The world today is driven by data and we have no control of how this data is created, we have many devices generating this data. The need for generating insight has grown, opening up new careers in Data Science.
The big question is if we can derive insight from the data we generate. BongoHive in partnership with i2ifacility and FSD Zambia hosted a Hackathon in which hackers where given data which they could work with to solve problems of financial inclusion in the country - this a positive indicator that data science is gaining traction, even in Zambia. I was excited to be part of a hackathon that emphasizes data-driven solutions. The hackathon ran for 2.5 days, from Friday to Sunday at BongoHive.
At the start of the Hackathon, FSD Zambia introduced the problem at hand, pointing out the demographics and data-backed facts of problems being faced in financial inclusion, there is an alarming 59% of the total population that is financially excluded. The i2ifacility introduced data science to all participants and presented the datasets to be used in the competition. It was remarkable to see that data collected by this facility and it was all given to developers to use.
Day 1 of the hackathon was mostly about making people familiar with the problems they will be trying to solve and understanding the data provided to solve those problems. In a not so social community of geeks, the one thing that unites us all is “Food”, day 1 ended with amazing food. Though I am not sure why it is relevant to mention it now.
Day 2 of the hackathon was even more interesting and fun. We had team formation in the morning, where we had teams introduce themselves. I wouldn’t necessarily call it team formation because some teams where already formed even before the hackathon, it would be safe to call it “team introduction”. It was amazing to see people from all sectors, from IT, Finance etc. Creating a blend of skill sets that made that hackathon interesting and challenging. We had sessions on how to make sure the solutions we create had the potential to affect positive change and make money at the same time. Some teams like my Team (“BlockHeads”) was solely comprised of Techies which we discovered later that it is bad to have a team of purely one skill set, this made us blind in terms of looking at the business side of the solution we proposed to deliver. In our world, we thought we would make a change but never thinking about the way our business idea would make money or even sustain itself. To answer these questions we were introduced to the Lean Canvas by BongoHive Community Liaison, who ran all the teams through how to effectively create a great product.
Day 3 was mostly when all teams where wrapping up and perfecting their ideas, meanwhile Team BlockHeads was stuck in an infinite loop of doubt and arguments on which idea would best suit the hackathon’s problem statements. We initially had an idea and we decided to pivot after hearing from a number of mentors, we took a risk and decided to pivot. After the pivot the team had to rush to make the most out of the time despite having only a few hours till the pitch sessions start. We had to derive as much facts as we can from the provided data to support our random pivot. However ridiculous, we made sure we had everything we need for the pitch, we even managed to create a demo.
The last day of the hackathon, we all had to pitch the ideas we were working on to a panel of judges. It was a long 2.5 days, hearts where pounding and some people barely slept working on prototypes. Fortunately, we were first to pitch and I was sure if I could finish the demo and pitch in under 3 min, we could spent more time on the demo, which can be a very good thing to have because it give you the upper hand. In under 3 min, I managed to pitch the idea that we worked on in under 5 hours, I wouldn’t say it was perfect because we tried to be a solution to a lot of problems - in short we did not clearly define what our idea would be focused on solving. Despite pivoting in 5 hours before the pitch by overall we managed to be 2nd at the hackathon. We lost points on having a team purely comprised of computer geeks and nerds, this has taught us that we need to work with other people from fields like social sciences in order for our ideas to work in the real world.
One other team worth mentioning is Team I-Tech, which had a hardware solution to health insurance, it was interesting to see a hardware solution at the hackathon. It’s clear Zambia has potential when it comes to Science and Technology and with BongoHive around to help local entrepreneurs, we will thrive.
Initially it was meant to be 4 teams qualifying to the final stage, in which these startups would have to go through a 4-week boot camp, then the best performing team will go to Kigali, Rwanda for Transform Africa 2017, however the judges decided to qualify all teams to the next stage. I am looking forward to working with mentors to make our idea come to life and actually make positive change.
Finally, I saved this for last, I mentioned arguing about our ideas and pivoting, I would like to introduce our team “BlockHeads”, originally Team Microdot but we decided to go by something different this time. As seen below, I am the only handsome guy in the picture and I am hoping my team makes would become good looking before we go to Kigali, the Rwandan people might think all Zambians look my team mates. Team: Patrick Sikalinda, Simbeye Mwiza, Fred Samani, Paul Joseph.