Hacking for a Better Benghazi

Written by : Hajir Almahdi

In today’s world, whether you are in Benghazi, Tokyo or New York, technology has altered how we live and perceive the world around us. Tech-centric solutions are now reshaping how we approach challenges in education, economy, heath or human rights. From collecting data to creating algorithms that weed out institutional corruption, various projects around the world are relying on technology to improve the quality of life.

The people of Benghazi are well aware of the challenges they face on a daily basis, starting from cash liquidity shortage, electricity blackouts, overcrowded public schools to corruption. Last week, June 30th, Tatweer Research hosted the first hackathon ever held in Benghazi, Libya. The word hackathon is a blend of the words hack, and marathon. It is a gathering where programmers collaboratively code in an extreme manner over a short period of time. The hackathon lasted 48 hours and the programmers were tasked with solving problems in three fields, education, governance and economy by relying on smart and innovative technological solutions.

The Benghazi Hackathon was organized by Hexa Connection, and sponsored by Tatweer Entrepreneurship Campus (TEC), a 3-year initiative between Tatweer Research and UNDP with European Union funding to develop and empower the new generation of entrepreneurs across country.

Hackathons come with great twist of applying academic knowledge to real world situations. They offer exciting opportunities that engage learners and researches in project-based learning approach where they apply what they know to tackle a major problem facing the community they live in.

The event took place in TEC Space, Tatweer’s first coworking space in Benghazi that was specifically designed to provide entrepreneurs with suitable work environment that will aid them in launching their start-ups. TEC Space opened its doors late March of 2018, since then the space hosted various events and activities alongside being a collaborative working area for start-ups and entrepreneurs. Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city lacks suitable venues for hosting events like the hackathon. TEC Space offers a place and an environment that brings together young men and women to create and innovate.

A total of 7 teams, each consisting of 3 to 4 tech savvy participants showed up for the competition. They came from different educational backgrounds, both students and fresh graduates, they all shared a passion for programming and were dedicated to solving the hackathon’s problems.

The solutions varied from educational platforms aimed at education accessibility for internally displaced persons (IDPs), blockchain technology powered election system, intelligent algorithms that matches job seekers with potential employers, or tackles fraud and Internet of Things (IoT) prosthetic that enables long distance maintenance.

The participants witnessed two drastic days, running on low timing and lots of caffeine, they had to program their solutions from scratch, create visually appealing interfaces and present their solutions to a jury of three.

The competition was intense, all teams presented innovative applicable solutions, the teams competed for the top three spots and a monetary prize of 5000 LYD for the first place. Third place went to Arm Connect, a mobile app that when integrated in prosthetic limb enables technicians access to view prosthetic limb condition, detect any fault and tend to it remotely. It also collects data from prosthetic sensors for limb optimization and customization purposes. Arm Connect’s vision is to enable the smooth integration of amputees back into the Libyan workforce.

Second place went to Bravo, a platform that enables Virtual Reality (VR) powered education, the technology allows medical students to perform surgeries and practice various medical procedures. The technology can also be used with kids where it simplifies the learning process in a fun and engaging manner.

Benzene-Tech landed first place with a solution to fight back against fuel smuggling. Libya’s economic scene has been wrecked by endemic fuel smuggling, in terms of revenue it costs Libya over $750 million per year. Benzene-Tech presents an Artificial Intelligence (AI) censorship system on fuel stations to digitally monitor the proportions fuel stations get and ultimately eliminate smuggling. The team presented concept simulation of their solution with a website that’s ready to launch for monitoring and reporting.

Alleviating major problems is neither a simple nor a quick process. New technologies do offer alternate paths forward. Identifying these problems that we face today, giving youth a chance to contribute in suggesting potential solutions serves as a way towards a better future.

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