All-female Saudi team wins Dh1 million in Haj Hackathon
Jeddah - Turjuman developed a translation app to facilitate communication by pilgrims.
An all-female team of Saudi computer developers and programmers has won first place at the first Haj Hackathon, held in the port city of Jeddah, where thousands of tech heads competed to come up with the best high-tech solutions to facilitate and improve the Haj experience for pilgrims.
Haj Hackathon, the largest event of its kind ever held, came to a close on Friday night with the announcement that the team of Saudi young women, 'Turjuman', had been named the overall winner in the competition to propose state-of-the-art technological solutions to the massive challenges of accommodating the arrival of about 2 million pilgrims for Haj and millions of others for Umrah throughout the year.
The Saudi young women, who developed the Turjuman instant translation app to facilitate communication by pilgrims from all over the world, took home the first place prize of SAR1,000,000 (approx. Dh1m) after a very strong competition with a total of nine teams.
The competition's eight-member judging panel included Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Inc.
Asked by the announcer how she felt after winning, Ragda Al Qadi, one of the Saudi team members, said: "Praise be to God. We are really tired and we thank God that we made it to first position."
"The team's feeling is indescribable. We are very happy. It's all thanks to God and then to the team's cooperation," Samaher Al Houthali told the crowd.
Asked if she had expected to win, Rawan Al Matrafi replied: "I said goodbye to my family and told them that I will be coming back to you with the one million (riyals)."
An all-male team from Egypt, which developed the 'Haj Wallet', came in second place, winning SAR500,000, while in third place, a mixed team from Algeria which developed the app 'Roaa' or ('Visions'), won SAR 350,000.
A special award of SAR 150,000 went to the team 'I 007' for an app for the management of the Haj e-camps.
Saud Al-Qahtani, adviser to the Royal Court, and founder of the Saudi Federation for Cyber Security, Programming and Drones (SAFCSP), which organised Haj Hackathon, tweeted a photo grouping the winning Saudi women, all in black head-to-toe Islamic dress, carrying their green national flag. On Twitter, Al-Qahtani wrote: "As a Saudi citizen, I do not hide my joy and pride in the daughters of this generous country." He said that the fact that this team of Saudi young women are first place winners is "an indication of the continuing success and excellence in the process of empowering Saudi women."
In the Haj Hackathon competition, entrepreneurs and technology experts focused on areas such as crowd management, food, health, finance, traffic control, travel, housing, communications, and waste management, among others. Haj will be from August 19-24 this year.
The 'Turjuman' app installs QR, or quick response, codes on the instructions signs which shows their translated version in the pilgrims' languages, with no need for an internet connection, while the 'Haj Wallet' makes a pilgrim's phone his or her money purse during the pilgrimage - either via cash deposit or credit card link -- so that it can be used to pay for purchases. The 'Visions' app developed by the Algerian team would allow families to be kept abreast of the whereabouts of their family members performing Haj by mapping out their location and taking their photos.
The Saudi women were one of 50 teams whose projects were chosen for development in a 100-day workshop conducted by the Badir Programme for Technology Incubators and Accelerators in association with SAFCSP.
The three-day event at Jeddah's International Exhibition and Convention Centreis the largest tech competition ever staged in the Middle East. It drew a total of 2,950 developers from Saudi Arabia, the Gulf and around the world, breaking the Guinness World Records for most participants in a software development jam.
Female computer developers, programmers and proud tech heads staked out a presence that was both noticeable and notable among the thousands of tech acolytes at the Hackathon. The coders, software developers, programmers, designers, and innovators from more than 100 countries gathered at the first event of its kind in Saudi Arabia to come up with the most innovative solutions, using state-of-the-art technology, to make the Haj a more efficient and enjoyable experience for the throngs that annually descend on Makkah for the religious pilgrimage.
Wozniak, who along with Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, had joined the participants at the opening of the first Haj Hackathon, was appointed by SAFCSP as an ambassador for the Saudi TechHub.
Al-Qahtani said Wozniak has "happily agreed to be the Saudi Ambassador to Saudi TechHub" and said the appointment reflects a desire to leverage one of the best modern minds to help the Kingdom's efforts to become a regional high-tech hub. Wozniak said the remarkable development he witnessed in how the Kingdom is approaching technology, and its fascinating Vision 2030 roadmap for the future, had persuaded him to accept the ambassadorship.
Al-Qahtani added: "The huge interest in the technical and technological sector is reflected in the general plans of the state, as it is one of the main objectives pursued by the Kingdom in its Vision 2030 under the supervision, follow-up and direct support of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman."
Wozniak - who was Head of Arbitration at Haj Hackathon - called the event a success, noting Saudis had a big interest in programming and computer technologies, and adding that the Kingdom could soon be the region's key hub for technology.
Noura Alabdulkareem, CEO of the Social Development Bank, on Friday addressed the Hackathon gathering and revealed that the Social Development Bank has created a SAR30 million funding arm to further the initiative.
"The funds will be free of interest for entrepreneurial projects proposed during the Haj Hackathon," Alabdulkareem said in a speech. "Moreover, we will work on developing projects nominated for receiving funds through an extensive training boot-camp to develop their launch plans and link them to a quality mentorship programme."