By Deborah Jackson (Founder & CEO, JumpThru)
The Hamptons Hackathon for Humanity, or #GDIHHH on Twitter, was not your typical hackathon. The location was unique —- in South Hampton, New York two miles from the Atlantic Ocean. The food was better -— instead of pizza we dined on fresh fish, marinated skirt steak and fresh local peach pie.

The participants were all female, except for one awesome male programmer. We also had a full range of ages from a recent high school graduate to women who have had multiple careers. I was in the latter group, having been an investment banker for over 20 years after graduating business school in 1980.

Hamptons Hackathon for Humanity

Why did 16 people choose to give up a prime summer weekend, from Friday, July 15th to Sunday, 17th, to work when they didn’t have to? These women did it for many personal reasons, from a desire to redefine the term hackathon to making a difference in the under-recognized tragedy of human trafficking in the United States and in the world.

The Hamptons Hackathon for Humanity was initiated and sponsored by my company, JumpThru, and a fantastic organization called Girl Develop It.

Two extraordinary women computer programmers, who work professionally in the field, founded Girl Develop It in NYC. Last summer Sara Chipps and Vanessa Hurst founded Girl Develop It to teach programming classes in languages such as HTML, CSS, Javascript, JQuery, and PHP to women. There classes are usually sold out within 24 hours of being offered on Meetup, and thus far they have taught over 500 women to code.

I founded JumpThru early this year to help women-led tech companies so that women could reap the economic benefit from their entrepreneurial efforts.

We went into this new experience with a sense of wonder and adventure. My own premise was that if you get a group of skilled and energetic women and give them an environment to create good things, then magic would happen. But it’s not magic, actually; it’s more than that. What I experienced was the power of what women do naturally: communicate, collaborate and create. With the power that coalesced at the Hamptons Hackathon for Humanity, the participants could create a tech product to help combat human trafficking and make a difference in the world.

GDIHHH: Friday Night

At 9pm on Friday night, the group discussed options for what would be created over the weekend. What I noticed was that all ideas were voiced and there was no sense of competition or judgment. The tone was inclusive, welcoming and supportive. The group decided to pursue a few ideas, which reflected the varied skills and visions of the participants. Then the group seamlessly broke into teams and started to map out what they would create. Serious work began at what is normally my bedtime and continued into the wee hours of the morning.

We had top-notch front-end designers and expert back-end coders. We had another team who researched every report and article about human trafficking often reading out loud a horrendous story of a victim. Over the weekend everyone’s knowledge on the topic was expanded and added to their dedication to the cause.

By the end of Friday night the outline of the projects had been determined. One team would create a new game that would educate players about human trafficking with statistics and real stories of victims. Another team would crawl online listings -— most notably Craigslist -— advertising the sale of sex with trafficked victims.

The last team created an awareness campaign using QR codes to be displayed in public places in and around New York City. People on the street could scan QR codes with their smart phones and learn about what takes place at that location in the underworld of human trafficking.

GDIHHH: Saturday and Sunday

The weekend progressed with occasional group meetings to update one another and to refocus resources. There were times when women had different opinions, but all perspectives were considered. There was never a word of disrespect. During the whole 48-hour weekend, only a handful of people went for a short swim to reinvigorate.

Everyone worked tirelessly: they were on a mission.

Fast forward to Sunday afternoon when the various parts of the game were completed—the graphics, the research, the front-end design, the story, the back-end code in several programming languages. All the parts were ready to be knitted together to form the game. Everyone was exhausted from working so intensely that they became giddy at times.

When Sara called me over to show me the first draft of the game, I was awe-struck. It was multi-faceted and complex.


Commuting in Traffic

The game, Commuting in Traffic had the perfect balance of easy and fun graphics to engage the player while, at the same time, educating the player through serious and shocking information about the reality of human trafficking.

The game ends by presenting the user with options to contribute directly to several leading non-profits that are actively trying to prevent and stop human trafficking.

The Female Brain

One of the most interesting books I have read is The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine, M.D., who describes in detail the structure and functioning of the female brain. It is interesting to consider that the game has many dimensions and reflects the complex thought process that takes place when women make intelligent decisions, a process I feel is unique to the female brain.

The game is about making choices and thinking through the consequences of what happens to you and the world. Ultimately, the goal of the game is to educate its users and help prevent human trafficking. In this game, success is defined not by who wins or loses, or how many points you have over your competitor, but rather what you have learned, the choices you have made and doing something that really matters.

In the end, the Hackathon proved to be more than the product that was created. It was an opportunity to witness the power of women at an environment where their talents and perspectives are valued and used to the maximum. There would be nothing better than to have this Hackathon serve as an inspiration and a model for other such events where women can lead the way.

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.
About the guest blogger: Deborah Jackson is founder of JumpThru and My Tech Letter, both set to launch this year. She was an Investment Banker for over 20 years having started at Goldman Sachs after Columbia Business School. She founded a boutique IB firm and served as its first President in 1990. At Shattuck Hammond Partners, she launched a health care technology practice focusing on software and internet. She was a member of New York New Media angel investing group in the mid 1990s and invested in several early stage companies. Follow her on Twitter at @dbdj1007.