Nowadays the term “innovation” is known to many people. We see a lot of innovative products being designed however it is not always easy to understand the evolving process that went into the end product. UNICEF Sudan, in an effort to embody Thomas Edison’s wisdom that “there is a way to do it better-find it,” launched its first Hackathon.

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Our Hackathon did not necessarily mean gathering Sudan’s most tech-savvy to develop high-tech solutions. Instead we opted for a pop-up innovation lab, bringing a range of young Sudanese people together, including end users, to create innovative solutions for recurring programmatic issues. The Hackathon used a human-centred design approach to guide participants so that they went through the process of building empathy, brainstorming, prototyping and iteration.

UNICEF Sudan’s Hackathon was co-hosted with our partners, State Ministry of Health using the recent World Humanitarian Summit as a foundation. We emphasized seeking innovative solutions to bridge the humanitarian-development continuum, the focus was finding innovative design solutions to improve jerry cans and hand washing facilities in responding WASH in protracted emergencies.

The process was triggered with two design questions:

  1. “How can we design user-friendly jerry cans and help communities maintain their jerry cans clean in a cost-effective and sustainable manner?” and
  2. “How can we better design hand washing facilities and develop innovative approaches with which they are deployed and maintained?”
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Students are brainstorming possible designs of a jerry can

On the final day of the Hackathon, 6 groups were invited to the UNICEF Sudan Country Office to present their prototypes in front of the panel of judges comprising of a Design Professor from a local university and UNICEF Programme Staff. UNICEF colleagues from different sections were also invited to observe the presentations.

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Students are discussing based on their graphic prototype of handwashing facilities

All students were brilliant in their understanding of the cultural and social economic context with amazingly creative ideas to re-design jerry cans and handwashing facilities. The Hackathon enable Sudanese students to visit a refugee camp for the first time and interact with community people to properly understand the challenges at hand.

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“I had a different view of rural communities however, this changed after this experience. I honestly felt so happy to do something useful for them” reflected Mohamed Al Mugtaba, a student.

“Having students coming from different backgrounds helped us in understanding things from different angles and coming up with these designs” said Mohammed Nour El daim, an art student from the Sudan University of Science and Technology.

The most difficult part of the day was to announce the winning team for each design as every group had a unique value add. The UNICEF Innovations team will now work with the successful teams to refine and reiterate their prototypes in a hope to one day bring them to scale.

With this success, UNICEF Sudan has already begun to plan it next Hackathon with a focus on child protection aiming to re-design recreational kits in partnership with refugee adolescents and children. There is a growing spirit around “أنا ابتكر (ana ibtekir) I-NNOVATE” with a sustained focus on human centred design to serve all populations especially those most marginalised communities in Sudan.

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