The social and business impact of Intel's Code for Good program
Intel's Code for Good program aims to tackle society's most pressing problems by connecting nonprofit organizations with volunteer software developers, web site creators, and student programmers. Launched by Intel's Software and Services Group (SSG) and Corporate Affairs Group (CAG), Code for Code supports Intel's corporate vision to "create and extend computing technology to connect and enrich the life of every person on Earth." Code for Good also embodies Intel's "shared value" approach to corporate responsibility, which aims to improve lives and solve global challenges while simultaneously creating business value.
Code for Good is an open initiative; anyone who is interested in applying software to solve social problems is welcome to participate or organize a Code for Good event. To date, most Code for Good events have been "hackathons," where students, Intel employees, or other software developers have come together for a day or more to work with nonprofit organizations to design or develop applications or web tools to help solve problems faced by the nonprofits we work with. Volunteers at Intel-sponsored Code for Good events have worked on projects related to bringing learning resources to rural areas in emerging nations, giving under-served women a voice on the Web, helping middle schoolers learn algebra, and more. Code for Good has enabled Intel employees and other volunteers to develop greater software expertise and gain new skills and insights. It has enhanced Intel's reputation and helped the company build relationships with nonprofits, members of the external software development community, and students who will become the technical workforce of tomorrow.
The Beginnings of Code for Good
Each year, Intel employees donate more than a million hours of volunteer service worldwide to help improve education, tackle environmental challenges, and address other issues in communities around the world. In recent years, employees have increasingly found opportunities to donate the skills that they have honed at Intel—in areas such as legal, marketing, finance, human resources, and information technology—to schools, nonprofits, and NGOs. The impact of these "skills-based" volunteering hours is particularly significant because many of the services provided are those for which schools and nonprofits would have to pay high rates in the marketplace.
In 2011, Renee Wittemyer, in the Corporate Responsibility Office in CAG, and Josh Bancroft, who works in Developer Relations in SSG, began working together to identify additional ways that Intel's technical employees could donate their expertise in high-impact, meaningful volunteer engagements. The new initiative was named "Code for Good," and in March 2012, Intel hosted the first Code for Good event—a two-day hackathon in Oregon that brought over 50 Intel employees together with five nonprofit organizations to work on software projects related to girls and women in education. Since then, Intel has organized, sponsored, and collaborated on dozens of Code for Good events that have enabled employees, students, external software developers, and nonprofits to work together to address social issues with software. "We'll work on Code for Good events with just about any interested group," says Bancroft. The goal, he explains, is to scale the movement by encouraging both Intel and non-Intel organizations to organize events with one objective in mind: Use software to help solve social problems.
Anatomy of a Hackathon
A typical Code for Good hackathon lasts 24-36 hours, but can be longer or shorter. Volunteer coders—generally employees, student programmers, or professional developers—are recruited to work with nonprofits on social problems related to a particular theme, such as healthy living, connecting community, or teaching algebra. "Before the hackathon, we work with local nonprofits to gather problem statements and identify specific things related to software that are keeping them from doing more good in the world," explains Wittemyer. "At the start of the hackathon, we present the problem statements to the volunteers, and then they break into teams of four to five people and get to work. The goal is that by the end of the first day of the hackathon, each team will have accomplished something concrete to help the nonprofit achieve its mission." On the second day of the hackathon, each team presents its accomplishments to the whole group.
Besides the enthusiasm of volunteers, a typical hackathon has four basic ingredients, says Bancroft: "Food, caffeine, Internet, and power—not necessarily in that order." Intel ensures that all of these ingredients are on hand, occasionally supplementing the event with computing platforms such as Ultrabook™ systems for participants to use. Additional ingredients—"fun stuff" like toy dart blasters and colored hairspray—are frequently provided to perk up volunteers when energy starts to fade in the wee hours of a hackathon; for that reason, volunteers in event photos often sport blue, green, or purple hair.
Outcomes for hackathons vary: Sometimes a team will complete an application or a prototype for one, and other times members may make improvements to existing software or a Web site, or map out a software solution to be completed at a later date. "The output of one hackathon team can sometimes be a great starting place for a team at a subsequent hackathon," says Wittemyer. Although it is not a requirement, many times volunteers will continue to work with nonprofit partners to finish a project long after a hackathon has ended.
