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#peacehack: Hacking to improve immigrant and refugee settlement

On November 25 and 26 at the HiVE, PeaceGeeks and Simon Fraser University (SFU) brought hacking from the tech world into the community, with an event aimed to address pressing issues confronting immigrant and refugee settlement in Greater Vancouver.

For anyone familiar with the term ‘hackathon,’ an image of caffeine-fueled programmers huddled intensely around computer screens often comes to mind. But beyond being coding marathons, hackathons offer immense potential to connect diverse perspectives and propel targeted, impact-driven solutions. Bringing together newcomer service providers, immigrants, refugees, social innovators, community stakeholders and technologists, our November mini-hackathon called #peacehack put people, rather than the technology, at the center of the process. Facilitated by community tech partner Axiom Zen, #peacehack was an “ideas hack” that used Design Thinking methodology. The process challenged teams of participants to fully understand existing challenges for stakeholders and end users, before designing viable solutions.

The panel discussion on Saturday was particularly revealing towards the shortcomings of newcomer settlement in Greater Vancouver. One of the panelists was Mohammed Alsaleh, a Syrian refugee who was celebrating his second anniversary in Canada that Friday night, and whose journey to Canada has recently been featured in a poignant mini documentary by The Atlantic. Now a resettlement counsellor helping Syrians upon arrival for Immigrant Services Society of BC (ISSofBC), Mohammed recounted how existing processes can often feel divorced from the programming that is created to serve immigrants.

A similar sentiment was resonated by fellow panelist Angelique Muhorakeye, a Rwandan refugee and criminology student at Douglas College. Angelique arrived in Canada three years ago with her mother, sister, niece and son. She spoke of being unprepared for aspects of daily Canadian life, from details as small as knowing about sales tax, to aspects as large as knowing what resources are relevant for her family.

Likewise, panelist Michel Pouliot, Executive Director of Burnaby Family Life, cited that 50% of newcomers are uncomfortable navigating the current system to access the services they need, a finding from the Burnaby Intercultural Planning Table. As well, the lack of resources, particularly for childminding and staff recruitment, continues to burden existing newcomer serving organizations.

Panelist Nadia Carvalho, Chair of the Vancouver Immigration Partnership, elaborated on the Local Immigration Partnerships (LIPs), which are community-based partnerships aimed at improving newcomer integration through knowledge-sharing, strategic planning and service coordination between organizations. One challenge, as she explained, is that programs are typically government funded for five years, but the process to become a Permanent Resident often takes longer. Nadia also emphasized expanding industry mentorship, noting that mentorship has been shown to increase employment income for newcomers by 60%.

The final panelist, Adel Iskandar, Assistant Professor of Global Communication at SFU, brought attention towards community cohesion and bridging the connection between Canadians, immigrants and First Nations. Acknowledging anti-immigrant sentiments, Adel pointed out conversely that throughout history, immigrants have always been shown to enhance the communities in which they take part.

After the panel, groups broke out to generate problem statements and identify possible solutions for four key challenges identified in the LIPs: improving access to information on services, strengthening local language skills, building community connections and strengthening networking and mentorship opportunities. A fifth group was formed around an issue identified during the event: fostering local understanding towards newcomers. With participants representing diverse age groups, sectors and nationalities from Afghanistan to Brazil to Iraq, the breakout sessions were buzzing with ideas. A recurring theme through each of the groups was that relationships — in one way or another — were the answer to each of the issues. Creating community through dialogue and understanding helps foster empathy and in turn, solutions. 

At lunch, we paused for a delicious meal prepared by Tayybeh, a collective of Syrian refugee women who started a local catering business from their home-cooked food. Afterwards, the breakout groups prepared to present their solutions and designs for prototypes. An impressive range of ideas emerged, which will be workshopped in the new year with local service providers who work in these areas.

These ideas included:

  • Language Mentorship Program: an app that matches newcomers who are seeking to improve their local language skills with local language mentors (retired or student teachers and other interested volunteers);
  • Keymunity: a self-directed case management engine that consolidates information about newcomer service availability, and helps to determine a newcomer’s need and service plan based on a user profile;
  • Keysultant: an embedded “live chat” tool on service websites, which can provide direct answers to newcomers’ questions through responses crowd-sourced from a community of service providers;
  • Linkedegration: an extension integrated with LinkedIn that would allow users to tailor their employment profile to their country or city’s job market based on their location. Features of this extension would include a resume builder, online mentors and invitations to relevant networking events and courses;
  • Building Community Connections: an event series that facilitates community building, following a tiered engagement model that allows participants to move through the series based on their comfort level. Events include orientations to the city and interest-based meet ups.

A second hackathon will take place this spring, where we will take the best and most developed ideas to teams of technologists in order to produce working prototypes.

Interested in participating or staying in the loop about how we are designing a more welcoming future for newcomers? Subscribe to our newsletter or follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

Written by Daniel Morton, Nikki Koutsochilis and Cherrie Lam

Dec 27, 2016

November: PeaceTalks, Fundraiser, #RHoK4Peace & Media Love for Services Advisor

November was a busy and productive month for PeaceGeeks! We kicked off our #GiveItUp4Peace crowdfunding campaign on November 1 and we've had an incredible response - over $30,000 raised so far with one more week to go!

