The Girls in Tech Hacking for Humanity competition is a social innovation code-a-thon to tackle local challenges at a global scale. It is an open event promoting gender equality and bridging the gap in the technology and startup spaces. Developers, designers, scientists, students, product developers, entrepreneurs, educators, and NGO’s gather to collaborate on projects that solve local social problems in sectors such as environment, education, healthcare, community, government policy and safety.
Girls in Tech NYC’s 2022 Hacking for Humanity was hosted at The Forum at Columbia University and David Geffen Hall at Columbia University over a two day period on Oct 1st and 2nd. Project submissions included applications, software, hardware, data visualization and platform solutions. Participants were given the chance to flex their talents, work with fellow hackers, and learn some new skills like UX Engineering (presented by Navie Vurdien of Google), Customer Centricity (presented by Verizon’s Shelly Ashwill-Powers), Database Engineering (presented by Abbas Mehmood of Everydayhealth, and Product Marketing (led by Google’s Maria Becerra).
12 mentors joined us from Google, IBM, BNP Paribas, along with startup founders like Nick Noble, Founder of Miniware and leaders like Chuka Byambasuren, UX/UI Designer at VMWare. Recruiters were also present from top tech companies like Verizon. Breakfast and lunch were provided both days thanks to our food sponsor, Etsy.
Thanks to the support of Girls in Tech sponsors Publicis LionVault, Columbia University Business School, Etsy, and NGO partners Banyan Labs, Persevere, CEO (Center for Employment Opportunities) and Justice Through Code at Columbia University, Girls in Tech’s Hacking for Humanity New York 2022 aimed to solve three major problems for formerly incarcerated persons (FIPs):
- How can technology help people coming home from incarceration get connected to resources and find employment? The unemployment rate for the formerly incarcerated is 5x higher than that of the general population with median yearly incomes less than $11,000 in the three years after release. Columbia University’s Justice Through Code increases the pipeline of exceptional, diverse tech talent by providing free, life-changing access to education, opportunity, and business networks to the individuals and communities impacted by incarceration.
- How might we create scalable peer-to-peer programs that build digital literacy skills for re-entering students? 71% of inmates released return to prison within 5 years on a probation/parole violation or a new sentence. Banyan Labs works with partners such as Girls in Tech and Persevere to support their mission to end recidivism. Persevere Code Camp is a 12 month, 5 days a week, 6 hours a day program that certifies incarcerated persons in UX/UI Front-end and Back end full stack development. Upon release from prison, Persevere provides on-the-job training at Banyan Labs. Banyan Labs finds internships, and full-time jobs for the new developers! Every graduate is placed in gainful, full-time employment. Other opportunities range from internships, scholarships, and apprenticeships, to mentorships, staff augmentation, and more. Persevere Outcomes Nationwide since April 2019: 93% Job Placement, 94% Job Retention, and only 1.8% Recidivism!
- How can we use technology to reduce friction / barriers for justice-involved individuals trying to locate, obtain, and maintain housing? Housing is a major challenge for justice-involved and formerly incarcerated individuals. 23.1% of homeless people at a New York City shelter had been incarcerated within the previous two years. NIH study in 2020 found that housing insecurity is associated with an increased risk of recidivism. Arrest history was one of the strongest predictors of a longer duration of homelessness among newly homeless individuals in New York City.
The work developed in this event was judged for its innovativeness by an experienced local panel of judges, including Jessica Berger, VP of Innovation at Publicis Media, Naimeesha Murthy, VP of Product at New Ventures Lab, Ben Snell, Principal Engineer/Architect at PLACE, and Radha Sankaran, VP and Chief Technical Officer at Capital One.
“The Hackathon was the perfect opportunity to develop and apply not just hard skills such as a coding, but also skills that lean into business acumen and team collaboration. These are incredibly important in today’s professional environment, but not always made a priority as part of career development. To me, it was very exciting to see how the teams came together, developed their process end to end, and pitched these impactful ideas. In the end, the winning teams stood out to me for their all around well thought out and presented concepts.” – Jessica Berger, VP of Innovation at Publicis Media
101 Hackers competed, and 53 volunteers attended Hacking for Humanity on site to facilitate. The projects submitted blew us away!