Shared Value: Creating Business Value While Doing Good
The concept of "shared value" was developed by Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter in collaboration with the nonprofit consulting firm FSG which specializes in strategy, research, and measuring social impact. Shared value offers corporations the opportunity to utilize their skills, resources, and management capability to lead social progress while creating business value. Companies can have greater social impact when they find an opportunity that lies at the core of their business. According to Porter and FSG, shared value is created in three key ways:
- Reconceiving products and markets: How targeting unmet needs drives incremental revenue and profits
- Redefining productivity in the value chain: How better management of internal operations increases productivity and reduces risks
- Enabling local cluster (ecosystem) development: How changing societal conditions outside the company unleashes new growth and productivity gains
Intel's corporate responsibility strategy has long-embodied the principles of shared value, focusing on initiatives and programs that create value for society and for its business. Code for Good is an example of this shared-value approach, yielding benefits not only for nonprofit organizations and the volunteers, but also for Intel across all three areas of shared value. In terms of redefining products and services, the hackathons help generate new knowledge and skills for its software business. The program helps drive productivity in the value chain through the strong employee engagement component, as it improves both job skills and productivity among employees. Finally, Code for Good exposes the software development community to technologies important to Intel and engages students who gain new skills and learn about Intel as a potential future employer. Both of these aspects help drive local cluster/ecosystem development.
Benefits for Intel. As a huge driver of silicon sales, software has become an increasingly important part of Intel's business. The company helps advance the computing ecosystem and expedite growth in various market segments both through its own software offerings and by providing support to external software developers who write some of the applications and operating systems that run on Intel®-based platforms. Code for Good helps Intel build critical relationships with the larger community of external software developers. As Bancroft puts it, "Getting developers together at a hackathon to work on a problem that they really care about is a great way to build meaningful connections."
The events are also a good way for Intel to engage with young people who may someday become developers or even members of Intel's workforce. According to another employee volunteer, "We've found that students, especially, seem to love the combination of technology with a social agenda. The initiative is a powerful way to demonstrate the socially engaged side of Intel and is a great recruiting tool. When students have a positive experience with Intel at a hackathon, they're more likely to eventually want to work for Intel and tell their friends about us. The initiative also helps students develop technical and teamwork skills that enable them to be better developers."
Code for Good also helps Intel lead the software industry and expose developers and students to technologies and products that are strategically important to the company. HTML5, for example, is a markup language that enables programmers to develop applications that will run across multiple platforms, including Intel-based tablets, smartphones, and Ultrabook systems. "It's good for Intel if developers are writing applications for multiple Intel platforms," says Brad Hill, an Intel programmer who helps organize student hackathons. At a Code for Good event, he says, "We can present HTML5 as a good way to build an application, and show students how to access and use HTML5 tools. We can also expose them to products like Intel-based Ultrabook systems, giving them hands-on experience that they wouldn't otherwise have."
Benefits for volunteers. Intel software engineer Matt Groener says that when he learned about a Code for Good hackathon for Intel employees, "signing up was a no brainer. It provided an opportunity for me to take what I do for a living and directly improve people's lives. I could really see the benefit of what I was able to help with, so my contribution felt really, really valuable. It provides an absolute overwhelming feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment."
Hackathon volunteers also often gain new skills or learn to apply existing skills in different ways. Volunteer Achod Goganian, an Intel software engineer, explains: "Some of the technologies my team worked with were unfamiliar to us, so the hackathon provided a low-risk opportunity to do something new. We all did some web development that we hadn't done before. As it turns out, that work is now relevant in my job at Intel because my group is now working on web-based services." Similarly, Hill describes skills and insights he has gained at hackathons: "Every one of these events gives me a chance to refine my public speaking skills and play a management role that I haven't experienced before," he says. "I also gain insight into students' viewpoints of our products and the market as a whole, which helps me see what kinds of directions we need to be going in as a company."
Likewise, he says, hackathons can help students build teamwork skills and gain confidence in their abilities to become programmers. "They may have viewed the initial development as kind of a hurdle, but we show them that they can just sit down and do it. A few of them haven't even done any programming, so through these events, they're learning very valuable and marketable skills. They also get a better view of what it would be like to work for Intel." Tom Murphy, Professor and Program Chair of Computer Science at Contra Costa College in California, has partnered on several Code for Good events. He describes hackathons as "non-graded work done for delight and passion," and notes that participation proves to be a "game changer" for many students. "I think they get a more accurate glimpse of what life might be as a computer science professional. Students experience self-teaching themselves new material. That is a priceless skill to acquire. The hackathons foster problem-solving expertise, which is near and dear to my heart."
For some student volunteers, hackathons translate into paid work experience. The company has hired students who participated in Code for Good events to work as mentors at the Intel Ultimate Engineering Experience, a summer program that provided young people with hands-on technical engineering experience, some of whom are the first generation in their family to go to college. In addition to acquiring skills, students generally report the hackathons to be "just plain fun" and "have a great time getting together and coding."
