Closing the gap
between technology
and humanitarian
challenges

About the
Humanitarian Hackathon

Whether caused by conflict, a natural disaster, a climatic phenomenon or a combination of the three, crises are becoming more frequent, serious and complex. It is therefore essential to invest in new approaches to protect the lives and dignity of those affected by humanitarian crises.

That is why over 130 technology and innovation champions from all over the world joined a two-day Humanitarian Hackathon in Brussels to foster innovative ideas and build new prototypes that may transform aid delivery and help eradicate hunger.

The Humanitarian Hackathon was an initiative of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and Development Cooperation Alexander De Croo, together with the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and Hack Belgium Labs. The Hackathon brought together participants from humanitarian organizations, start-ups, large companies, donor institutions, NGOs and academia

"Innovation saves lives. As a major aid donor, Belgium has consistently supported innovative projects to make emergency response more efficient. The Humanitarian Hackathon will help us develop new, viable solutions to boost the effectiveness of global humanitarian action. This is timely, at a time when the need for humanitarian aid is reaching record levels”.

—Alexander De Croo, Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance and Development Cooperation

Bringing on the Challenges

During the 2 days of the hackathon, participants had the opportunity to choose among 5 humanitarian challenges identified by WFP in agreement with the DGCD to be used for discussion and prototype development. Following a structured process of brainstorming and information exchange, participants, supported by team facilitators, started working on ideas and solutions. The challenges introduced are:

  • Smallholder Farmers - Feeding the World
  • School Feeding - Decentralized procurement platforms for school feeding sourcing
  • Climate Change - Move from information to action
  • Emergency Response/Humanitarian Aid - Earth Observation for Population Monitoring
  • Beneficiary Data Management - Digitally empowering the people we serve

For the full challenge description please click here

"We need to harness the transformative power of technology and look for innovative solutions to address the immense challenges faced by humanitarian in sudden on-set emergencies, hard-to-reach areas and regions devastated by climate disasters. Thanks to the commitment and funding from the Belgian government, the Humanitarian Hackathon has gathered the most brilliant minds from various sectors to find solutions, with the potential to exponentially accelerate our quest to make a world with Zero Hunger a reality”.

—Enrica Porcari, WFP's Chief Information Officer, Director of the Technology Division and Chair of the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster.

Connecting the world for good

The Humanitarian Hackathon received applications to participate from 40 countries, across all continents. There were submissions from Germany, France, Netherlands, Poland, Malta, Spain, Sweden, Greece, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Serbia, Turkey, Czech Republic, Italy, Philippines, India, Pakistan, USA, UK, Uganda, Nigeria, Burundi, Togo, Mali, Ethiopia, Nairobi, Rwanda, Egypt, Iran, Kenya, Sudan, Lebanon, Burkina Faso, and more.

The Belgian private sector joined forces with humanitarian organizations on national and international level, as well as academia from around the world. Supported by WFP experts and joined also by other United Nations agencies, design, business, coding, logistics, finance and other professionals merged their knowledge and ideas during the hacking process and created 17 final teams that went on to the pitching sessions.

"We've seen time and time again that a genuine, significant purpose is the foundation for a successful innovation event. Purpose brings the right people to the table, purpose gets them to work through the night, and to deliver their best work. And we see tangible proof that the purpose behind Humanitarian Hackathon is something exceptional: knowledgeable, motivated people are traveling across the planet to be here. Response to the event has nothing short of spectacular, both from the global humanitarian community and from the Belgian startups and mature companies”.

– Leo Exter, Chief Energizer and Co-founder at Hack Belgium Labs.

Catalyzing Innovation

The Humanitarian Hackathon aimed to leverage cutting-edge technologies and solutions, which can help create a world without hunger by 2030. After decades of decline, global hunger is on the rise again, making the Hackathon’s challenges extremely timely and relevant. As many as 821 million people – one in nine – go to bed on an empty stomach each night. Finding new ways to deliver aid more efficiently and effectively is crucial to alleviate their suffering and turn #ZeroHunger into reality.

The overall results and commitment by participants as well as the WFP experts were impressive. In an effort to leverage the outcomes and dedicated engagement during the hackathon, WFP initiated a follow up project to pursue implementation of some ideas. Four teams were considered to be particularly relevant to organization’s digital transformation roadmaps for Smallholder Farmers and School Meals. Based on the availability and interest of Humanitarian Hackathon participants in these teams, WFP is currently matching up the skillsets with project requirements to set up a cross-functional team to bring the project forward.

The Humanitarian Hackathon follow-up project, which is aligned with WFP’s digital transformation strategies, will be implemented in May-June in close cooperation with the digital transformation hub in Nairobi and the relevant WFP experts who were present at the Hackathon.

Overall, the feedback following the Humanitarian Hackathon was very positive and the event made quite an impression on participants. Those in the IT sector (whether individuals or private sector companies) with no previous experience in the humanitarian aid sector emphasised that they discovered a new business opportunity to expand their portfolio. Additionally, they felt that they were able to use their skills and technology for a good purpose by exploring new ways to contribute professionally to the humanitarian aid sector after this experience. Finally, more than 95% would absolutely come back for the next edition.

  • organised by
    World Food Programme
  • Hack Belgium Labs
  • initiative of
    Belgium Partner in Development