When Princeton students Michael Lachanski ’15 and Jacob Scheer ’15 began planning an international hackathon to address climate change, the Philippines seemed like a natural host site. The country has exceptional biodiversity as well as vulnerability to weather events related to climate change. And its capital, Manila, is home to a budding tech community. Lachanski and Scheer made their pitch to the Pace Center for Civic Engagement and earned a grant from the Center‘s Davis Projects for Peace.
In late May, after finishing their exams, the two flew to Manila to finish their planning. Last week, in a 60-hour marathon competition held at Manila’s De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde, teams of computer programmers used their skills to build a range of new applications. Top entries included an ecotourism app, a carbon-footprint calculator, an emergency-management mapping program, and a Neopet-style mobile game that helps parents teach children about environmental stewardship. The organizers were expecting about 75 participants and drew 175, including students and tech professionals with a variety of hardware- and software-development skills.
“It totally exceeded our expectations, in practically every way,” Scheer said. The project married the pursuits of the two friends. Scheer, a mechanical engineering major, has a strong interest in climate change, while Lachanski, an economics major, is a veteran of hackathons. Scheer’s contacts from the climate groups 350.org and Power Shift helped him to connect with local partners in the Philippines, and being from Princeton also opened doors when the two were recruiting speakers and sponsors. Since the close of the hackathon, Lachanski and Scheer have been working to connect some of the teams with NGOs that might support their work. Scheer said they knew they had struck a chord on the first day, when participants began telling him they were looking forward to next year’s event. At the start, a second hackathon seemed like an ambitious goal, he said, but “now, it’s a very real possibility.”