When students learn from people living in slums – time to rethink on how we run idea competitions

The ongoing Venture4 change competition*, a kind of hackathon for students in Nairobi is close to an important milestone. After having developed over weeks an idea on how to make more health in slums happen, after having participated in six different modules and meetings with social entrepreneurs, professors and business people, 5 student teams from a public and a private university in Nairobi will pitch on Saturday their ideas.

It’s an unusual hackathon.

Because the winner is not the team with the best idea and best presentation, but the one who can after the pitch also do a concrete training with the target groups in the slums and summarize the impact and reflections in a short report afterwards – about their learnings, challenges and outlook.

“We realized that the students had good ideas. But they had never been in the slums, never had direct contact. They developed ideas they themselves thought would fit the best. This does not really help. That’s why we decided to organize field visits, staying together with the target groups and discussing with young people who live in the slums. It’s not about developing ideas FOR someone that really helps, but only ideas together WITH the people who should benefit from it”, we told the students.

It was a new experience and a win win for everyone

Today, while preparing the next steps we met the slum community and discussed on the ground on how the slum people perceived this kind of co- creation. It was an amazing day and a very interesting discussion.

“It was great. We could connect. We could show them so much. And we could teach them about our slum systems. They had no idea about it. They just came with negative perspectives. They did not know how we manage our daily life. Then we started to look together at their ideas. And we could contribute a lot. This makes me feel proud”, explained one of the young women in the slums. “It was the first time that I felt we were not the victims, we could give back,” added another women.

I think it’s time to have a really conversation about hackathons and idea competitions which take part everywhere. Let’s re-think what really creates an impact. It’s not about big events, nice places where the events take place, not about theoretical understanding only and good selling methods of ideas and not even about design thinking sessions in nice rooms – but about people and our world. It’s about impact, it’s about making a difference, it’s about doing and not just thinking and talking, it’s about understanding who has really the passion and concrete idea on how to implement it and how to connect to the target groups.

The next steps

I will be in the judging panel this Saturday and I’m curious to see what the students have elaborated. And how they present it. What are their next concrete steps. Are you curious, too? We will report on it for sure.

In the meanwhile have a look at the video . It’s Micky, one of the young single mothers running her life in Mukuru slums. One of those girls who has spent time with the students. She talks about her experiences in the Venture4change collaboration.

Thanks Micky and thanks to Francis Gikufu and his team in the slums who organized these field visits and exchange with the students. And for this nice welcome:


* Venture4change is run by the Making More Health Initiative. If you want to learn more about this initiative, just visit http://www.makingmorehealth.com

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