Benefits for nonprofit partners. Outcomes for nonprofits have ranged from completed applications to roadmaps for projects. Student volunteers on one team created a spaceship game that could become a valuable tool in children's math education. Other team members mapped out a way for a nonprofit to move away from handwritten paper records to an online solution for processing donations. A third team developed an engaging way for kids and families to make healthier lifestyle choices to fight childhood obesity. "A finished application isn't necessarily the most common or best measure of success for a hackathon team," says Bancroft. "What we often get are very good prototypes, frameworks for an application, or great proof-of-concept ideas." He explains that projects are often finished or further developed by the nonprofit after an event, by a team at a subsequent hackathon, or by volunteers who continue to work with a nonprofit after a hackathon is over. For example, the nonprofit organization World Pulse has built an online platform that enables women in 190 countries to become citizen journalists so their voices can be heard and they can connect with other women to solve global problems. Kathy Grantz, World Pulse Project Manager, worked with Intel to define ways that hackathon volunteers could help World Pulse advance its mission. Projects they identified included developing a version of the World Pulse web site optimized for mobile platforms and creating a map tool on the site that would more clearly show how many women were writing from each country, and what they were writing about. Intel employee volunteers tackled the World Pulse projects at a Code for Good hackathon in Oregon. By the end of the event, one team had completed a full prototype of the mobile site.
The map project initially proved more problematic. "We chewed on that project for most of the morning, and I thought, 'Oh boy, this is not going anywhere,'" says Grantz. "It was a fast learning curve, with the Intel employee volunteers understanding the user problem while in parallel researching the pros and cons of unfamiliar technical software solutions." Goganian, who volunteered on the map team, says, "We didn't have enough time to both define and complete the map tool during the hackathon, but by the end of the event we understood how to get it done and had figured out a pretty straightforward way to do it. We could see that it would be useful, and we wanted World Pulse to have it. We also wanted the satisfaction of completing it, so some of us continued to work on the project after the hackathon ended." Goganian and some of his team members continued to work with World Pulse after the event and also completed an additional survey tool for the organization's web site. They eventually finished the map tool, and it has been implemented on the World Pulse web site. "It's a huge improvement," says Grantz. "It's made our site easier to navigate, and it gives women a better view of other women in their region and what they're writing about. It's difficult to quantify, but we believe that the impact has been very powerful."
Looking Toward the Future
To date, most Code for Good events have been standalone hackathons, while a few others have been held in conjunction with larger forums. In 2012, for example, The Feast social innovation conference in New York City and an Intel Developer Forum included Code for Good hackathons that enabled software experts from around the world to work on software for nonprofits. High school girls also got involved in the Code for Good initiative as part of the eight-week 2012 Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program. In summer 2013, ® was a sponsor of the National Day of Civic Hacking (http://hackforchange.org), in which 95 self-organized hackathons around the United States to use openly available civic data sources to create solutions to solve local and national problems. Throughout 2013, the Developer Relations team in SSG held several "Codefest" events for Android developers, some of which had a Code for Good element, working with nonprofits like the UN Foundation and the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA).
Bancroft and Wittemyer hope to see more and more people—inside and outside of Intel—plan and organize Code for Good events. To help scale the initiative, they developed a "hackathon-in-a-box," which outlines the best-known methods Intel has collected through hosting hackathons, including step-by-step instructions for recruiting volunteers, engaging nonprofits, and defining problems to be addressed. The toolkit is shared freely with anybody who is interested in organizing an event, and is available on the Code for Good web site.
The student portion of the program is being scaled through student leaders. The Intel teams initially work with a couple of students to organize a hackathon, so that they have the experience and can organize additional events at their university on their own. The hackathon-in-a-box is being tailored specifically for student organizers, and Intel is supporting the student efforts by loaning computing systems or other hardware for the hackathons, and providing vouchers for food, coffee, and other supplies.
Courtney Martin, an Intel Finance Specialist, is developing ways to evaluate and quantify the business value and social impact of the Intel® Code for Good initiative. The measurement tool captures inputs (resources Intel and other organizers put into event); outputs (number of stakeholders engaged, number of prototypes and applications created and media response); and impacts (how the community beneficiaries of the nonprofits are better served, what skills employees and volunteers gain, and improvements in brand and product awareness among participants). Early results from the tool she has developed show that volunteers find Code for Good events to be highly satisfying, and that they gain insights and new skills while making connections and meaningful differences in people's lives. "The cost of putting on a hackathon is low," she says. "We already know that the return on investment is very high. By focusing on making the program as scalable as possible and measuring what works most effectively, we hope to make an even greater impact."
May 2014. For more information visit: https://software.intel.com/codeforgood