We sat down with Onkar Date, a MSc Bioscience Entrepreneurship student, to chat about his volunteering experience with Starfish Greathearts as part of the February 2023 Social Hackathon.

Would you be able to introduce yourself?

My name is Onkar Date. I’m currently a student at the MSc Bioscience Entrepreneurship course, which is held at the Institute of Ophthalmology here at UCL.

Would you be able to share a bit about your experience at the Social Hackathon, and which organisation you were working with?

This was my first time volunteering for the Social Hackathon. It was quite an innovative experience. It didn’t have any technical skills or technical outcomes at the end, but it was all about helping an NGO. The NGO in question here was one called Starfish Greathearts, which is a foundation that works with orphaned and underprivileged children in South Africa and makes sure that they don’t get diseases such as HIV and AIDs.

A big question for us as well  was – it’s an organisation that is based in Africa, what can we do in London? But they have a chapter here, and they’re trying to outsource international partners to help the efforts in Africa. Their basic goal in this Hackathon was to increase awareness, to make sure that they’re recruiting the right people, and to make sure their information is reaching the right audience base.

Four teams were formed and I was fortunate to meet a wide variety of people across UCL as part of that team. Our team had to deal with how can we brainstorm and come up with ideas to improve their LinkedIn reach. So, currently, they only have a few hundred followers, and the idea was to get that into the thousands. In those 6 hours of the Hackathon, we came up with a few different ways that they can basically improve their LinkedIn reach.

What inspired you to take part in the Social Hackathon?

I wanted to make the most of my time at UCL. UCL offers a lot of volunteering opportunities and this one piqued my interest particularly because it was a new experience for me. I’d never been part of a Social Hackathon before, and the networking experience you get out of it is fantastic. I’ve arranged a few coffee times here and there with the team that I met there. And the people who want to do such things are the people you want to have in your life. And, of course, helping the organisation itself played a big role, and I am hoping to see what they do with the work that we did for them.

The networking experience you get out of it is fantastic.

What impact did the experience have for you?

It opened my eyes to the different foundations and organisations that exist out there. A lot of what we did had to do with LinkedIn searches. You see a huge new scope that I, in my field, have never come across any of. Seeing such a foundation and the kind of work it does was an eye-opening experience for me. And, personally I mean, I know of LinkedIn as a tool. I do post, but the kind of consistent work that you have to do to build a foundation and to build up a base of people who are actually engaging with your posts, replying to them, creating a networking community, is a lot of work. I think I learned about that during the Hackathon.

Do you feel that you made an impact through the Social Hackathon?

I think it’s good to wait and see. If their LinkedIn account increases to a few thousand, then I know I played a small role in giving them some ideas on how to do that.

What did you enjoy the most about the Social Hackathon?

I think those five hours I spent brainstorming with the team were very interesting. All of us came from diverse backgrounds and seeing all of us work towards this common goal, bringing in all of our skills, was a very interesting experience.

All of us came from diverse backgrounds and seeing all of us work towards this common goal, bringing in all of our skills, was a very interesting experience.

Were there any challenges you encountered on the day?

I was used to the format of working, you know, in a room, but it was a nice shift I think. It really helped that everyone there was able to turn on their cameras, which improved the interaction during the Hackathon. So there wasn’t any problems as such. Maybe just that the day went by so fast! When I sat down it was the morning, and when I got up it was already night!

Were there any particularly memorable experiences that you took away from the Hackathon?

Eleanor, who was our point of contact from Starfish Greathearts, basically described the journey that the foundation had, and the hurdles they’re facing, and how we can help. I think it was a memorable experience just because I got to learn about something new.

Would you recommend the Social Hackathon to others?

I would definitely recommend doing a Social Hackathon. It’s a great use of your time. UCL is such a large college. There are thousands of students and very few networking events where you get to meet people from other courses, and taking part in such Hackathons actually fills the gap very well. And I think it builds a good foundation for more volunteering opportunities in the future. Once I’m out of UCL, I can now know that, based on this experience, I’ll be actively looking at other places that I can volunteer.

Thank you to Onkar for sharing his experience at the Social Hackathon! If you are interested in Starfish Greathearts, you can learn more about them here.

You can also learn more about the Social Hackathons here, and keep an eye out for future Hackathons through our newsletter and social media.