By Alison Weiss
Imagine holding a 24-hour event where developers, designers, and entrepreneurs collaborate to create solutions to real-world problems using technology. Hackathons are held regularly by most major technology companies in Silicon Valley, but in 2017 Behnaz Babazadeh, a design leader in the Oracle Data Cloud group, took the format of a hackathon to her home country, Afghanistan. Her goal was to help inspire and uplift women in the capitol of Kabul, a city that has been war-torn for more than three decades. In 2018 she secured Oracle sponsorship for the event and also sought to place a greater emphasis on women's issues. Here Babazadeh discusses the challenges of her undertaking and its gratifying results.
Profit: What makes organizing a hackathon in Kabul so formidable?
Babazadeh: In Afghanistan there are security and transportation issues. It’s just not safe for women to be out on their own when the sun is down. So we held the event at a secure location from 9 to 5 during the workweek. We had around 10 women coders join, and that’s amazing, because even in the US, having a good female turnout is tough. We also organized a panel of fantastic women in different industries, including a woman in parliament and a BBC journalist.
Profit: What were some of the issues explored at the hackathon?
Babazadeh: Women in Afghanistan are not encouraged to have businesses. They aren’t allowed to have a shop, because there’s a lot of harassment, and if you’re not married, you’re in danger of sexual abuse or being kidnapped. A few projects explored how to give women ecommerce platforms to sell their goods online from the safety of their home.
Profit: What opportunities have opened up for participants of the hackathon?
Babazadeh: All the winners received spots in coworking spaces in Kabul, so they can continue expanding on their projects. First-place winners also received placement in a "Hackcelerator" program run by AngelHack, a global organization that helps facilitate hackathons around the world. Four of the women participants were also given internships at the Ministry of Finance. These opportunities wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t had the event.
Profit: Do you think the hackathon has had a lasting impact on a larger scale?
Babazadeh: We communicated to the group the idea, “Don’t think small; think bigger.” We encouraged everyone to think about how they can impact the larger community and communities even outside of Afghanistan. I think we achieved this.
Photography by Kris Connor/Studio at Getty Images for Oracle