Grace Hopper '13 Open Source Day Recap
The Grace Hopper Celebration Open Source Day Codeathon has been one of Women's P2P Network's most successful events, and this year was our best yet! (The codeathon brings technical women together to collaborate on projects for social good).
2013's roster of 23 brilliant women coders hailed from seven countries, nine universities, seven Silicon Valley companies including Amazon, Twitter, Box, and Yahoo. It also included three awesome high schoolers from the GenConnext program, and even a bona-fide rocket scientist! As a special treat, Grace Hopper/Facebook Scholarship winner Marguerite Saint-Louis, who has been part of our Haiti team from the beginning, joined us in person and guided the group in creating tools that would be appropriate for Haitian market women!
So what are we building?
Our main project was to complete the voice-based messaging system that was previously begun by our team in Haiti. Our job was to build the voice-based user interface, so it will be accessible to illiterate women. We are developing the system for our microfinance partner in Haiti, Fonkoze, who will use it to help empower 55,000 illiterate market women to achieve financial independence. We will then adapt it for use in other countries and projects, such as a gender-based violence warning system, a communications toolkit for women in developing countries running for office. (For you geeks out there, we're using the open source standard Voice XML to create voice-based interfaces and will begin holding online tutorials on this and other accessible technologies in the coming months. For more on the possibilities for using VoiceXML to empower women in developing countries, see this interesting blog post from Women'sP2P advisor, Stephane Boyera.)
Because we had such a large group and wanted to make the most of everyone's skills, we divided into three teams: the VoiceXML coding team (who dove in with ZERO experience in the programming language!), the script-writing team ("If you want to hear this message in Creole, press 1"), and the website team (who built the foundation of our online community and got our mail system up and running). Our intrepid highschool team created beautiful diagrams showing how it all works. While some technical difficulties kept us from completing the VoiceXML coding, we'll have an opportunity to test out our online community while we complete it virtually. Most importantly, an international team of women have had the opportunity to collaborate, problem-solve, learn about the issues women in developing countries face, and gain some skills in how to use technology to empower them. And most of the women who participated have committed to completing the project!
What happens next?
We complete our prototype, and then test it. While that may not sound too exciting until you realize how we'll need to do this, and how much this differs from how technology isusually built for women. In our model, women coders will continue to collaborate remotely, across borders, through the online platform we're creating. The market women we're connecting are equal participants of the process - and part of our community - not recipients of aid. In short, building the right tools require personal connection and a diverse community of women from all walks of life.
Global Women's Meetups - Stay Tuned!
To succeed, we're building a unique collaboration and community space that includes onramps for illiterate women without computers, that leverage basic phones, and local community radio interfaces. This will enable us to collaborate and hold conversations with each other as never before. Ultimately, the tools we're now creating enable women's financial independence, will lead to tools that will enable women to protect themselves from violence, help them get elected to political office, and other tools that continue to move women forward. Stay tuned!