In March / April 2020, nearly three thousand people from India’s tech, business and healthcare community came together to build projects to help minimise Covid 19’s impact on the country. They did this via the Coronathon – an online, non-profit, volunteer-led hackathon.

Inspired by a similar German hackathon for Covid 19, the initiative started with a tweet put out by Paras Chopra, Founder & Chairman, Wingify, calling for volunteers. Very quickly a number of people joined in. Organisers and advisors included Prerna Bagga, Co-founder, Stealth, Sparsh Gupta, CEO, Wingify, Ankit Jain, Head of Engineering, Wingify, Arun Patre, Lead, Startup Incubation, Mazumdar Shaw Medical Foundation, Sathish Raghuraman, Software Developer, UBS Technology, Cynthia Rajan, Community Development, DigitalOcean, Akash Tandon, Founder, Restat.co, Chandresh Vaghanani, Growth Marketer, Acquire and Vivek Vennelakanti, Founder, Pipehaul. 

Here’s the interesting thing: Except for the team from Wingify, none of the organisers knew each other previously. Their diverse backgrounds and locations helped to spread the word through their networks.

Who Joined In?

There were three types of people who joined the Coronathon’s Slack channels:

  • People with expertise in specific skill domains, who wanted to join a team
  • Innovators who had a vision and were looking for an execution team 
  • Teams already working on an idea, who wanted to access a larger pool of talent and connections 

Forty two projects were shown across three Demo Days, attended by over six hundred people, including representatives from Ayushman Bharat, National Health Authority, MyGov, Omidyar, Accel Partners, Google, 50KVentures, 82point5, LetsVenture, LeewayHertz and All Things Small.

Details on the projects that made it to the Demo Days can be found here:

The team is proud of the real, on-ground impact, which included:

  • Helping 400+ senior citizens during emergencies (covidsos.org)
  • Enabling delivery of 50,000+ PPEs (ppecovid.in, Covid Supply)
  • Facilitating 60,000 users access essential services (covidmaps.in)
  • Helping 3.8 million users access verified COVID-19 information (coronatracker.in)
  • Enabled Govt of Meghalaya to coordinate their COVID-19 response (covidmeghalaya.org)
  • Assisted in contact-tracing 24,000 suspected COVID-19 cases (oblivious.ai/c19)
  • Providing pan-India COVID-19 information at one place (covidfyi.in)

What Were the Lessons Learnt?

The team behind the Coronathon acknowledges that it was an intense time, with all organisers/participants juggling full-time professional jobs. With limited prizes and support, they relied on the teams’ innate social motivation to carry forward the projects.

Here’s their advice for future organisers who aim to do something similar.

Make sure the motivation is right

When the organisers came together, no one asked ‘Who are you?’ Instead, people only asked ‘What can you help with?’ Everyone involved must be there for the right reason.

Pro-actively manage expectations upwards and downwards by being as specific as possible

  • Upwards:  I will do X by time Y by means Z or I don’t know A but I will find out by time B 
  • Downwards: I would like you to do X by time Y by method Z. This is what meets/doesn’t meet my expectations.

Take periodic, honest feedback from the community

Respond to ‘elephants in the room’ like confusing procedures and meeting overload.

Be prepared that many projects will wither away

Not everyone will make it to the finishing line, but the ones that sustain are worth the effort.

Don’t be too hard on yourself and others

Remember that the initiative is volunteer-led and allow for some leeway.

Always be willing to seek help

In an initiative like this, speed and execution can matter over time and credit. Just start, optimise later, get a peer-review, iterate and go live. Ensure there is a no ‘finger-pointing culture’. 

Volunteers constantly need a motivational push

Have fun, informal initiatives for morale-boosting. Engage community managers to create more interactive content to provide a break from hardcore project deployment.

The Coronathon team says that if they did this again, they would also establish stronger connections with State & Central Government authorities for greater exposure, as well as rope in more mentors and entrepreneurs.

Beyond Coronathon

The organisers hope that projects with momentum will continue efforts to scale. The Slack workspace has been preserved in a semi-archived state. Project-specific channels continue to operate so teams can collaborate.

The team believes that the Coronathon has also served a larger purpose. It has demonstrated that given a strong enough cause and motivated leaders, young Indians will come together, without needing material rewards, to tackle the country’s critical challenges.

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