1st Place Winner: HumaneHousing
Nationwide 600,000 people return from prison each year to try to rebuild their lives. Around 50,000 people go directly to a shelter after being released. The first place winning team: Cristal Espejo, Brianna Singer, Olivia Manalastas, Diana Tereshchenko, Inês Ayer, and Sejal Behere decided to address this problem through the creation of HumaneHousing: A project that aims to help FIP’s find a place to call home.
Here’s how it works:
- Formerly incarcerated people join “HumaneHousing” to get matched with a “buddy” who can help them with the housing application process at no cost to the applicant. Buddies are trained to help with common FIP barriers to housing such as language barriers, computer literacy gaps, and financial concerns.
- After video chatting with a new FIP housing applicant, Buddy (our employee and former FIP) fills out housing forms on behalf of the applicant and sends them to verified landlords within the “HumaneHousing” platform. From a landlord perspective we will try to show them all benefits to place as many FIP’s as we could. Find people that were placing FIP’s before, and put them all on a map.
- Benefits for Landlords: a) Automatic rental payment setup for landlords directly from employer b) Missing rental payments will notify the ‘Buddy’ and non-profits the tenant is enrolled in c) Rules and requirements are signed by tenant before move in d) Resources on Tax breaks e) Background checks, credit checks f) Automatic matching with housing.
- Benefits for formerly incarcerated persons: a) Can submit an automatic application to all housing options available to them in their city b) Rules and requirements are signed by tenant before move in c) Automatic matching d) Build trust with landlord e) Help with money management with automatic rent payment setup f) Empowers formerly incarcerated persons by providing them a choice
HumaneHousing was built with two user-flows, one for applicant users and one for landlord users. The team also built a database of applicant profiles, buddy profiles, landlord profiles, and housing listings using MongoDB. They sourced landlord data from a number of local rental advertisements including those on OpenIgloo. Once an FIP application is complete, a trusted background and credit check is performed, backed by the United States Housing Authority. The algorithm then matches the formerly incarcerated with property owner listings automatically.
The application database is currently being built using MongoDB, Express and Node.js. It features user authentication and currently has user routes working that will sign up and create a user with the necessary inputted information. A landlord model will be created as well which will submit their data to the database. The listings that the landlord posts will be available to view on the home page of humane housing and the user will be able to sort by zip code for any available listings nearby.
Accomplishments we’re proud of:
Our trusted matching process has helped 1000s of FIPs get matched to housing with a 99% satisfaction rate of property owners. The following have contributed to our high satisfaction ratings from our property owners:
a) Each FIP is required to sign a rules and requirements document before moving into housing b) Automatic rental payments setup is sourced directly from employer or guarantor prior to move in c) Our trusted background and credit check reporting is backed by the United States housing authority d) Property owners are provided resources with benefits for participation such as tax breaks and automatic tenant matching
What we learned:
1) The specific challenges that come with being an FIP and re-integrating into the society after getting out on parole or completing the sentence. 2) FIPs face prejudice not only when trying to obtain long term employment but also while applying for housing. 3) One of the most important inquiries on the renter application form is the existence of previous criminal record, and on the basis of this FIPs are often denied the opportunities that are accessible to other applicants.
What’s next for HumaneHousing?
The future that we envision for HumaneHousing is to be able to have a positive impact on reducing the rates of recidivism. 71% of FIPs return to prison within 5 years. We want to reduce this percentage to values as low as possible so that the formerly incarcerated get to have a real chance at rehabilitation and the first step towards it is to have a safe space that they can call home. Our immediate target is to be able to build a strong relationship with the landlords using our services. Our long term goal is to be able to expand this network of landlords and build a relationship of trust between them and the formerly incarcerated person tenants. Ultimately, we want to reduce the rates of recidivism and help the formerly incarcerated persons integrate back into the society.
2nd Place Winner: RentVault
If you are a justice-involved individual, how can you prove that you’d be an excellent tenant? Easy! Use RentVault to bypass credit score issues and guarantee your landlord timely rent payments.
