My Experience Winning the 2021 UNODC Code4Integrity Hackathon.

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

In 2021, I decided to make a career shift to Data Science. I quit my well-paying job as an administrator/consultant and decided to upskill full-time. My year was filled with lots of learning, reading, and volunteering. You can read about my career transitioning story here. One major highlight, however, was participating in my first ever hackathon and winning!

Here is my experience winning the 2021 UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) Code4Integrity Hackathon.

I applied for the Code4Integrity Hackathon. The hackathon is part of GRACE initiative with UNODC, where young people are empowered through education to fight corruption. You can read more about the GRACE initiative here. The hackathon was held among persons between 18–35 years, in Kenya, Senegal, South Africa, Egypt, and Nigeria.

1. Application Process.

The application process was straightforward and fairly easy to navigate.

Persons between 18–35 and were either beginners or professionals in tech. This made it quite inclusive.

I had an idea in mind and I specified that I did not have a team. Since I was a data scientist, I needed 2 software engineers for both backend and frontend and a designer.

Teams of up to 4 people could be formed.

After the deadline passed, I received a selection email, asking me to confirm that I was still going to participate in the Hackathon and to help them create teams for us.

A week or so later I received another email telling me that I had been teamed up with 2 other people who had almost similar ideas as mine.

2. Ideation Stage, Webinars, Learning and Mentor Assignment.

We proactively formed a WhatsApp group and started our ideation. Our ideas were almost similar, however, we had to be practical enough as well as ensure the idea was viable, and that we had the skills to create a prototype given the 2 weeks’ duration.

We held meetings remotely, mostly because we were in different parts of the country.

One thing that stood out for me was how well planned the hackathon was. For the first 1week or so, we had sessions that taught us different things when it came to creating a winning solution.

The topics were diverse and quite interesting. They ranged from ‘Giving a winning pitch’ to ‘Working with Microsoft Azure’. They were all quite insightful.

We held the meetings in English but other teams held these meetings in their official national languages such as Arabic for Egypt and French for Senegal.

Unlike most hackathons, I have seen, UNODC’s Code4Integrity had a mentor aspect to it. We had 2 assigned mentors, and one mentor in particular, Mr.Patrick Ashiruma from Ethics and Anticorruption Agency (EACC) here in Kenya, who helped us understand the situation on the ground. He helped us especially learn how the public procurement process works, and thankfully as part of the IT team in EACC, he was kind enough to point to us areas of our idea that were too ambitious to be adopted at the present. This was a game-changer.

We were unable to reach the other mentor, but Mr.Patrick helped us a great deal.

Winning teams from Kenya, Senegal and Egypt.

3. Developing the Prototype.

Mentioning that the 2 weeks prototyping stage flew by is definitely an understatement. Working during the day and then working on the prototype was mostly how our days went.

I realized you can do anything you want to do, it is just that excuses crowd us. This is to encourage you to sign up for the hackathon even though you have a full-time job or school. Rachel, Peter, and I were night owls, as are most people in tech I think, so that made it a bit easier, but early birds can always do their work early mornings. It’s just about balance.

Peter, myself and Rachel at the CoSP 2021 convention in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

We used our strengths to create mutual synergy. Peter worked on the Frontend, Rachel Backend, myself in choosing suitable algorithms for the data, ideating and coming up with various typologies, and creating dummy features for use, to help our idea come to life.

I also did the slides on canva and was in charge of the idea pitching on the said date. The team said I had good English, which might be true I guess.😀

Again, the well-planned hackathon, ensured we had a dry run /dummy pitch with part of the UNODC code4integrity team, to help us polish our pitch before the d-day. Most of the teams did not turn up, but we gave our best. The feedback helped polish our presentation and made it stand out.

4. Pitching and Winning.

We pitched to the best of our ability and got such great feedback. Of all our ideas, according to the judges, ours felt clear, well thought out as well as scalable. The Youtube pitches we watched paid off. After about 5 days or so, we got an email confirming the winning teams, and we won in Kenya. That was awesome!

