By: Rehana Paul and Sanjana Paul
Recently, Overachiever Magazine got to participate in a discussion with Sanjana Paul, Co-Founder and executive director of The Earth Hacks Foundation (Earth Hacks), an organization that creates hackathon events to inspire creativity and innovation.
If you aren’t familiar with the premise of a hackathon, it is a time intensive event that focuses on rapidly generating solutions to real world problems. “They are becoming an increasingly popular approach to problem solving on college campuses and in corporate setting alike.” Explains Sanjana, who has a background in electrical engineering and physics.
The need and inspiration for an event like this Hackathon came from looking at what is truly the most time-sensitive issue facing our youth and the world at large, climate change. Problems associated with climate change are what Sanjana refers to as “exponential problems” and many of the current solutions in the marketplace are “linear.” Being familiar with hackathons, having attended many, the Earth Hacks team knew that we know that during these events, rapid innovation takes place and projects that would normally take months to implement have working prototypes ready in 24 hours. Despite the quick prototyping pace, the types of problems presented for participants to solve were often very limited in scope and didn’t seem to address pressing, global needs.
“This led us to realize that nobody has really applied the traditional hackathon model of innovation to environmental problems while reaching out to students outside of STEM fields, and we did so, creating Earth Hacks,” says Sanjana.
Earth hacks was developed by a group of engineering students that noticed this unproductive relationship, making use of their backgrounds in hackathon organization. Earth Hacks aims to tackle the confusion and barriers surrounding the ideologies of climate change solutions through their hackathon model. It builds upon the ethos of the maker movement, and the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This movement works by “demonstrating the potential that curious, motivated students have to change the world.”
When asked about difficulties, Sanjana brought to light a point that many founders of organizations and grassroots groups agree on, the logistics of starting a non-profit organization. Since all the founders have technical backgrounds, the team succeeded by leaning on one another for support and utilizing the full extent of their resources to form a great and impactful nonprofit incorporation. However, many of these difficulties turned into great relationships and experiences that amounted to the whole experience of Earth Hacks event coordination. “Seeing innovative ideas be born and take flight at Earth Hacks events is extremely gratifying and also extremely relieving,” she continues, “if nothing else, the majority of people who come to this event are much more aware of environmental issues and impacts than they were before they attended.”
Finally we checked back in with Sanjana on what is next for Earth Hacks. Sanjana showed us a prosperous and exciting future ahead, highlighting that they have “ a number of partner events coming up throughout 2019, and lots of updates to our Earth Hacks Kit, website, and social media.” As far as getting more girls involved, Sanjana reminded us that while environmental problems are everyone’s problems, they will disproportionately affect women and women of color.
Secondarily, she pointed out that women are drastically underrepresented in technical spaces. “It’s certainly not for a lack of talent – systematic discrimination, harassment, and other barriers to entry can make it difficult to stick with or enter a career in tech. While the primary goal of Earth Hacks is to help students generate solutions to pressing environmental problems, the secondary is to lower barriers to entry into tech.” She highly encourages everyone, particularly women, to attend hackathons to have their first technical experience. She also highly encourages reaching out with questions and joining the earth hacks community to collaborate in the future.
Visit their website at earthhacks.io and reach out to them to start an Earth Hacks event at your school! Reach out to sanjana on social media with the handle @lightbulbnerd.