Here there be dragons...

"I'm telling you stories. Trust me." - Winterson


I don't often (read: never) blog about work now that work isn't riding related, but work this week involved an entertaining variation from my daily normal that I feel is fair to share :)  On Wed and Thurs I participated in #create4community -- an RBC event to support UnitedWay.   When I signed up for this, I honestly had no idea what I was getting into.  My manager forwarded an ask for participants and there wasn't much more info than that.

The challenge:  Create an innovative idea that will engage 1 million individuals across the GTA to join United Way's Uprising of Care to fight local poverty in one of the following ways:
  • Build pathways out of poverty: support a smart network of agencies across our region meeting diversity of needs.
  • Close the gap between our neighbourhoods: build social and economic inclusion in every part of our region.
  • Create opportunities for youth: ensure every young person has access to education and skills they need for economic success.
Sure.  Why not ;)

So my team of five, which included two people I knew in a "hallway conversation" manner and two people who were new to me, met a couple times before the event to discuss basic ideas, but the reality is that we, or at least I, had no idea what we were in for.

Our team: Saabia, Maija, Priya, Me, and Merna
The first hint came with the meeting invite -- which spanned from 8am Wed to 6pm Thurs.  Ummmm - I teach Wed night?   Is going home still a thing?   Lol but I gamely cleared at least my 9-5 calendar (well all except 1 meeting that was non negotiable at this point -- fortunately the hotel where this was being held was only a couple blocks from my office).

So shortly before 8 I arrived to be treated to a super yummy (and large!) breakfast.  Promising start.  The introduction was interesting and it became clear this used to be a strictly IT event.  Referred to as a hackathon, our team had a distinct lack of programmers on it.  Meh - minor detail ;).  We were encouraged to pick one or more of the above bullets and go.

We decided to focus on bullet one and worked to design an ap that would enable volunteers to connect easily to volunteer opportunities that suited their skills, interests, and location.  It was millennial-centric with swiping, badging, and sharing :).  We spent the first day designing this.  What problem were we trying to solve?  How would it work?  How does it look?  What are the key features?  What would keep users engaged?

What was amazing was how quickly our team -- who had never worked together before -- was able to come together as a team.  We worked collaboratively where it made sense: to design the general concept and create a template for multiple screens, and divided and conquered where that was logical -- such as mocking up screens.   We quickly recognized Saabia had all the design strength in our team, so while all could work on wireframes based on the template, she was the one who made them look good :)

There were also lots of volunteers from both RBC and United Way wandering around to assist.   Amongst those was a tech volunteer who suggested to us an ap that would enable us to mock-up our ap using screenshots with hot spots.  Win!  We could prototype our ap on an actual phone and click through to show how it would work.  Unbelievably cool -- it's amazing how real that makes it seem.

So we had the vast majority of our ap designed by the end of day one (fueled by an incredible amount of food might I add), and day two was dedicated to putting together our presentation.  The deck was a challenge -- we all are very used to writing business cases and executive presentations.   We don't have quite as much experience at sales pitches.   We managed it though -- coming up with a sales presentation (read: almost no text!) and relegated all the other actual information slides to an appendix deck.  Then did some work on the presentation -- we'd have 7 minutes to sell it.   We actually ran through this a couple times, given the timeline and all we wanted to share.

After lunch (and I have to admit I was amused when our exec sponsor came by offering cookies and fruit to those of us at the back of the line while we were waiting) was the judging.   Each team would present to three panels of judges.  There were 8 rounds -- so every team got breaks in-between presentations. After the 7 minutes (and yes - there was a large timer on the screen) the judges had 5 minutes for Q&A.   The judges were all very positive, asked good questions, and gave encouraging feedback.   By this point we were all fairly emotionally invested in this -- I haven't prepped that much for a presentation since my thesis.   And even that didn't have a time limit ;)

This was followed by a break while the judges did their thing.  They picked one team from each category to proceed to the final round of judging; sadly our submission was not chosen :(.  I was more disappointed by that than I would've thought -- going in I don't think I truly believed we'd create something to be proud of.  But we did, so it would've been nice to win :)

Overall though it was an excellent experience.  A true feeling of belonging to a team, getting to use skills that don't play into daily life, and the instant gratification of seeing a project appear in front of your eyes -- all made for a really positive event.  Not to mention helping a worthwhile cause :)


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