“You can’t save the world in 24 hours, you know.” People in IRC can be stunningly pragmatic and striaghforward sometimes.
“I know,” I said. “I don’t expect to.”
“So why bother?”
That, I think, is an excellent question. Why bother?
If you spend enough time around me, you’ll learn a few things pretty quickly: I love to mentor people, I care about problems, and I love the idea of finding a hack for any problem. As a Christian, I believe that the Church is to be the hands and feet of Jesus here on Earth. Among so many other things, Jesus deeply loved people and was here to heal and to help. Therefore, I’m deeply invested in this whole idea of helping humanity. You may have your own reasons that have nothing to do with mine, but I’ve found that there are a lot of people who love humanity and want to see all of us in a better state, too.
I think just about everyone agrees that we want to see people in a better place. We want to end hunger, fight the ravages of disease, and give clean water to those who don’t have it. It’s also no surprise to anyone that there are a million approaches to this very large problem, as there should be. We have thousands upon thousands of charities all over the world to solve any number of ills in the world. Government programs abound. Good neighbors and global citizens are doing their part on their own. So if there are so many people organized around humanitarian causes, why bother with hackathons? We all know that this is a long game, so what good does a 24-hour event do?
Playing the long game
We definitely can’t save the world in 24 hours, and when doing events I don’t expect to. In fact, I wouldn’t even say that “saving the world” is my goal. Many times we as a species can’t even agree on basic things, let alone what “saving the world” may look like, but we can almost always agree on what makes life better for people, so that’s what I pursue: making life better.
Another thing you’ll hear me say if you spend any time with me is my advice to tackling massive problems: “We will eat this elephant a bite at a time.” The hackathon (or mass collaboration or whatever you want to call it) is just one way of taking a bite out of that giant elephant. I don’t expect that a single hackathon will be able to solve world hunger or end global warming. These are massive problems that will require humanity to collectively rally to find solutions, but that’s exactly what we’re doing. At these events, we are bringing together thinkers and planners, philanthropists, engineers, business people, and more, all in the interest of chipping away at the problem.
On top of of that, I have noticed something else: hackathons give us a chance to find new solutions or adapt old ones in ways that that are relevant to us locally. What does this mean? Reducing air pollution in Beijing looks very different than reducing air pollution in Bangalore or Los Angeles. Different causes and factors are involved, there are different cultures to account for, and wildly different availability of resources. A hackathon targeting air pollution that’s hosted in Los Angeles probably won’t have ideas that apply as readily in Beijing, but they know their own city quite well. And in that context, it’s 100% okay to think about your own town. It’s not selfish; it’s what you know best!
So in conclusion, I do this not because I expect to save the world in 24 hours, but because every event moves the needle just a litte further in a positive direction. Every idea, even the crappy ones, all of them contribute to solving these problems. We build things that matter.