If you see “Random Hacks of Kindness” on a bumper sticker, the answer is no: that is not a typo.  Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) is the name of an online community of volunteer developers, aka hackers, who create apps, interfaces, platforms and systems to solve the world’s problems.

The purpose of RHoK is to make the world a better place through technology, giving volunteer hackers the opportunity to use their skills to address real world challenges.  These “hacktivists” compete in annual “hackathon” events, inventing software solutions to societal problems that are presented by various NGOs.  Because of their work with RHoK, corporations such as Hewlett Packard have created an ongoing internal employee engagement program to encourage their employees to continuously develop social apps beyond RHoK competitions.  This level of social change sophistication brings corporate citizenship to a whole new level.

In addition to HP, many volunteer hacktivists are also employees of the founding member corporations of Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, NASA and The World Bank.  Membership in Random Hacks of Kindness is made up of various international nonprofits and companies, individuals from the tech community, U.S. charities and corporations such as Symantec and Nokia.  Employees from these companies usually participate through their employee volunteer programs, promoting a sense of teamwork and corporate social responsibility.

Gamifying Social Change

This sort of gamification is just one more way that doing good has become teed up as a fun contest.  The first RHoK hackathon took place November 2009 in Mountain View, California. Applications were created to efficiently respond to disasters and were later used during the devastating earthquakes in Haiti and Chile.  A year later, the second event was held concurrently in six different countries.  One of the winning applications created was a landslide risk reduction tool called “Chasm” that helps engineers avoid potential landslide areas in urban and rural planning. Since its inception, numerous hackathons have been held and continue to be produced, some held simultaneously in twenty locations around the world.

HP employees from Silicon Valley and India won second and third prizes when HP employees participated in a worldwide hackathon after HP became a RHoK global partner in 2011.  This hackathon focused on connecting hacktivists with disaster risk experts with the mandate to create technology that improves global humanitarian efforts during crisis management.  During this event, 75 apps were developed in areas such as crisis response, social service tools and environmentally responsible technology.

Taking home first prize was “SMS Person Finder,” which helps people connect with each other after disasters.  Second prize went to HP employee Mark Junkunc, who invented an app called Hey Cycle; the tool recycles items from landfills and redirects them to people who want the items via www.freecycle.org, a popular non-profit swap site.  It took Mark and his team of five people ten hours to create the app from conception to completion. The same day but thousands of miles away, Mark’s colleague, Gururaj P. of Enterprise Services, HP India won third prize with his app, Helping Hands, which connects business that have excess food (restaurants, hotels, and caterers) via SMS with charities that provide food to the hungry.

Aligned with RHoK’s philosophy that creative and cooperative use of technology can help make the world a better place, companies such as HP have discovered the extensive benefits of this kind of corporate volunteerism.  Not only does it build corporate pride and teamwork, but this level of employee engagement provides a platform for workers to showcase their creativity and talents to better people’s lives, all in the spirit of competition.