How we teamed up and emerged as winners at the zoohackathon

On 16th – 17th November 2019, the US mission in Kampala together with Uganda Wildlife Education Centre hosted over 70 coders, researchers, designers for a two-day hackathon to solve challenges that are related to animal trafficking. All these individuals together made 13 teams. 10 problem statements from which each team could overcome a challenge of thinking, developing and presenting a technical solution that would provide good user experience and also curb down animal trafficking levels were provided.

Our team selected problem statement 8 and below was the challenge.

To support a global pride campaign by developing a new online engagement activity around the Sumatran rhino. To connect people with the Sumatran rhino and create a sense of empathy towards the species. 

For our hackathon project proposal, we request the construction of a new web platform for people to self-identify their own personality traits and discover their ‘inner Sumatran rhino’

We are compelled to share our experience since this was our first Hackathon.

The Sumatran rhinos in the Rhino sanctuary which we are creating awareness about.


Two weeks to the event, the US mission small grants coordinator matched us through an email. To our disappointment, only two of us responded to the email.  The other four did not respond, we had no phone contacts so we had to figure out how to go about the hackathon.  Cerinah wrote back to the coordinator asked her if she had contacts of the teammates, to which she said no, the best she could do was to match other people with us.

In the last email she shared, we hooked up with Fanny, we made three on the team, a researcher, a designer, and coder. When we asked what Fanny’s, expertise was she said she only did back end development. We needed a coder to develop the User Interface.

We talked to Arthur and encouraged him to apply, He applied and joined our team.


Cerinah and Arsen: It was hard to choose a problem statement to find a solution for. Arsen printed copies of the problems and we agreed on a strategy to find which problem to solve.  We agreed that each should come up with three captivating problems amongst the ten. Then we choose the best two out of the six and then zero down to one.

We did that and settled for problem statement 8. This was basically because of the skillset on the team. We believed we could deliver something really amazing.


Arthur, Arsen, Cerinah: Coder, Designer and researcher

It took us three hours to brainstorm the solution to the problem and also layout an implementation plan. Fanny was missing on the team because she had to attend classes that evening.  To keep her in the loop, we formed a WhatsApp group for communication purposes and also used google docs to document our planning meeting minutes and deliberations.

We were all up to speed.  In this meeting, we laid the plan and assigned roles to ourselves.

Cerinah had to study the Sumatran rhinos which were in captivity at the  Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary for the conservation breeding program and come up with character traits of these animals, formulate questions related to human beings in real life.

Arsen. The designer. His role was to create a beautiful, captivating graphical representation of the Rhinos. He also worked with Cerinah to brainstorm on which kind of questions we would include in this web platform.

Arthur and Fanny our coding geeks had to come up with a logic for the project and develop a good user interface and bring our idea to life.

After this meeting, we agreed that we would meet again before we headed for the hackathon. We set the date and time.


Fanny and Arthur Celebrate after the logic worked 

Arthur, Fanny, Cerinah

Too bad Arsen was missing. Very good Arthur and Fanny met for the very first time and held a conversation about the languages each of them was good at.

Arthur is very good at CMS while Fanny is very good with PHP. They agreed that Fanny would do the back-end development as Arthur works to bring out the best user interface.

We were now set for the Hackathon!

It was already Saturday and in the first hours of the hackathon, we could not figure out how to start. We all hard tasks to accomplish but each time we brainstormed on these tasks, nothing seemed to be working out. Hard to find the logic to relate the animal character traits of the humans. We invested about an hour reading while the hackathon was ongoing.

Fanny was working back end while Arthur developed the user interface.  We realized it was already lunchtime and there is nothing we had accomplished.  We had to go for lunch and after lunch, no one was allowed back into the hackathon, we all had to go for the tour around the zoo.

We visited lions, the rhinos, the primates, and the elephant. All these are called animals in captivity.

It was lovely spending time with the wild.

Our challenge was to relate human character traits with the rhinos and as we watched how these animals behaved with each other in captivity, we could relate them with the Sumatran rhinos we were reading about. They did not behave any different from humans, only they could not speak with their mouths.

While at the Lions’ jungle. Three lions were to be given meat and one was not given. In our human minds, we thought the lion was going to fight and grab the meat from the other to our shame. It stayed calm and the guide described it as a GENTLE lion. Its name is AFRICA.

