The Power of Hackathons – Innovation, Passion and Scalable Solutions

Lousada Ferreira, MariaAuthor: Maria Lousada Ferreira, KWR, juror and Watershare representative to Enlace 2020

I had never heard about a hackathon. I knew decathlon, pentathlon, marathon, all athletic activities associated with extreme effort that I was in no way prepared to participate in. Google did not help much by defining it as a “marathon hacking event”. Nevertheless, when I was asked to participate on behalf of Watershare in the hackathon organized by the Argentinian state-owned water and sanitation company, AySA, I immediately said “yes!” AySA is a member of Watershare for 2 years, with already a strong collaboration record.

The hackathon was an international event where ideas and solutions for the water sector challenges in Latin-America would be co-developed, with participating companies such as Google and Microsoft among 40 others. During these pandemic times, I could not refuse to take part in an event that transported me away from my home-office, into the currently untraveled outside water-world. So, what happened?

On Friday 16th of October, at 17:00, I was sitting at my desk prepared to start my task as juror of the hackathon. The jury task consisted of a continuous hours-long session to select 3 winning projects to be further implementated by AySA. During the previous days, participants in interdisciplinary teams had developed solutions for drinking water, sanitation, customer relations, strategy, and organization challenges. I was prepared for the jury “marathon” – I had been listening and singing Spanish songs the whole day; I had food, water and snacks at my side; and a 20 year long expertise in water sector challenges with my engineering background – this preparation paid off.

From 10 final projects, each jury member should select one. Of the different submissions, I heard enthusiastic water professionals describing how to supply sanitation to isolated families, why Daphnia Magna’s should be used as a biological indicator of contamination, and how to solve algal growth in water collection points, which consequently ended up as one of the three winning projects. I heard participants proposing the use of smart-water apps to reduce water loss, save energy, increase service efficiency, and engage clients, as well as more socioeconomic minded participants aiming to empower minorities. I also heard fellow water sector experts describing how a water label could project AySA into the world, while reducing water consumption, which I found particularly interesting. If there is an energy label, why not a water label? Something for KWR also to consider? Finally, the winning project, the front-runner, ended up being the “intelligent micro-remediation”, which had a catchy phrase: “Falta medir mais” meaning “we need to measure more.” This winning project aims to apply locally-fitted digital solutions to collect flow and consumption data, supporting AySA to reduce the current water loss of about 36%. Water losses in drinking water distribution systems is certainly one of the most common problems worldwide. A topic where the Netherlands, with water losses around 5%, scores very high.

At 23:00, after 6 hours of my jury marathon, and experiencing the strength of a hackathon, I finally understood what the event was all about. It did take me quite some time to fell asleep that Friday… I was inspired! Thank you AySA, for this opportunity to have Watershare participate in this hackathon to foster innovation in the Latin American water sector.

The juror marathon from behind my desk, during the night in Europe