Kathmandu, December 17 – A two-day Solve-a-thon, the first of its kind, was organized by the World Bank and The Asia Foundation with support from UKAID at the Kathmandu University School of Management on 14-15 December. The event brought together data scientists, programmers, developers, researchers, and professionals with diverse backgrounds and provided them a platform to work collaboratively on data-driven projects to tackle developmental challenges.
“Youth in Nepal have immense potential to drive progress faster if they have access to data and proper mentorship,” stated Faris Hadad-Zervos, World Bank Country Manager for Nepal. “Prototypes of products that came out of this two-day solve-a-thon validates that – from building a chatbot that lets Nepalis keep track of air quality, and a dashboard to monitor tourist flow in Nepal. To see how Nepal’s young data enthusiasts can come up with a range of solutions to help improve lives in Nepal is indeed fascinating.”
After a public call for application, the program received over 100 entries (individual and team applications combined) which were then screened based on the applicant’s technical and subject matter expertise along with their willingness and potential to continue contributing to the data space. A total of 55 participants and 14 mentors participated in the Solve-a-thon. Teams were formed based on the skill sets and expertise of the participants to ensure cross-pollination of ideas and effective collaboration. Over the two days, the participating teams worked with mentors and respective domain experts to come up with solutions, refine them and devise various prototypes.
The participants worked on nine different projects – three culminated from the 100-hour Nepal Data Literacy Program organized by the World Bank from June-November, three were proposed by the participants, and three selected by the team based on the pertinent developmental issues and availability of data. Participants tackled issues such as air pollution, tourism and women’s access to finance coming up with solutions such as autobots to communicate air quality and precautionary actions, a dashboard to visualize tourism data, and an app-based budgeting tool for women.
“Development work in Nepal brings up great opportunities but also many challenges. In the face of difficult or controversial issues, understanding and being able to use data and evidence empowers us to be brave – clearly setting out the issues at hand, identifying the priorities and holding ourselves, and others, to account to take the necessary steps,” stated Craig Irwin, Statistics Advisor at DFID.
At the end of the event, the teams presented their work via a series of lightning talks. Each team was provided with an opportunity to submit their detailed proposals and receive funding from the program to further develop their prototypes. The World Bank, jointly with The Asia Foundation, will select two to five proposals based on the availability of data for prototyping and its possibility to generate actionable solutions. In addition to receiving financial support, the selected proposals will also receive technical support for further development of the project.
“It is a pleasure to be part of this community working to make data accessible and open to all. We however, need to strengthen this community further. The open data expo was a great platform to connect the budding data enthusiasts with the existing data entrepreneurs," highlighted Megan Nalbo, Country Representative for Nepal, The Asia Foundation.
The two-day Solve-a-thon concluded with an open data expo that brought together 14 local and regional organizations working in open data space. Organized to exhibit products and services based on an open-data model, the expo sparked a broader discussion on data usage to solve complex problems of everyday life. It attracted around 100 participants from the government, private sector, donor communities, academia, open data community, civil society and media.
“The expo helped to bridge the gap between data-based product and service providers, and their potential users. It was a pleasure to connect and network with other Nepali organizations who have been working to derive open-data based solutions,” shared a representative from one of the 14 participating organizations.