A visit to the Rhinos              

We visited the primate’s section which was the most interesting of all sections. These had us laughing all the way. The youngest of them had the characteristics of last-born children.  Crying all the time, could not fetch her own food, she could not enter the water to get the food. Even a single tough by another primate could make her scream like she was being beaten.

Among the primates was an opposition leader, ever holding rods to whip the rest. The guide defined him as one who causes trouble all the time. Every time he appeared, other primates would shout and jump over the trees and run for safety. He was beating them up and fighting with them.

It was a very lovely and inspiring moment for us since we were building a platform to match human character traits with those of the Rhinos. It’s a shame to see people trafficking these animals, there is life every time you interact with these animals.

We headed back to for the Hackathon at 4.00 pm and resumed our brainstorming. Critical thinking was very important in this session. These skills helped us come up with questions that would be useful for the prototype.

It was very important to be able to take criticism while on the team as this is what helped us stay together even if we were working together for the very first time.

Day one ended and we had not done much. We each had tasks do to at night and come back for presentation the next morning.

We thought presentations were at 2.10 pm to our shock they started at 10.30 am

Teammates started panicking, a lot was not done. Arthur arrived at 10.15 am and we had not yet figured out the logic. It was time to now solve the crisis.  We had to keep calm as if everything was going right.

We had to offer each other help and get the tasks done within 15 minutes.

We agreed that we could not implement everything in the plan. We had 8 questions we wanted to have in the system with 7 animals. We made up our minds to just do 2 questions with 4 animals. Within 5 minutes, the project was done and uploaded!

TEAM EDEN- Arthur, Fanny, Cerinah, and Arsen  We were now set for the presentation.

Team after team presented. Some were not so prepared and gave long presentations.  We all had 2-5 minutes of presentation, prototype, and questions from judges.

Our technical team, now Arthur and Arsen made sure that we had a working computer before we were called to present.  We did not have many slides. 3 were just fine for us.

Cerinah was our presenter. She did the job in just 3 minutes including questions from the judges.   She explained the motivation for the platform, the logic behind and presented the working prototype.

What went wrong.

  • Poor internet connection.  Even if NITA-U did its best to provide fast internet. Hackathons just know how to jam the internet. Some computers could not access the internet. Thank heavens we had carried our own MiFi-
  • Fanny uploaded the projected but it could not be visible to the #ZOOHACKATHON dev post. Too bad

What we did right

  • Carried our MiFi to offer wireless internet incase we had challenges with the hackathon internet.
  • We each had tasks and one person supervised and worked with each teammate to ensure tasks were handled the right way.
  • When we failed to implement the whole plan, we selected the basics and perfected them
  • We refused to give up and avoided pressure. It was a competition and all we needed was to do our best.
  • We played various games online to see how they were developed.
  • We smiled all through even when we were under lots of pressure.

After 13 teams had finished their presentations, we waited for deliberations.

A joyous moment with the judges after team Eden was declared the winner of the zoohackathon  Entebbe 20019

Cerinah took time off to chat with some hackathon participants on how they managed to work through the hackathon.

Mwesigwa Julius, also known as Mr. Wildlife from Team Trafik Katch said it was a challenge for their team to come up with a solution. Everyone had an idea and wanted it implemented. While Sandra Nanteza from Team refactor said her teammates found a hard time committing to the project.  Much as they got everything done, their back-end developer felt like giving up. This discouraged the whole team.

Fortunately, Team Eden which is our team comprised of Cerinah Nalwoga, Arthur Kasirye, Arsen Tumwesigye, Fanny Nyayic WON the zoo hackathon 2019 in Uganda.

Below is a word of advice from each of us:

Cerinah Nalwoga:  Trillion Ventures’ Business Developer

When you form a team, ensure you have a project manager, one with the skill to lead, plan project implementation and with the ability to help teammates to increase their effectiveness without exerting pressure on them.

Often times the plan may be too big to be executed, choose the basics and give them a touch of excellence.

Kasirye Arthur:   Web developer at Kasiryelabs and Digital strategist at Trillion ventures.

When it comes to developing a prototype always keep in mind that it’s not a must that you have to achieve the perfect application/web application, rather proving that your million dollar idea is applicable and can be subjected to further developments in order for it to be improved.

Nyayic Fanny : Student at Refactory Uganda 

All the hackathon ideas are not great. At a hackathon, you won’t find the time either to execute everything you plan. After generating ideas, filter them based on the value they provide. Think like a product owner and try to build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Focus on the main problem statement: Who is the end-user? What is your hypothesis? What problem are you solving for them?