How To Win A Global Health Hackathon: MadiroHacks 2022

BY Mifa Adejumo · 4 MIN READ

[Cue Eminem’s Lose Yourself instrumental]

If you had…one shot…one opportunity…and 35 hours to build a project that would improve the services offered by Community Health Entrepreneurs (CHEs) across rural communities, would you capture it or just let it slip?

Joseph Matovu, chose the former. He emerged as one of the winners of the inaugural Global Health Hackathon held on the 19th to 20th of March 2022, hosted by Madiro. This is his story — as it is the story of a company setting a trend towards seeking innovative ways to improve global health.


MadiroHacks: An Event like no other

Hackathons are usually packed with a diverse audience and MadiroHacks was no different. The virtual event was host to over 150 hackers, speakers and mentors.

Hackathons are not new. However, what sets the Madiro Hackathon apart from others is the core purpose of the hackathon — global health — and the company that champions this event — Madiro.

With billions of people in rural communities across the world having little to no access to adequate healthcare, whether due to isolation, conflict, or other barriers, Madiro as a non-profit organization has stayed committed to their mission of trying to break down these barriers in providing health equity by amplifying innovations that improve the health of vulnerable communities.

Based in Canada and founded by the Gillian and Adrian Schauer Foundation to help increase health equity, the pedigree of Madiro already spoke to the importance of this event. Nevertheless bringing hackers from across Africa and North America under one virtual umbrella was no small feat. Thankfully, with an impressive list of partners from the health sector like Aviro Health, Healthy Entrepreneurs to tech staffing companies like Tunga, the event was destined to be one for the books. And it did not disappoint as Director, Operations & Communications for Madiro and also Event Manager for the hackathon, Claire Boyer states.

“Hosting our first virtual event across so many time zones was an experiment of sorts. It was rewarding to see like-minded people working together. The common thread between participants, mentors, judges, speakers and organizers is that we all care about making a positive impact.”

Over a zoom call, Claire Boyer, chuckles as she considered just how huge of a leap it was to organize hackers from across the world.

“We had 200 applicants and selected over 120 people and during the event we had about 50 active hackers. Logistically speaking, this was huge.”

No small feat indeed, but for Madiro as an organization, it is definitely a big step in the right direction towards helping their partners with finding solutions to solving real-life health problems.

2022 Global Health Hackathon organized by Tunga & Madiro

Meet Joseph Matovu

Joseph, a mobile Software Developer, lost his father at a very young age. The 27 year old Ugandan native has led a life that one can only deem inspiring. Having had dreams of getting into robotics and software engineering from his highschool days but lacking the financial backing and support to pursue his dreams, he chose never to settle. Getting into Makerere University was the tough bit. However, supported by a Ugandan loan scheme, he was able to push through, earning a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science in 2018.

Joseph was never one to rest on his oars. As soon as he was done with university education, he sought developers with more experience in coding and software development to train him, realizing he needed to know more in order to make his mark on the world.

“I invested in a few colleagues who knew how to code and host websites and develop applications and they trained and gave me the basics.”

With the knowledge he gained, he began creating his own mobile apps, which he uploads [still does] via his playstore account “Jose App Studio”.

On how he found out about the MadiroHacks, he says, “I was looking for a challenge, surfing the web for something that could help me improve and then came across the information of MadiroHacks on instagram in February. I read the project briefs and one stood out to me and I thought, why not? So I registered.”

With experience in creating mobile apps, the brief that stood out to Joseph was about improving an application for Community Health Entrepreneurs (CHEs) by Healthy Entrepreneurs, one of the sponsors of the MadiroHacks event. The problems highlighted in this brief included but were not limited to, low smartphone skills for CHEs, Spotty internet connectivity and language barriers. This caught Joseph’s attention and he was keen on being a part of this experience.

27 year old Matovu Joseph, one of the winners of MadiroHacks 2022

Some bit of frustration…

Taking on the hackathon by himself was not the initial plan. He had been involved in other hackathons before but this was the first virtual event he was part of and he considered it a learning curve.