5. Prices and Egypt trip.

As part of the winning team, we were to attend the 9th session of the Conference of the States Parties , CoSP, to the United Nations Convention against Corruption on 13th to 17th of December 2021 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt as well as receive a monetary award value of Celo usd 2000 (Celo is a cryptocurrency), have workshops with coaches Raj Kapur and Ernesto Sirolli and 12-week sessions on personal coaching all through Cubimo. That was really fantastic!

As am writing this, we are still doing the coaching sessions with Davina Vather, a certified life coach. You can find her information here. Of all the prices we won and the trip to Egypt, this coaching session has impacted all our lives and has inspired us to live a more meaningful life. It is also information that we will carry with us throughout our lives and that is what makes it exceptional.

Other teams from other countries had different partners that gave them internships and other prizes.

We had great support in obtaining visas and passports which made the process seamless. All flights were also booked by UNODC-Kenya. Flying under UNODC’s name for the convention also gave us a lot of expedited services at the airport, first-class treatment, and airport transfers were well catered for, there was no confusion at all. Getting good and expedited treatment at our local airport was honestly the best. Airports can be very frustrating.

The Egypt trip was fantastic, as it was an all-expense-paid trip. Our special event was on the 16th, so we spent the rest of the time resting, attending gala dinner, and having fun at our hotel. We had a UNODC official, Donia, who helped us arrange for transport, get the 24hr window PCR/Covid tests needed, and also a dedicated standby UNODC van and driver that catered for our transport when attending the events, or going for gala dinners as well as picking and dropping us to the airport.

Donia, myself, Rachel, and Peter outside our Hotel in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

Challenges faced.

Member ghosting.

Hackathons are bound to have challenges. During the QnA sessions, some team members commented on having inactive members and I remember feeling vaguely sorry for them at the time.

Little did I know that we would suffer a similar fate a week later when one of our teammates ghosted us😁 . It’s laughable now, but I remember then how demotivating it felt. He said he was busy with exams and gave us a certain timeline, and then after his exams were over, he went MIA.

Rachel and I had to make a fast decision. We made some distress calls to the Code4Integrity organizing team who gave us a go-ahead to find any other person we had in mind. As a data scientist, we needed a Frontend developer in the team as Rachel was proficient in Backend. Luckily, Rachel had been in the software development industry and had great networks and she was able to talk to Peter to join us. Peter later became the MVP, and am so glad Rachel knew him.

Some winning teams were unable to attend the CoSP.

This was really sad as South Africa and Nigeria did not make it. It was during Omicron and South Africa was under lockdown, while the Nigeria team was unable to get passports on time.

Language barrier and foreign exchange rates.

Egypt’s official language is Arabic so communication was an issue, especially with cab/taxi drivers.

Make sure to change your cash to dollars before then as withdrawing from local ATM machines can be expensive.

Form filling at the airport.

Ensure you fill in all required forms needed when getting back to the country. It was really stressful when coming back to the airport as we had a number of forms from the Ministry of Health that were being filled and we had no idea which ones. The officials at the airport made it really hard too, so be prepared.

Last remarks.

It obviously felt like Christmas had come early for us in 2021 and it sure had. The hard work and late nights had paid off. It was the best. Getting an all-expense-paid trip and cash in our pockets, plus free life coaching was so good.

If you are thinking of participating in future UNODC hackathons, ideate well, learn as much as you can, work together, polish up, polish up, polish up! Ask for your mentor’s advice if he is available and then give it all your best. Don’t shy away from opportunities that feel intimidating. None of us were gurus. Don’t give up. Most teams gave up on the way.

The hard work will pay off.

Unlike other teams that got their idea incubated,(the South African team did), we are yet to get support from the government although UNODC-Kenya constantly reaches out to us whenever opportunities call. We are glad about that. We are also considering partnering with team number 2, team Procquire.

Ps. Credits to Peter and Rachel for reviewing the article and adding important details that would have been otherwise left out.

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Mukami Kareko

Mukami Kareko

Unconventional | Ambitious | Inspiring | Data Scientist | Community Builder | Lifelong Learner.