Author: 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.