On November 4, we hosted our 29th PeaceTalk at Hootsuite's offices. Refugee Crisis & Media Hype: Has Anything Changed? Are We Doing Enough featured speakers from Immigrant Services Society of BC, Simon Fraser University and immigration law as well as Majd Agha, one of the first Syrian refugees to arrive in Vancouver. The well-attended event covered topics from the stereotyping of refugees to specific suggestions for how Vancouverites can get involved in supporting arriving refugees. We look forward to hosting more PeaceTalks in the new year!

November 19 saw the PeaceGeeks crew out at the Portside Pub for our midcampaign fundraiser. Featuring live entertainement from The Werewolves, a stacked silent auction with contributions from the Vancouver Whitecaps, HootSuite, Ethical Bean, Lush and more, and lots of beer from Dageraad Brewing, it was a great event for a great cause. Mohammed Alsaleh, a Syrian refugee who came to Canada from Lebanon, spoke about his struggle to come to Canada and the difficulty of building a new life here. PeaceGeeks was honoured to have him as a speaker as well as donor to our raffle - one lucky attendee won a coffee date with Mohammed. We're sure he has more inspiring stories to share. For those who missed out, our friends at Umbrella Pro documented the action - you can watch their video of the event on our YouTube channel.

On November 28 and 29, dozens of local technology, communications and marketing professionals came together to donate their time to projects benefitting changemakers and peacebuilders around the world. Featuring projects from Libya, Jordan, Kenya, South Sudan and right here in Vancouver, our #RHoK4Peace hackathon was an unqualified success! With sponsor Axiom Zen, and support from OpenDataBC, the HiVE and Affinity Bridge, PeaceGeeks provided an opportunity for Vancouverites to put their skills and expertise to use for the benefit of grassroots organizations across the globe.

Our hard work hasn't gone unnoticed. CBC Vancouver published a piece on Services Advisor and our executive director, Renee Black, was interviewed about the app by Rick Cluff on CBC's Early Edition. Global News also covered the #RHoK4Peace hackathon - you can see their coverage here. We're excited for the opportunity to able to share our message! We've also recently been featured on CKNW and Vancouver's Co-op Radio.

Now it's December and we're into our final week of the #GiveItUp4Peace crowdfunding campaign. We've raised over $30,000 and our goal is $50,000. Thanks to a generous match donation from the Black Family Foundation, every dollar donated doubles its impact! And every dollar will be put toward PeaceGeeks projects. To date, weve helped more than 26 grassroots peacebuilders in 14 countries around the world. We plan to continue that work in 2016 and beyond. For more information on the campaign and how your contributions can make a difference, visit

Dec 6, 2015

#RHoK4Peace Rallies Vancouver's Tech Talent to Tackle Global Issues

On November 28 and 29, dozens of local technology, communications and marketing professionals came together to donate their time to projects benefitting changemakers and peacebuilders around the world. Featuring projects from Libya, Jordan, Kenya, South Sudan and right here in Vancouver, our #RHoK4Peace hackathon was an unqualified success!

With sponsor Axiom Zen, and support from OpenDataBC, the HiVE and Affinity Bridge, PeaceGeeks provided an opportunity for Vancouverites to put their skills and expertise to use for the benefit of grassroots organizations across the globe.

Some of the weekend’s efforts built on previous projects with PeaceGeeks partners:

  • Increasing the effectiveness of an SMS-based system for reporting incidents of gender based violence in South Sudan. The app is currently being used by Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO). The #RHoK4Peace team developed new ways of visualizing the data collected and proposed next steps for the organization to take in leveraging the data they receive.
  • Logo design and development of a new website for the Libyan Youth Movement, a youth-led and youth-focused social media and online-based initiative promoting the views and perspectives of Libyan youth to the global community.
  • Developing a secure system for documenting human rights violations to further the goals of National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders – Kenya (NCHRD-K). The team focused on the group’s need for a digitally secure tool that will enable it to produce reports based on data collected and the ability to rapidly access records to support prosecution efforts.
  • Expanding the capabilities of Services Advisor, an app that helps connect refugees in Jordan with humanitarian services in their area. #RHoK4Peace team members worked to upgrade Service Advisor’s capabilities, with the goal of enabling refugees to provide feedback on the services they receive. Services Advisor was developed by PeaceGeeks in partnership with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Jordan; PeaceGeeks is now in discussion with organizations in Greece to implement the app’s use in that country as well.

The weekend also saw the launch of two new PeaceGeeks projects. An effort to combat the online messaging and recruiting efforts of the Islamic State (more properly referred to as Daesh) was launched. The team worked on identifying digital presences in the Middle East and North Africa that are producing effective, anti-Daesh messaging via analysis of Twitter hashtags and handles. With an aim of challenging Daesh’s targeting of youth, this project will strengthen the technological capacities of digitally active youth, civil society leaders and other advocates around the world who are best positioned to provide a legitimate response to the threat of Daesh.

