As we approach the halfway point of the OutSystems Build for the Future Hackathon, the solutions proposed by the 15 OutSystems Partner teams start to take shape. The competition is tough and the judging panel will have a hard time deciding which app will win.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, Build for the Future Hackathon brought together our developer community and three non-profit organizations to develop the right solution for the NGO’s specific needs using the OutSystems modern app platform and the skills of our OutSystems Partners.
Who are these non-profits, you ask? Last week, we introduced you to Strength United. Today, we present Zer0Hunger, a social enterprise based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, that in the midst of the global pandemic decided to build a platform that will systematically address the issue of local hunger. We talked to Sharizal Shaarani, Founder and Director, about this recent movement who shared with us some important information about the work of the organization and its impact on local communities.
Q: Sharizal, tell us a bit more about Zer0Hunger’s mission.
Zer0Hunger is a new startup founded out of a supply necessity during the pandemic. In fact, by the time we registered our non-profit, all the board members had not met face-to-face; all of our meetings were conducted virtually.
During the pandemic, we saw how supply chains can fail during a disaster and how NGOs, like ourselves, could help address this gap.
Imagine a group of 3,000 students stuck in their dorms due to lockdowns, unable to buy food because the businesses are closed. To help them, we had to buy raw food in bulk, transport them to a kitchen, unpack, cook, repack, and then deliver it to the students.
Meanwhile, many food and beverage outlets were forced to close their doors as they had lost their regular business. As an organization, we took a step back to figure out the best way to match this supply and demand and continue to provide business to food and beverage outlets in desperate need. The end goal was to deliver hot meals to students in lockdown while helping restaurants stay afloat by connecting them to students who were willing to pay for meals.
Q: How does your system work?
We started by designing a system with Google Forms and Google Sheets but quickly found that it had inefficiencies. Some families received more than one food aid pack while others did not receive any packs. The reason for that was, one, many of the NGOs were working in silos, and two, those that tried to collaborate through freeware found that the software was not sophisticated enough and it lacked proper data integrity controls to automate coordination and workflow tracking.
So, we set out to use various freemium platforms that offered their services at no cost during the pandemic. We made some progress with these tools and were able to create some data visualization (4,000 data points in two months) and incorporate a workflow. But we had to integrate with four different freemium platforms to work simultaneously. Plus, we were unable to fully customize what we truly needed and had to change our standard operating procedures to suit the platform’s business processes.
Because of that, we made a conscious decision to develop a system that truly created efficiencies in relief operations by centralizing coordination efforts and connecting all possible fulfilment partners, including delivery. This would give the relief effort the focus it needed to take care of those who are vulnerable while leaving the logistical arrangements to community-based supply chain links using technology. Just in 2019 alone, the world spent $280 billion (USD) on food aid. If this platform can help create efficiencies, it means that with the same amount of money, we can more effectively and efficiently reach more people.
Q: Why did you decide to participate in this initiative and what are you hoping to gain from it?
In our quest to find a technology partner, we had reached out to some good samaritans who were in the tech industry. Due to commercial commitments, we were at the mercy of these folks’ timelines. Furthermore, since they were coding natively we also had to depend on their technical skills to develop this platform. We then made another conscious decision: Zer0Hunger should be a tech-based non-profit where we develop our own talent in-house. With this new mindset, we began to look for funders to help with our cause.
It was during this period that we were introduced to OutSystems. The initial idea was to explore OutSystems together with our donor, and see how we can partner with them to build this new platform. A few weeks later, we received a call from OutSystems saying that we were one of the non-profits selected to be a part of their global Social Impact Hackathon.
The opportunity to have a global challenge with some of the best OutSystems developers competing to provide the best solutions will surely help us build a fully-functioning prototype faster.
Q: How can a modern app platform like OutSystems help you with your mission and increase the impact?
The key attractions of the OutSystems platform are its visual development capabilities. This will give us the speed, agility and scalability we need to deliver this solution wherever needed worldwide. In addition, OutSystems also has built-in regularly updated security features and the ability to create apps in multiple platforms, all in the same environment. This means someone like myself, an engineer who has basic development knowledge from over 20 years ago, can get started at creating fully secured, world-class apps. Through the OutSystems platform, we no longer have to be dependent on others for their technical knowledge.
(A little show and tell of a small achievement: I have already developed 2 apps using the OutSystems developer environment.)
Q: Five OutSystems Partners are racing to develop the best possible solution for Zer0hunger, Atos (Malaysia), Coforge (India), Ifabula (Indonesia), KRE8IT (Australia) and PhoenixDX (Philippines). You had the opportunity to meet them all, how does that cooperation and partnership look for you?
We are blessed and very fortunate to have these OutSystems experts to help us build a solid foundation for the Zer0Hunger platform. To be frank, I’m super happy with the teams persistently asking me questions for better clarity; even at odd hours of the night. I am truly relishing this: it’s probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create something new and innovative. We even brainstorm and debate key concepts that could make the outcome even better. I am definitely excited to see what the end product will look like. I am sure it will be a very difficult process to judge and separate the quality and passion these teams have poured into this hackathon.
Q: What is next for your organization? Have you set any goals for once the event has run its course?
Apart from me getting my hands dirtier to create more complex apps, we are already planning to hire two new developers and two interns to help us add features and functionalities to the platform. Our other hope is that all teams that are competing fiercely for this Zer0Hunger challenge will continue to be part of our tech samaritan ecosystem. We really feel that we have created new meaningful friendships and what better way to celebrate this new bond by helping to change the world to be less hungry together!