BRACATHON is a platform designed to engage students and professionals of Bangladesh in solving social problems using technology. BRAC has been organising this unique competition since 2015.
Israt, Zahid and two of their friends, all students of the Institute Information Technology (IIT) of Dhaka University, have been developing an android app and a website for the last 36 hours. When complete, their app will be a tech-based solution to ensuring financial inclusion for people in rural Bangladesh.
“Our app has a geo-tagging option. This will allow programme organisers in the field to cover more areas than they usually do. In that way, they will be able to reach more people with financial inclusion,” said Israt, who is clearly tired from 36 hours of non-stop coding and problem solving, but still upbeat about the final presentation in front of a high-profile jury.
Asked what she expected from the organisers, Israt said: “We had the chance to see how BRAC uses technology for its microfinance operations during our time at the field. We are trying to address some of the gaps that we saw in the current technology. We hope to receive BRAC’s support in taking this forward from the current prototype stage.”
This year, a total of 40 teams from 20 public and private universities are taking part including Dhaka University, BUET and North South University. In addition, this year’s BRACATHON has also brought in tech enthusiasts from five startups including Pathao.
The 40 finalists this year were selected from over 300 initial applications. The finalists chose the problems they wanted to solve and BRAC arranged field visits to its project areas so the participants saw the reality of the problem they want to address.
Tamanna Islam Urmi, an engineer by training and working with data and product development at Pathao, is part of a four-member team from the startup who are working to build a ‘knowledge repository to generate word map’ – one of the five challenges at BRACATHON.
“For us, it’s not just about developing a solution for a single problem. We want to develop a general solution that could work across cross-functional settings,” said Urmi.
Currently, BRAC is using three tech-based solutions in its health and human resource programmes whose prototypes were developed during the last two seasons of BRACATHON. One of the winners of the second BRACATHON recently developed a solution for Plan International.
“More than 50% of Bangladesh’s population are youth and many of them are students or enthusiasts of technology. We want to tell them that all of you need not go abroad to design chips. You don’t have to be basement programmers. There are many social problems right here in Bangladesh for which you can develop tech-based solutions,” said Shahriar Hoque, associate director of BRAC’s technology division.
Unlike a typical hackathon, BRACATHON’s evaluation is based on the quality and foresight of a solution offered by a participant rather than strict coding standards.
In order to ensure strong forward linkage, BRAC has partnered with BRAC IT Services, Grameenphone, Dell Technologies and BRAC Bank. The five winning teams will each receive a prize money of BDT 4,00,000, incubation facilities from Grameenphone, and technical assistance from BRAC.
Rajib Bhowmick is the head of media and external relations at BRAC.