#SUSTHACK – The Hackathon Approach to Sustainable Development

“SustHack – Synchronizing sustainable development action between Finland and Malaysia – The hackathon approach” is a collaboration between Sunway University and Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology (LUT).

The Department of Computing and Information Systems under the guidance of Professor Lau Sian Lun received a project funding worth 32,000 € (approximately RM148,000) from the Finnish National Agency for Education Asia programme.

The two-year project titled “SustHack – Synchronizing Sustainable Development Actions Between Finland and Malaysia – The Hackathon Approach” is a collaboration between Sunway University and Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology (LUT) led by Professor Jari Porras from LUT and Professor Lau as the co-investigator. The project focuses on the sustainability perception in computing education. This can be achieved by utilising co-creative hackathons with local sustainability challenges both in Finland and Malaysia. Professor Lau and the team’s intention is to include the experience of hackathons into the curriculum for students to resolve real-life issues with the techniques learned from their classrooms. Hackathons will also serve as common cross-national study modules and the experiences from them will guide curriculum development and improvement. “I believe Sunway University and its students could learn from our partner in Europe to encourage real-world problem-solving in appreciating the knowledge they acquired in class,” explained Professor Lau.

Funding has been allocated for a small team of students to travel to Finland for two joint-hackathon events and another two in Malaysia. This enables the cross-cultural work to continue from the ideation stage to generating solution prototyping. Within the framework of the project, students from both universities will focus on issues and problems related to the food sector and sustainable development. By studying and understanding food waste within the context of the industry including production and retail, students will carry out ideation and prototyping in the first phase of the hackathon. In the second phase, they will validate their solutions with citizens from the local community.

Based on the themes of the Sustainable Development Goal 2 Zero Hunger and Goal 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities, the hackathons emphasise the possibilities of IT solutions in sustainable development, which helps align existing University activities such as the “Sunway Make-It-Challenge “which allow students to present and improve their ideas to a greater audience. More importantly, ideas and solutions should be applicable within the local community so that validation and impact can be achieved locally before seeking regional application in a different environment.

The two years of co-creative journey with LUT will also extend the understanding of sustainability in the computing field, from local to global challenges, for the benefit of a sustainable society. Having students from different continents will also allow sharing of different cultural and economic perspectives. The exchanges between students from LUT and Sunway University will enhance their learning experience throughout the hackathons.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the project has been extended to the end of 2022 and live hackathon events must be postponed until international travelling activities resume globally. The first pre-hack session was launched in May 2021 in Malaysia and the first physical hackathon is being planned for early 2022, depending on the pandemic situation in both countries.

Professor Lau Sian Lun
School of Engineering and Technology
Email: sianlunl@sunway.edu.my


This article was adapted from Blaze (Issue 52)