What happens when a global charity and a startup incubator collide

Red Cross hackathon with Blue Chilli

One of the world’s leading charities has teamed up  with an innovation  incubator to see what happens when startup thinking collides with social activism in a first of its kind hackathon.

To coincide  with the 2016 National Practitioners’ Forum,  Red Cross Australia  teamed up with BlueChilli  to hack solutions in social cohesion to empower refugees and recent migrants in Melbourne on Tuesday.

“It’s about thinking of new ways to create value throughout their community of clients and the community their clients are going to enter,”  BlueChilli’s startup market manager Ren Butler  tells  StartupSmart.

She says the motivation behind the hackathon was to explore new approaches to problem-solving for the Red Cross and the communities they work with.

The event was attended by over 40 people, from university students through to well-seasoned professionals.

Many had never experienced a startup hackathon before.

“Red Cross facilitators were coming up to me and saying their minds are blown,” Butler  says.

It brought entrepreneurs from all walks of life together with Red Cross clients – new migrants and refugees – and practitioners to brainstorm solutions for facilitating positive interactions between culture, language, religion and social cohesion in Australia.

“Every single group had at least one Red Cross client, current or former, with powerful migration stories” Butler says.

Each group focused on a different field – including  public transport, employment, entrepreneurship, recreation and  education.

“They all ended up converging a lot on how one-on-one human connection happens,” Butler  says.

The one that she  found personally appealing was a startup introducing people through a safe, curated online platform where people from established migrant communities and the broader public can form relationships with those building new lives in Australia.

Users on the site can ask questions on recent challenges for migrants, like how to transfer extensive professional experience and qualifications from another country to maximise employment opportunities or how to find the right school.

“It was like Quora meets Tinder,” Butler  says.

She says the idea for the hackathon came from the charity.

BlueChilli was approached to collaborate on the event following initial conversations between Red Cross Australia’s national manager for migration support programs Vicki Mau and her assistant manager Holly Brown who were interested in what the startup space could offer.

Brown says  the idea came to her after attending a hackathon last year.

“It’s a really good way for the Red Cross and other community organisations to connect with the skill-set of a whole different industry, to work together,” Brown tells  StartupSmart.

Operating in a digital world, she says it’s critical for even well-established charities to stay up to date and keep moving forward by embracing new tech, and hackathons are a great way to open that pathway to talent in IT and web development.

“The greatest value that came out for us were the new networks, ideas and connections it sparked,” she says.

“Building strong partnerships with the startup industry will bring valuable new skill-sets and innovative ways of working to Red Cross humanitarian work.”

Brown and Butler presented the top ideas from the hackathon at the National Practitioners’ Forum on Wednesday.

“[Red Cross]  sees the opportunities in the entrepreneurial and tech community and want to be a part of it as a main contributor,” Butler says .

“It’s really just the beginning.”

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Dinushi Dias is a journalist at StartupSmart and multimedia content producer. When she’s out of the office, she works on social projects with her We Love It Productions family and buddying filmmakers.