UNDP Resident Representative, Jorn Sorensen with some of the students that took part in the Hackathon

With Digital Transformation as our frontier challenge, we decided to organize a Hackathon as part of our launch event, the digital locals (young people) were our obvious choice and priority.

Young people are growing up in a diverse and hyper connected society in which choices and opportunities are increasingly influenced by the power of local and global forces. They are also getting more impacted by issues like climate change, religious difference, migration, and exponential innovations in technology like Artificial Intelligence. We are already witnessing around the world, young people taking charge and being the agents of change in this new world of shifting normals. In this changing world, it is clear that every country’s most valuable resource will be its people and their ability to lead and influence change.

To begin addressing the objectives of mapping and exploring untapped potential in our frontier challenge of digital transformation, 60 students from 10 high schools were invited to participate at the Samoa Accelerator Lab’s hybrid hackathon where they were introduced to the Acc Lab learning cycle of #sense, #explore, #test and #grow. The purpose of this was to impart new skills and learning among young people and at the same time promote and foster collaboration from different high schools to create ideas that can potentially be translated into actual innovations.

Throughout the 2-day Hackathon, the skills required to undertake and utilize sensemaking and exploration was introduced to the participants. This was executed through a series of activities designed to allow creative and innovative sensing of their own internal and external environment and then creating the space and knowledge to analyze the connecting themes affecting their progress.

  1. Connecting the dots – Icebreakers can be more than just about breaking the ice to create a more welcoming space for participants. It can also be used as the initial activity to guide and set the framework of how new ideas can be taught. In the spirit of learning and growing as a collective, the Hackathon started with a “We are Connected” exercise to promote visualization of interconnectedness. Participant expectations were shared and used as a common goal for all to work towards actionable achievements by the end of the hackathon.

  2. Creative visioning through an individual sensemaking lens – Visual mapping through individual artworks was then used to allow participants the opportunity and space to draw out their interpretation of what a digitally transformed Samoa would look like. During this activity, the participants were also guided to question and analyze the building blocks of their vision and why they had arrived at such.

  3. Collective vision through exploration – following the theme of connected collaboration, participants were then arranged into random groups and were asked to create a collective vision board by combining elements from their individual sensemaking to craft a shared vision on digital transformation. Facilitation of this exercise included guiding the participants to share experiences and their observations on how others have created opportunities and addressed challenges in connection to their shared vision. As a result of this anecdotal exploration, the participants had also begun to identify existing solutions and potential solutions they could innovate to support their collective vision.

The representation of the youth of Samoa at the hackathon showcased why young people are truly change agents. They brought in their unique perspectives and understanding of the challenges that are hindering the pace of digital transformation. It should be noted that the generation of today are much more aware and in tune with local and global issues. Some challenges expressed by the participants include but are not limited to the following i.e.

·         Limited or lack of resources in simple things such as textbooks, innovative areas of learning like coding as shared by the participants, meant that most were unable to fully realize non-traditional career pathways.

·         Traditional classroom learning and parenting a hindrance to young people in terms of having access to tech and online platforms to expand innovation within the classroom.

Although challenges raised in the hackathon mostly touched on the lack of resources or opportunities, there were also conversations encompassing the need for young people to balance the importance of cultural traditions and that of technological innovation. In addition, discussions surrounding safety when surfing online was also part of the conversations and this was introduced via a youth panel discussion of social entrepreneurs and influencers.

To assist our participants in finetuning their potential solutions into actionable innovations, a youth panel discussion also took place consisting of social entrepreneurs Mose and Adeline Mose from Makeki Online, Agropreneur Seutatia Vaai of Purpose Plantations, Young Women’s Rights Activist, Taimalelagi Ramona Tugaga, and TikTok Artist, Kole. This was an opportunity for peer to peer learning where each panel guest speaker was then paired up with a group of participants and served as mentors by providing realistic and technical advice for the participants.

Their diagnosis of the problem was as insightful as their take on the solutions.

Some of their compelling and brave solutions include:

1.       An app called EazyA, with designs to perform well even with low bandwidth and to be made available in all the Pacific languages and dialects to host locally created educational content for young people to access and use, to an online school bag of necessities such as pads, condoms and shared educational materials where young people can access at a click of the mouse and expect that a school bag of what they ordered will be delivered to them within the day, to ideas.

2.      A solar desk to power touch screen desktop computers for all students and to promote going paperless and solve the issue of having no textbooks for all.

After these two days, we were left humbled, inspired, and of course exhausted (imagine being in a room with 60 high energy 15 somethings!). As we are recovering from exhaustion, we remain inspired and are wondering how to take this enthusiasm forward and continue to support our young changemakers who are not just the future problem solvers but are ready here and now!


Co-authored by Kaisarina Salesa (Head of Exploration) and Pragya Mishra (Head of Experimentation)

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