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Tech enthusiasts develop apps for peace in #PeaceHackPh

Manila, 4 October 2016 – Fifty-two developers and programmers competed in the country’s first hackathon for peace in September, coming up with apps that promote tolerance, warn of conflict, or marshal assistance to people affected by conflicts or disasters.

Teaming up by twos or threes or going solo, these tech enthusiasts developed working apps inspired by the hackathon’s theme of ‘Perceive, Engage, Alert, Communicate and Educate’ or P.E.A.C.E. Out of 22 apps, the best six were chosen in the first round of judging, and the winning three in the second round.

Hubert Bryan R. Ursua emerged as the first-prize winner with Peacetalk, a short message service (SMS)-based chatbot helpdesk for people affected by disasters or conflicts and for groups with resources that can respond to victims’ needs.

Michael Gerard T. Galon won the second prize with PHOM or Ph Opinion Mining, an app targeted at Filipinos living abroad that provides info and sentiment about issues and events in the Philippines.

The third prize went to Regine S. Reyes and Renate C. Gouveia for SAAN or Social Action Advocacy Network, an app for providing feedback on government services and enabling similarly-minded individuals to band over or push a particular cause.

The winners received trophies and cash prizes totaling P100,000. They and the other hackathon participants retained ownership of their entries. 

#PeaceHackPh, which took place 24-25 September, was the first hackathon on the theme of peace in the Philippines. It was organized by peacebuilding NGO International Alert Philippines and Smart Developer Network (Smart DevNet), mobile leader Smart Communications Inc.’s developer network. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade provided financial support to the activity.

“We see technology as a tool in peacebuilding. Technology can help address or highlight issues that can cause conflict. It can also create the conditions for peace for thrive,” said Nikki Philline C. de la Rosa, deputy country manager of International Alert Philippines.

“There will be a great difference if we will be able to understand carefully and help prevent the root cause of societal issues. We believe that through the help of technology, we will be able to assess and monitor issues as soon as they arise, to prevent them from progressing into full-blown conflicts,” said Paul Pajo, co-founder of Smart DevNet and senior developer evangelist at Smart.

International Alert began holding #peacehack in 2014 as part of its Talking Peace Festival, a two week cultural event to celebrate the UN International Day of Peace and its founding anniversary on Sept. 21. In the past two years, hackathons were held in London, Barcelona, Beirut, Colombo and Washington DC. This year, International Alert has held hackathons in The Hague, Zurich and London.

International Alert, based in London but with offices in conflict-affected countries all over the world including the Philippines, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Its new thrust highlights how everyone can play a part in building ‘everyday peace.

The Philippines country office spearheaded #PeaceHackPh as part of its celebration of the International Day of Peace. Besides highlighting the use of technology in mitigating conflict or fostering understanding about conflict, it also underscored the ways that ordinary people could get involved in peacebuilding. 

International Alert Philippines is actively involved in the peace process between the government and Moro and communist insurgents; undertakes studies of shadow economies and their links to conflict; facilitates dialogues between companies, communities and government; and has pioneered a conflict monitoring system.

For Ursua, #PeaceHackPh was his first time to place first in a hackathon. The Bicolano and co-founder of a tech start-up said he chose to come up with an app that’s SMS-based after seeing the impact of disasters on his region. 

“People won’t have access to the internet,” he said.

With Peacetalk, people displaced by conflicts or disasters simply send a text to a number and then gain access to information, such as what to do in case they’re sick. “The nice thing about this is people affected by conflicts or disasters will get information about what to do,” Ursua said.

At the same time, groups that respond to humanitarian emergencies will know what things are needed. “People or groups with resources can act on victims’ needs,” Ursua added. 

Ursua and the other winners said they look forward to the next peace hackathon, as it gives them the chance to work on something that can promote change using their skills.

“The success of the first peace hackathon has inspired us to hold another one next year,” said De La Rosa.

“As a tech company and communications provider, we play a key role in mitigating conflicts in the country. We would like to thank International Alert Philippines for spearheading a project like this and for involving us in making a difference in the lives of millions,” said Pajo.

Source: International Alert Philippines
Photo credits to Jorge A. Golle of International Alert Philippines

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