Creating Technology for Social Change

Building the NGO Tech Network in China

On March 22 and 23, 2013, NGO2.0, Google Developers Community Guangzhou, the School of Software of Sun Yat-sen University, and TechSoup Global held the first Nonprofit Hackathon in Guangzhou. About 30 Chinese software developers and 10 NGOs participated in this two-day event. At the end, four teams came up with three web applications and one mobile app. A collection of pictures taken during the event can be found at our Netease album.

The first day was Tech Salon when four local nonprofit organizations in Guangzhou introduced their projects and explained their needs in building tech applications. Then based on developers’ interests and expertise, they were matched with one of the four NGOs, and started brainstorming prototypes and plans of development for the next day. The second day was a ten hours hackathon and each group collaboratively developed their final product.

Developers and NGO practitioners were co-designing Guangzhou Gongming Center’s(广州恭明中心) webpage to let online visitors know their work better. 

A software engineer was using php and bootstrap to help NGOs with data management.

This group made an android app within half day with App Inventor. 

These posts have information of developers’ interests and expertise so that NGOs can connect with them quickly.

There was another wall for developers to know more about NGOs’ needs and work.


These two images above are the prototypes of website for Li Ethnicity Dreams, an organization in education aid for Li Minority in rural Sichuan. Later after our hackathon, they sent us an open letter:

“With help of NGO Tech Network (especially thank NGO2.0’s Jianbo and GDG’s Anson), we used Weebly to set up this site quickly. In comparison with other groups’ products, it does not look so advanced, but we learned in this process and in the future we could build our own. With peers at NGO2.0 and GDG, we are doing social good better!”


The success of holding a civic hackathon in China comes from the fact that both sides, NGOs and developers, are very interested and excited about this space. As during our preparations for this event, the idea of introducing civic hackathons to China attracted many partners such as Google Developers Community and Techsoup Globe. We already have long time relationships with Chinese NGOs as each year during the winter and summer times we travel around China to hold Web2.0 training workshops for NGOs. We know that enthusiasm from NGOs to embrace new technologies has always been there, but we feel giving them tools is less important than letting the technology sector and nonprofit sector connect with each other. Civic hackathons are great opportunities for them to work together and establish relationships for future collaboration.

Lessons learnt

Even though the opportunities are abundant, cultivating socially innovative projects enabled by technology in China still faces many challenges. One of the problems we faced was to encourage NGOs to build applications with social impact. During the event, most of the NGOs proposed they needed help in developing their websites, building content management tools and other requests that focus on their own organizations. One of Friends of Nature’s projects called City Temperatures is a crowdsourced map where participants can submit room temperatures in China. Representing places like shopping malls or office buildings are too hot or cold is to raise public awareness of energy saving. 

The difference between City Temperatures and software development for organizational needs is that the former has integrated their services with technology, and practicing technology is to practice a social cause. We still need to introduce more best practices to the nonprofit and technology sector to encourage them to collaboratively design projects that have social impact. Establishing long-term relationships between them is not easy task: before they actually start coding something, cultivating innovative ideas and finding solutions to social problems play an important role.