Sustainability Hackathon challenges 100+ participants to “Solve the Unsolved”

Sustainability Hackathon challenges 100+ participants to “Solve the Unsolved”

By Kanda Yaemboonruang

Against the backdrop of the ongoing global pandemic and ever-present environmental, social and economic challenges, this year’s AIT Sustainability Hackathon 2020 organized by the Department of Development and Sustainability exuded youthful optimism and a can-do attitude to change things for the better.

AIT’s Entrepreneurship Center played host on 20-21 November 2020 to the hybrid (online and offline) event that welcomed more than 100 contenders from universities in Thailand and around the world who joined either onsite or virtually.

Hackathon organizer Prof. Nophea Sasaki explained that the event aimed to serve as a forum for students and professionals who are interested in sustainability to develop solutions to existing problems such as biodiversity loss and climate change.

“We asked them to come together in 24 hours to come up with sound solutions with products that can solve these complex problems. Sustainability is a global issue, so if you understand and look at the SDGs, we can use an integrated approach to achieve all the goals at once,” Prof. Sasaki said. “These problems need to be addressed through knowledge, skills, innovation, and technologies.”

Given one day to complete their assignment, many participating teams pulled all-nighters with their laptops, powered by adrenaline to develop a sustainable future under the theme “Challenging the Unknown with Imagination.”

All proposed solutions were required to reflect at least three Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), organizers said. The event was not only a competition but also a great opportunity for teammates to synergize their knowledge, skills, available technologies, and build a spirit of teamwork to work under pressure within a limited timeframe.

Addressing the participants at the Hackathon, AIT President Dr. Eden Woon said: “The sustainability of nature should be in the forefront. It is unfortunate that because of COVID-19, people are not talking about climate change, and they are not talking too much about biodiversity, when in fact most people in 2019 thought that 2020 was going to be the year that these two topics would have to be discussed. We have to make progress in this area because the human race is not going to survive on this planet if we do not pay attention and make improvement in this area.

“Though COVID-19 will stay with us for a little while, it does not mean that we do not focus on other things including sustainability, and I am glad that this is the focus of the hackathon. There will be ideas that come out of this event, and who knows, some of them can become important, become commercialized, some others may start some academic research, and some others may find themselves being used by enterprises.”

Wait Faster – a team of five senior undergraduate students studying information and communications technology at Thailand’s Mahidol University — arrived with a concrete plan of action. They decided to confront the country’s public transportation problem by using their knowledge of technology and business analytics to design and develop an application that can upgrade public transport services in terms of speed, reliability and comfort. Their solution could be a pathway to a more sustainable urban life, they said.

Another non-AIT team, R x T Synergy, boasted joint membership from Rangsit University and neighboring Thammasat University. Their focus was on problems with education and government health policy. “This is our first hackathon, we joined this event because we would like to learn, to work under pressure and to practice presenting our ideas in front of the judges, and we want to challenge ourselves to finish the work only in 24 hours,” the team said.

AIT’s own “HIRE D” applied their collective business background as inspiration to create a model for financing sustainability for social enterprises. “We identified the pain points in business and environment, and then used the 3Ps (People, Planet, Profit) as a tool to design and create a new sustainable and social-impact business model,” they explained.

“We received entries from around the world and altogether we had 13 teams. They joined from the United States, Europe, the Philippines and Indonesia, just to name a few. Sustainable is a global issue, so we cannot solve it in one country alone. That’s why we want to bring everyone together at AIT,” Prof. Sasaki said.