“It amazes us the way formerly incarcerated people lift themselves up and keep the fire inside them going. The very fact that organizations like Banyan labs and CEO are helping these people develop new skills and get a job is inspiring. In spite of all this hard work, finding housing and maintaining sounds like a great challenge because of the way our world functions. Thus, we decided to put our skills to more human use and help resolve this issue.” -RentVault team of hackers: Nayanika Ranjan, Elisa Martinez, Jiseong Han, Yaci Chen, Artan Plaku, and Ariya Mathrawala
According to the RentVault team, the main challenge in getting housing is the hampered credit history of incarcerated people. RentVault will help them build the trust required to lease a house and maintain it by setting aside three or more months’ worth of rent. This will build trust between the landlord and tenant relationship by bypassing the need for credit history to prove timely rent payments. Over time, it helps people build their credit history. It serves as the stepping stone for individuals to begin building their credit after they obtain housing. From now on, they are able to start building a financial record without any setbacks to their living conditions.
We began our process of adding features to our service by interviewing a previously incarcerated person. We learned that one of the main challenges to obtaining housing was their low credit score. From there, we began to develop ideas for what is essential for the tenant/user to have. We concluded that we needed a way to build trust with landlords without depending only on credit scores. From our research, we also found that landlords value those who are able to pay rent on time over others. To give our clients a competitive advantage in the real estate landscape, we created a feature where the money deposited into RentVault cannot be taken out again to prevent fraud. This is available as both an application and web service. An application improves the user interface, while the web service allows different organizations, such as Banyan Labs, to communicate without sharing sensitive data.
We are proud of being able to work together across skill sets and backgrounds. We also came up with multiple ideas due to the brainstorming sessions that we set aside. We also took on the challenge to build both a web service and application. We were organized in setting deadlines and creating the project. Our team members were committed to finishing the project through the challenges we faced.
Our current model serves as the MVP for our target market of previously incarcerated people who were able to obtain a job through programs like Banyan Labs. In the future, we would like to expand RentVault to cater to other target individuals who necessarily do not have 3 or more months’ worth of rent saved up.
Congratulations to our 2nd place winning team! Four minute Demo video below!
3rd Place: Get Rebased
The judges awarded the third place prize to the Get Rebased team Isha Satoor, and Gil Ayalon. More than 10% of formerly incarcerated people are homeless in the months surrounding their incarceration. “Get Rebased” is a one-stop-shop that simplifies NYC housing for FIPs.
The inspiration for Get Rebased came from the team’s own experiences with NYC housing and sympathy for the homeless community in the city, especially with each day growing colder as we approach fall. Get Rebased acquires data from many different housing organizations and resources to simplify the search for shelter for FIPs.
The team was proud of the backend code and learning MySQL. We are proud of the UI and simplicity of our WiX site since clarity is one of the main selling points of our MVP. We also are proud of the future of our product if this Hackathon goes well because we designed it to be scalable to increase impact and reach.
“We learned a lot about how to divide up tasks and engage with a large group. We also learned a lot about both the recently incarcerated and homeless communities in NYC through our research. We also got practice with WiX and MySQL as well as a few hours of practice with Firebase before we went in a different direction.” – Isha Satoor and Gil Ayalon of Get Rebased
Congratulations to our third place winning team! Demo video below!
Honorary Mention: Peer2Code
A tool that matches and connects JTC students with mentors based on each other’s goals and expertise.
Girls in Tech wants to mention one team, Peer2Code, for their innovative solution to create a scalable peer-to-peer program for FIPs. Peer2Code team members Felix Chen, Lana Saadeddin, Samuel Jayden Mendoza, Vidhi Dholakia, and Samriddhi Kumar, and Anna Brown Hammell created a tool that matches mentors and mentees based on similar hobbies, interests, and skill levels. By entering information into a form, our algorithm helps filter the available mentees with suitable mentors. The prototyping of the program was done using various tools, which include: Figma, TypeForm, and SQL. Figma and TypeForm were used for the front-end, while SQL handled the back-end processes.
The survey that prospective mentees take when first using our platform guides them in the right direction in terms of what digital literacy skills to build and a mentor helps them get started on their journey towards reentering the workforce. Peer2Code’s inclusive approach towards the development and objective of the application lets people of all levels and interests use our platform. Peer2code also encourages reinvestment in the community by enabling mentees to become mentors, making the program scalable and versatile.
Well done, Peer2Code team! You can view Peer2Code’s four minute demo video below!
Connect, learn and grow with Girls in Tech New York
We’re thrilled this year’s Hacking for Humanity was a success and can’t wait to watch these amazing teams progress in their lives and careers. We know they’ve individually and collectively got so much to offer the world, bringing unique perspectives and skills.
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