Many Penn students code for class. Some simply code for fun, while a select few code for charity.
Founded in Fall 2014, Hack4Impact is a student-run group that aims to connect local nonprofits with student software developers, who generate software for these organizations without charge.
The group works with three to five organizations per semester. These organizations have included the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia and the Juvenile Law Center.
Hack4Impact has created several web applications in addition to iOS-based projects.
After working with several nonprofits, Hack4Impact members realized that many nonprofit organizations have similar requests for online platforms that would help them achieve their respective goals. This prompted the group to launch generalized projects that Co-Director and Engineering senior Nancy Wong described as “base code for other people to build social good projects.”
“So if you want to build a social impact application,” Wong said, “you have a lot of this [code] ready for you to use, and you can customize that.”
One of Hack4Impact’s most recent projects, Maps4All, aims to create a “generalized mapping platform for nonprofits” that can be used “to map resources for their organization or target audience.”
Former Hack4Impact Education Chair and Engineering junior Rani Iyer described Maps4All as a marriage of several previous projects.
“We had made similar projects that were about making resources for people that were food insecure or homeless or looking for different food pantries across the city,” she said.
Every organization that Hack4Impact works with can customize Maps4All to suit their needs.
Iyer described how Maps4All could assist the homeless by mapping out homeless shelters according to information like what form of identification each shelter requires.
Hack4Impact’s coding is part “of a larger movement of tech and social impact,” Wong said.
Student groups across the country have worked to marry the two areas. In fact, the Hack4Impact website recognizes five other organizations that share a similar mission: Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Code for Good, University of California at Berkeley’s Cal Blueprint, Duke University’s HackDuke, University of Southern California’s Code the Change and Stanford University’s CS + Social Good.
“For me it’s very personally meaningful to use and apply these skills in a way that can enact positive social change” Wong said, especially noting that, because the organization is relatively new, they have “more influence in the direction that it takes.”
Iyer said that coming together for a shared purpose in coding also brings together many people with shared interests and values.
“The reason that I got interested in tech was its impact on other people,” Iyer said. “One of the big strengths of Hack4Impact is definitely its community. We get a lot of people with similar values.”
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