexandra Zinovyeva (interviewer)
Viviana Rojas (co-author)