Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies (CHRHS)

Hack for Humanity | March 20-21, 2021

Organized by the Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies, Hack for Humanity is an annual humanitarian focused hackathon at Brown University that brings together students to learn about the most pressing needs in the human rights and humanitarian sphere and develop creative ideas for innovative programs or technologies that could help improve the lives of disaster and conflict affected communities around the world.

Hack for Humanity 2021 | COVID-19 and the Next Pandemic: Improving Preparedness, Response, and Inclusivity

This year's hackathon will focus on how to better respond to pandemics and their associated far reaching societal impacts. Registered teams of students will work together virtually over the course of two days to develop creative ideas for innovative programs, systems, or technologies that could improve how we plan for and respond to pandemics. While your team has the flexibility to address any area that is applicable to the overarching topic of pandemic preparedness, response, and inclusivity, we have provided a list of potential sub-topics that you could draw from to narrow your focus. It will also be important that your team recognize the below listed cross cutting issues as you work towards developing your project pitch.

Potential Sub-Topics to Consider

These listed sub-topics have been provided to help your team get started in identifying a focus area to address. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it gives an indication of the wide-ranging impact pandemics have on society. Your team is welcomed to focus your efforts on one of these themes or identify another area all together that is applicable to the overarching topic of pandemic preparedness, response, and inclusivity.

Public Health

Approaches to vaccination and vaccine uptake, clinical care, diagnostic testing, infection prevention and control (including PPE), mental health, contact tracing/health surveillance, risk communication, and community education

Human Security

Livelihoods; food security; education; and housing

Human Rights

Access to justice; safe elections; privacy; and documentation of human rights violations

Violence and Abuse

Preventing gender-based violence, domestic violence, child abuse, and elder abuse

Cross-Cutting Issues

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare many cross-cutting societal issues centered around inclusivity. We ask that your team take these following issues into consideration as you work on your project pitch.

Cross-Cutting Issues

Inclusivity of racial and ethnic minorities, indigenous people, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, people living with HIV/AIDS, elderly, urban populations, incarcerated populations, migrants and displaced people

Program Schedule

Included in this Program Schedule are the zoom links for each of the activities over the course of the hackathon. 

Keynote Speaker

Dr. Rebecca Katz

Dr. Rebecca Katz is a Professor and Director of the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University Medical Center. She teaches courses on global health diplomacy, global health security, and emerging infectious diseases in the School of Foreign Service. Prior to coming to Georgetown in 2016, she spent ten years at The George Washington University as faculty in the Milken Institute School of Public Health. Since 2007, much of her work has been on the domestic and global implementation of the International Health Regulations as well as global governance of public health emergencies.

From 2004 to 2019, Dr. Katz was a consultant to the Department of State, working on issues related to the Biological Weapons Convention, pandemic influenza and disease surveillance. In 2019, Dr. Katz co-convened the first international scientific conference on global health security, bringing together over 900 participants from around the world to form a community of practice, and is working with her colleagues in Australia to plan to follow up conference in 2021. Dr. Katz received her undergraduate degree from Swarthmore College, an M.P.H. from Yale University, and a Ph.D. from Princeton University.


A key component of this event is mentorship. To help ensure that participating teams are developing relevant, culturally appropriate, and grounded ideas that could be feasibly implemented, we will have a group of experienced mentors present during the event to help guide teams and answer questions. Over the course of the hackathon, your team will have the ability to meet virtually with mentors in order to help gain a better understanding of the core issues associated with your topic. We will be selecting mentors so as to have a wide range of expertise on hand to answer questions, provide in-depth context, and help guide your ideas to “real-world” relevance. We encourage you to make use of this valuable resource! 

Mentor List and Bios  |  Mentor Sign-up Sheet

Resource Guide

We have created a useful resource guide on humanitarian innovation to assist your teams through the entire hackathon process - from problem identification to thinking about project implementation. While these provided resource guide will be a good start and foundation to build from, we also encourage your team to conduct your own searches for resources that may be relevant to your specific projects.

A special thanks to Madison Bates '22 for compiling this resource guide!

Hack for Humanity 2021 Resource Guide

Pitch Presentations and Awards

On the second day of the hackathon, all participating teams will have the opportunity to present their pitches to a panel of judges, who will evaluate each team's pitch on the basis of originality, respect to individuals and communities, context, feasibility, impact, sustainability, and partnerships. Following all presentations, the panel will announce the top teams who will then have the opportunity to submit a formal project proposal to be considered for up to $3,000 in seed funding.

Presentations will be evaluated using this Evaluation Framework



  • Advance registration is required to participate in this event
  • We are only accepting complete team registrations
  • Teams can be made up of between 3-6 students
  • Teams must present (virtually) for the duration of the hackathon
  • Please only complete one registration form per team
  • Registration closes on March 7, 2021.

Registration Form


Should you have any questions about this hackathon please send a message to chrhs@brown.edu

Hack for Humanity Summary Reports

Learn about our previously held Hack for Humanity hackathons by reading our summary reports from past years. 

Summary Reports >