The most local project of the weekend was Tea Time, an app developed based on feedback from recent refugees. Many know Vancouver as a ‘lonely or unfriendly city; the struggle to connect is even greater for recently arrived refugees, many of whom face language and culture barriers. Tea Time aims to tackle this issue by providing a platform where new arrivals and Vancouver locals can come together and interact in an easy, friendly way. The app is being developed for iOS, Android and the web, allowing access via smartphone and desktop. The web application is to ensure that newcomers, who may only have internet access via a public computer, can still engage on the platform. The app will be available in multiple languages in order to be accessible to a wide range of new arrivals.

The hackaton got some well-deserved media attention as well. We were featured on Global News, CBC's Early Edition and CKNW!

The #RHoK4Peace was produced in association with Random Hacks of Kindness with sponsorship from Granville Island Brewing and Fresh Bowl.

PeaceGeeks is very proud of the results of this weekend’s hackathon and plans to host several more in 2016. As a volunteer-based organization, we rely on sponsorship and donations to help fund our work. We’re currently in the midst of our #GiveItUp4Peace campaign, an effort to stand in solidarity with refugees who give up everything in the hopes of a better life. From now through December 13, donations to the campaign will be matched by The Black Family Foundation - meaning every dollar goes twice as far. Donations can be made on our campaign site, Your contributions help us develop tools like Services Advisor, host community events like the #RHoK4Peace hackathon and continue to support the work of grassroots peacebuilders and changemakers around the world!

Dec 1, 2015

Random Hacks of Kindness Vancouver, Presented by EMC

Guest Speaker:
Nov 30, 2012
Nov 30 6:30PM ; Dec 2 6:00PM
HiVE Vancouver

What is Random Hacks of Kindness?

Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) is a global movement that connects developers from around the world with local non-profit organizations to help solve technological challenges. This year, PeaceGeeks is excited to host the first RHoK event in Vancouver, presented by EMC.

The Vancouver event will open the evening of November 30th with a reception and project presentation. This will be followed by a two-day hackathon on Saturday December 1 and Sunday December 2. We expect to have between 80 and 100 developers, designers and project participants helping on up to 10 different projects that help to solve technology and communications challenges for non-profit organization both in Vancouver and around the world.


What makes it global?

The Vancouver event will occur in tandem with events in over 20 cities around the world with more than 1000 participants working on different projects.


Who should participate in RHoK?

You should participate in RHoK Vancouver if you are passionate about using technology to help solve real world problems and if you have the following skills:

  • developer/ programmer (games, websites, software, mobile apps, etc.)
  • designer (web, games, apps, user interface, user experience expert, etc.)
  • project analysts (project managers, quality assurance testers, process mappers, etc.)
  • communications experts (copy writers, social media gurus, etc.)
  • other skills that might help to create awesome projects


How it will work?

  • Project submissions: Starting in November, the RHoK Vancouver team recruited potential projects for the event on December. A projects team worked with partners to clearly define and refine both the problem and potential solution.
  • Project presentations: On Friday November 30, participants will be invited to the opening event reception. During the reception, representatives from up to 10 non-profit organizations will present their organization, problem and proposed project to participants. Following the presentations, participants will decide which project they will work on over the course of the weekend.
  • Project execution: On Saturday and Sunday (December 1st and 2nd), participants will work on the project they have chosen until 5pm on Sunday evening. We will then give each team 5 minutes to present their project to the group. A panel of judges will award prizes to the top 3 teams.  


What projects have been accepted for RHoK Vancouver?

Participants will have the opportunity to sign up to projects supporting PeaceGeek partners as well as projects for local non-profit organizations in Vancouver, BC and Canada. The following projects have been accepted for this RHoK:


PeaceGeek Projects/ Partners

HarassMap: Website & harassment reporting app (PeaceGeeks) -

Isis International: Activist School site/ Women Peacebuilders Platform (PeaceGeeks) -

Hive Vancouver: Website & resource management app (PeaceGeeks) -


Other Projects

Canada without Poverty: Document Library -

Transformation Projects: Open Vancouver

Five Hole for Food: App for supporting food banks - 

Sum of us/ WCWC: mobile Enbridge tanker game - Learning module interface & database -

Who are our event sponsors (so far)?

We are very grateful to the following sponsors for helping us to make this event possible:


Global RHoKstar -- Title Sponsor: EMC



RHoKstar Extraordinaire: Informatica



RHoK & Roller: GrowLab (Venue Sponsor)



Little RHoKers:






Arc Touch Wireless Mouse

Arc Touch Wireless Keyboard

2 Xbox games

Office Pro 2010

Windows 7 Home Premium

$150 Gift Certificate
$100 Gift Certificate
$100 Gift Certificate
5 Day Hot Desk Pass
Custom Cellphone Toque

2 Limited Edition Firefox 
Rickshaw Swag Bags

$25 Gift Certificate


Sauerkraut Fermenter

8 Bags of Coffee
with Reusable Sacks

2 Sweaters

2 T-shirts

2 Umbrellas


Nov 9, 2012
Category: Hackathons
Time 2:
6 PM
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