Seated on the green couches in the Starbucks commons are five executive board members of Hack4Impact, a student–run organization that connects undergraduate programmers with socially responsible businesses and non-profits. Taken together, the five of them are an interesting group: all computer science majors united with a common passion for technology, social issues and community engagement. “We’re all different flavors of comp sci basically,” Rani Iyer (C’19) says, laughing, as she and her fellow executive board members begin introducing themselves. The other members all nod in agreement, except for Kasra Koushan (C’18), who smiles and interjects, “I’m pretty much just vanilla comp sci.” As the night goes on, the pentad almost vibrates with enthusiasm when they begin describing their roles–Rani serves as Education Chair, Kasra as External Relation Chair, Abhinav Suri (C’19) as Project Chair, Daniel Zhang (C’18) as Community Chair, and Nancy Wong (C’17) as the Co-Director.
Their organization, Hack4Impact, has only been around for three years, but it already has an impressive 23 projects under its belt. It seeks to help non–profits achieve their goals by assisting them with technical projects, and Daniel describes the organization as “the intersection between tech and social impact.” Sometimes Hack4Impact reaches out to the organizations, but as it has continued to grow, more and more clients are reaching out to them. It's already worked with the Philadelphia Clean Air Council and Reading Terminal Market.
As someone who has been part of Hack4Impact since the very beginning, Nancy comments that watching the organization’s goals transform is something that they have enjoyed most. “I think when we first started out we had more of a focus on being an opportunity for students to have projects on their resumes, whereas now we have a more general shift towards community and caring about social issues.” This change is evident in their compensation too, as payment is reviewed on a case–by–case basis, but if a client doesn’t have the means to pay, Hack4Imapct will create their project pro-bono. And many times, they have done projects completely, or almost completely, pro-bono.
With around 30 people in the community, Hack4Impact takes on around 4-5 projects each semester. So far they’ve created apps such as “PhillyFoodFinder” and “Maps4All,” the first of which mapped out food resources in Philadelphia, including local soup kitchens, healthy food sources, and areas that accept food stamps. In fact, “PhillyFoodFinder” was so successful that it became a finalist in the mayor’s group service award. It was also the inspiration behind “Maps4All,” which became a streamlined app that mapped out resources for groups that non-profits may be trying to connect with. “It’s basically like a Yelp system, “ Rani explains, “it’s been a really cool project to work on and has allowed us to magnify our impact. When clients come to us now with this problem, we can say ‘okay we have a solution for you that will only take a week, instead of a semester, to make.’”
However, Daniel is quick to add, “we also have other apps that aren’t map based, like iOS apps to help with voting.” The members even worked on an app that helped workers combat wage theft by generating an objective timesheet using GPS tracking, which could then be submitted in court as evidence. On the other hand, Hack4Impact has also worked on projects like iOS Base, which is essentially a foundational app for programmers. This allows members to build iOS apps more efficiently by including features such as: a user system, a log in system, and an admin system so that users can utilize Hack4Impact’s existing code to build other apps. In fact, all of Hack4Impact’s code is open-source, meaning that its available to the public, and anyone can both add to the coding and learn from the available coding.
As an organization itself, the members agree that they’re all pretty close. They have traditions like a yearly retreat and an end–of–semester banquet, and their group chats are always engaging, with multiple channels for the business and non–business related topics. Mostly, though, members seemed connected due to their genuine desire to help improve society through technology. “That’s something that I’ve carried throughout my experience on Hack4Impact,” Abhinav says, “that the things I’m doing here are creating very real and immediate impact on our real and immediate community.”