American University of Beirut

Darwazah Center holds a student hackathon on improving foreign aid management

​​​Safa Jafari Safa, Office of Communications,​​​​​​

The Darwazah Center for Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship organized its first hackathon on Data for Good-I Code for Lebanon, in collaboration with the Olayan School of Business Master's in Business Analytics (MSBA) and Inventis Corp. The 48-hour event brought together various stakeholders and awarded three prize-winning teams.

The hackathon was held in two tracks, a themed track focusing on Improvements to Foreign Aid Management processes and a general track encompassing relevant ideas that employ data for doing good in social and economic sectors. The goal was to engage students' technical skills and their enthusiasm to design solutions for Lebanon's foreign aid management and other problems using Big Data and Blockchain technology.

Participants were introduced to aid management challenges in Lebanon, and  attended workshops on how to incorporate state-of-the-art technology into their solutions. The workshops were led by economist and senior expert at the hackathon's private sector partner Inventis Management Consulting and Strategic Advisory Zeina Kassem as aid management subject matter expert, as well as director of the MSBA program, Dr. Wissam Sammouri, and senior lecturer in MSBA, Dr. Elie Nasr, as technical subject matter experts who together demonstrated how relevant Big Data and Blockchain functionalities should be incorporated into solutions.

“Big Data and Blockchain can be leveraged for a sustainable foreign aid framework in Lebanon, and the Data for Good hackathon is the right vehicle to tap into our youth's skills for devising solutions that can lead to better targeting, enhanced efficiency, transparency and accountability of aid management," said Zeina Kassem, representing Inventis which presented key processes and topics related to foreign aid management.

Four teams that were competitively selected out of ten prepared a pitch deck, developed a high level functional requirements document, and designed a screen-based demo of their solutions.

Each team did a pitch in front of a distinguished jury panel and demonstrated their proposed solution. One team proposed “Block Donate", a Blockchain-based platform that connects donors to grassroot NGOs in order to ensure the transparent disbursement of funds to households and businesses affected by the August 4, 2020 Port Blast. To partly support the World Bank economic crisis recovery funds, another team proposed a solution to aid management called “LebAid", a Blockchain-based platform for crowdfunding that directly matches donors with the most vulnerable beneficiaries. This solution leverages NGOs who have the most intimate knowledge of the socioeconomic status and location of the most vulnerable households in the most economically disadvantaged regions of Lebanon.

Another team's solution was in support of a different World Bank funded project to address economic crises facing small-scale farmers called “Ziraatech". This is a platform that includes key stakeholders, and facilitates the disbursement of $300 vouchers to each of the 26,000 farmer struggling to supply raw material and ensure operational continuity due to the 90% devaluation of Lebanese pound. The remaining team, within the general data for good track, focused on a “Career Coach" which tackled a pressing problem in Lebanon, and the region, i.e., education-to-employment facilitation, through a platform that provides data-driven recommendations for students to enhance their degree major choices in order to obtain a better fit between their education and job market requirements.

The first prize winners were LebAid, while Ziraatech came second and Block Donate was third—receiving respectively $500, $300 and $100 in addition to “fast tracking" to the Darwazah Startup Accelerate semi-finals in 2021. After announcing the results, the first prize was matched by one of AUB Alumni and recent OSB EMBA graduate, Mr. Sami Kteily, the Executive Chairman of PEB Steel Buildings Ltd, who doubled the first place prize with another $500.

“The teams did an amazing job and provided practical but innovative solutions that could enhance the aid management procedures in Lebanon," said Dr. Bijan Azad, director of the Darwazah Center, at the closing of the event. “The results of this hackathon are proof that our youth are ready to roll up their sleeves and provide concrete solutions to address pressing pains in society. We at the Darwazah Center, along with our partners, experts, mentors, and jury are ready to be catalysts in this much needed process."

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