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Students hack for humanitarian good

30 July 2021

Student teams awarded in the 2021 Humanitarian Hackathon 

Each year, The Warren Centre’s Professor Ron Johnston Humanitarian Innovation Awards encourage and reward students to engineer innovative cutting-edge solutions that have a positive impact for people around the world.

Over 23-25 July, 130 undergraduate students from leading Australian universities hacked for humanitarian good at a live, online challenge, the Humanitarian Innovation Hackathon, which was hosted by the University of Sydney’s The Warren Centre as part of the 2021 Professor Ron Johnston Humanitarian Innovation Awards.

The hackathon was a weekend-long virtual event designed for university students to work collaboratively in cross-discipline teams to create innovative, technology-driven solutions for the most pressing humanitarian challenges.

The students were asked to identify practical solutions for real and current problems from a current international humanitarian response context. Two teams were awarded prizes for their innovative solutions to assist Pacific region communities vulnerable to climate change.

The winning entries

Aegis, a team comprised of undergraduate students from the University of Sydney, Macquarie University and the University of Wollongong received the RedR Ron Johnston Rapid Response Prize of $5,000 for their plan to increase Vanuatu’s preparedness for natural disasters through Endura Seal: a liquid applied, composite water-proofing membrane that is manufactured from readily available materials and leverages the existing palm weaving community.

Solomon Says, a collaborative University of Sydney, UNSW and Macquarie University team received the Vonwiller Humanitarian Innovation Runner Up Prize of $3,000 for their blueprint to address challenges of plastic waste and a lack of potable drinking water on the Solomon Islands by utilising recycled plastic bottles to build rain water harvest tanks.

The final award of $1000, Engineers Australia’s People Choice Award will be selected by a popular vote and will be announced on the hack-live website on World Humanitarian Day, 19 August 2021.

Project Director Melanie De Gioia, who is an advocate for engineering with impact and an expert in student engagement, said the awards were a practical way for students to engineer tangible solutions for real issues threatening the Pacific region.

“Our annual Professor Ron Johnston Humanitarian Innovation Awards is a means for students to discover new and efficient ways to make a positive impact in the world, by encouraging and rewarding university students who think in innovative ways,” said Mrs De Gioia. 

The awards have been made possible thanks to an endowment from Professor Ron Johnston to the Warren Centre.

“My experience of introducing many cohorts of engineering students to real world challenges convinced me of the power and effectiveness of challenging young minds to engage collaboratively in the difficult task of generating workable solutions to the multi-fold and ever changing problems we face”, said Professor Johnston.

The awards also included an ‘Innovation Pitch’: a national submission contest designed for university students to develop an innovative technological or engineering solution and submit a video explaining their idea. This event takes place in March – April each year.

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