“It wasn’t easy. In trying to find a team, I met with a lot of hackers whose ideas did not align with mine or the brief they wanted to work on was not what I was hoping to work on. And communicating was tough but thanks to the organizers, they were able to ensure that things ran smoothly.”

He did find a team — two other hackers. However, the first was unresponsive and the second with whom he had a few correspondence over discord, days before the event, reached out last minute and informed him he was to be unavailable during the event itself. Frustrating as all these were for Joseph, he never relented. He was ready to take on the event as an individual if he had to, and he did just that. He was active in every part of the Hackathon, making sure not to miss any bit of valuable information being passed across.

“I knew I had to see it through. That was the goal. I wanted the experience and I wanted to get to the finish line.”

On how he felt when his project was to be reviewed by the judges on the final day, Joseph says, “I was confident in what I had worked on. I knew there were other great hackers present but I was confident in what I did.”

Candid image of Elijah Atuhaire and some other Tunga staffs

Judging a hackathon

For Tunga Head of Products, Elijah Atuhaire, being one of the judges for MadiroHacks was not something he took lightly. When asked how as a judge he was able to reach the decisions in choosing a winning project, he explains,

“We shared clear themes and areas which the teams had to build around. We also had a five point system which we used to score the solutions and indeed it was not easy. Some solutions were so close that the points scored were equal, which prompted processes to break the tie. It was a very transparent and fair process.”

On what stood out to him about the winning teams’ projects, his response was one of appreciation for all the efforts of the hackathon participants present.

“All the winning teams had solutions that could be easily iterated by partners to take them to market…” he says, “We had many great solutions, but some solutions better addressed the challenges than others.”

As a 2-day event, it would be understandable to consider 35 hours a short amount of time for hackers to complete their projects but Elijah thinks differently. He believed the time was sufficient and spoke to the fact that all teams had proper guidance from mentors for the event.

Nevertheless, he did hint on how different a hackathon was from other coding events by saying, “In a hackathon, usually competing teams of developers build new solutions over a short period, in Madiro’s case the weekend. They do this with little to no sleep. Other coding events do not have this kind of setup.”

Making Mama proud

And not sleeping for 35-hours paid off. Joseph was ecstatic when he found out his project was one of the three that had clinched the CA$3000 prize. Despite not being in the event for a win, winning still felt really good.

In speaking to Joseph, I mentioned his mother being proud of him. He laughed and replied. “She has always been a huge motivator, telling me from a young age that I would make it and yes, she is proud.”

On how he plans on spending his winnings, Joseph simply says: investing in my career. He hopes to get some extra hardware to ensure he can keep creating applications and testing them properly.

It should be worth noting that there were two other winning teams from the MadiroHack who worked on different project briefs from the one Joseph did. You can learn more about all of these from the Madirohack website or find out more about Madiro on their official website.

Advice for developers concerning hackathons

When asked for his advice for other Developers about being part of such an event, Joseph says,

“I encourage more developers to participate. I love hackathons because not only are they challenging but you are able to work on real world problems. For me, I always think about what value I can provide before thinking about money. And with this event, after seeing the briefs, I knew I had something to offer of value. Winning was just an added bonus. I believe in providing solutions.”

MadiroHacks has successfully heralded a new wave of innovators who despite the constraint of time [35 hours isn’t a lot in Netflixing time] were still able to work on projects that provided value for global health. While Joseph and the other winning teams may have emerged as the overall winners, every other participant in this event can consider themselves winners too. Being part of those trying to use technology to provide solutions to the global healthcare crisis affecting millions of lives across communities means being part of something great.

It also bodes well that Joseph Matovu is an African tech talent who has once again proven, beyond reasonable doubt, that Africa is the new tech frontier. Just like Madiro, Tunga’s mission is to amplify the profiles of experienced software developers by creating a platform where they can showcase their skills and be hired to create value with international organizations.

And as a software developer or software programmer or mobile developer, you can be part of this growing revolution in the African tech space, if you — just as Joseph did — choose to capture the moment and never let it slip!

[Cue Eminem’s Lose Yourself instrumental]

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