HackFest 2017 – Transforming An NGO With Technology



Team Rangatira that worked on the winning pitch for Te Whangai Trust

I’ve spent an interesting two days in Auckland as part of Kia Rite (Get Ready), our annual kick off to the financial year. This was my first kick off with Microsoft and I’ve appreciated the diverse activities we got to take part in. Usually at these types of events, it’s often very internally focused on the company strategy for the year, the product road maps and what our individual roles in this might be.

However, on day one we spent most of it at Orakei Marae with the entire company getting some lessons in Te Reo Māori – having come from the education sector in my previous role at St Andrew’s College this was very familiar territory.


The beautiful wharenui at Orakei Marae

Towards the end of the day we had a great session from Dr Ceri Evans, a forensic psychiatrist who has worked with, amongst others, the All Blacks, and he delivered some incredible insights into the role that pressure plays in reducing our decision making capabilities.

Finally, representatives from three NZ based NGO (Non Government Organisations) presented to us about their vision and work, along with some of the challenges they face currently. The three were:

  1. Tuilaepa Mentoring Trust
  2. Te Whangai Trust
  3. OMG Tech

These presentations set up what would happen on Day Two – in small groups we would have to create a digital transformation plan using some of the MSFT technologies and then deliver a 4 minute pitch to the NGO and members of the SLT who were judging, looking for the winning concept. My group were assigned to Te Whangai Trust.

Idea Brainstorming & Preparing the Pitch:

On Day Two, we had a more detailed briefing from the Gary and Adrienne Dalton the co-founders of Te Whangai Trust, who shared what they do. Some of the points (among the many they shared) that stuck out for me included:

  • Their reason for starting this trust was to honour the vision of their daughter who was killed in a car accident a number of years ago. She had a real heart for those less advantaged in society.
  • “Trainees” are referred to Te Whangai by the Police, Ministry of Social Development and the Court system. These are often people who have been sentenced to community service.
  • They have built 4 “hubs” that are largely self-sustaining, where the trainees plant trees on leased land to help clean up water ways. They have also branched out into other paid service work e.g. mowing lawns of school grounds. Through these activities, they can fund 80% of their operational costs once underway, however they still need the start up capital, often granted to them from various Philanthropic Agencies.
  • They have a strong commitment to never turning away those referred to them, no matter what their challenges (these are often drug/alcohol related, violence, and chronic unemployment). 80% of those referred to them successfully complete the 13 week course.
  • Some trainees stay longer than the 13 weeks, with a number of graduates becoming some of the 28 employees who continue the mentoring of new trainees and help them off drug dependencies, gaining employable skills and, ultimately, a job.
  • Over 600 trainees have now completed the Te Whangai Trust program.
  • To receive more funding, the Trust was keen to be able to present how they were having a positive impact across the four identified pillars of: Cultural, Economic, Social and Environmental.

The team and I quickly identified the lack of robust data collection for new trainees at their entry into the program, and believed if this could be formalized through the use of templates, a base line of data could be established. Over the course of the morning we considered a range of technologies to achieve this, before settling on the cost effective tools of Microsoft Forms and Flow (both part of the Office365 suite the Trust already had access to) with the aim of using Azure SQL Services to store this data securely in the cloud.

trainee engagement

The journey of a trainee through Te Whangai Trust, with our solutions mapped to it.

From this point, we actually jumped to the graduate trainees of Te Whangai Trust – to explore how could the Trust keep in touch with them, track their progress once they had exited the program, and collect key data points that could be fed back into the SQL database. This additional data was critical as we proposed running Azure Machine Learning Services over this data to create very detailed profiling of the trainees, allowing for greater personalisation of pathways, along with earlier intervention for those trainees identified as being particularly at risk.

To achieve this, we explored the idea of creating an App (likely developed in Xamarin to be cross platform) that graduates of the program could use to keep in touch and update their progress. Our thinking developed quite quickly to introducing the use of this app to trainees during the onboarding process and allowing them to add more data as trust was established over the first few days and weeks of their involvement.

Around this time we also decided to shape our pitch around a Māori whakatauki (proverb) and we chose the following:

Tama tu tama ora, tama noho tama mate

An active person will remain healthy while a lazy one will become sick

This linked in with the founders of Te Whangai and their messaging that the Government currently pays over $6 billion per year to people on benefits. By getting some of these men and women active in planting trees and positively impacting on the environment, they would in turn become healthier people across the four pillars we talked about above (cultural, social, economic, environmental).

The 4 minute PowerPoint Pitch

Gamification & Personal Development:

It became apparent to the team that if we were to use an App to generate this critical data, we had to get both current and graduate trainees to want to enter data into it. Two of the key ideas that really drove us were:

  • Gamification within the App – this was the ability to generate “streaks” based around certain activities or behaviours e.g. the number of consecutive workdays they had planted trees, or the number of days they had been sober or employed.
    • A sub idea from this was the use of badges – as various milestones were reached, digital batches would be awarded and these would be visible in both the App and also shareable on social media so wider whānau and trainees could celebrate this success. This, we felt, was instrumental in generating both stronger engagement but also contributing positively to the cultural and social pillars.
  • Personal Development – the idea here was to push notifications to trainees and graduates based off the data being collected and the insights generated from the Machine Learning analytics. For example, if a graduate updated their profile to say they had just had a baby, the app could push to them parenting advice or look to connect them in with relevant agencies such as Plunket.
    • A connected idea here was the ability to have trainees update their mental well being status e.g. happy, stressed, depressed, suicidal. This could be linked to a feature where they could trigger an SOS alert that would be pushed out to their wider Te Whangai Trust community, with the aim that this network would then reach out to the individual and start to offer mutual support to them.

The 4 Minute Pitch:

I was nominated within the team to deliver the pitch to the judges, and this was going to be across two rounds, with the pitch consisting of 4 minutes of presentation and 2 minutes of questions from the judges. It was quite a challenge to deliver our entire concept in under 4 minutes, with the cut off time being strictly enforced.

  1. 7 groups had worked on pitches just around the Te Whangai Trust concept. Gary and Adrienne Dalton, along with an SLT member were going to judge these pitches and select two to send through to the final
  2. 6 groups, representing the top two from each NGO, would pitch their 4 minute idea to a number of executives from Datacom, Intergen and Microsoft.

The stakes were pretty high for the NGO – the winning pitch would result in that particular NGO receiving USD$15,000 of funding.

After a few practice runs, the team provided some great feedback on refining the presentation, and I gave it a go in round 1, where we were fortunate to be selected as one of the top two.

We then relocated to Datacom Auckland where I repeated the presentation as the second pitch. It was fascinating seeing some of the ideas and technologies being pitched by the other groups that had worked with OMG Tech and Tuilaepa Mentoring Trust – all were of a really high quality. At the conclusion of the pitches the judges retired for 10 minutes to decide which idea they liked the best.

Happily for Team Rangtira, the judges decided our ideas were the best (they particularly loved the gamification elements we promoted) and therefore awarded the USD$15,000 to Te Whangai Trust. As a team, we were really thrilled to have been able to contribute to this successful outcome for Gary and Adrienne and know the money will be well used to try and implement a variation of our Pitch.

This was my first involvement in a HackFest. Even though these typically involve some form of coding up a product, this process was more about creating an idea that could be refined at a later date but could deliver significant improvements through digital transformation. Being involved was great and being part of the winning team was an awesome way to finish off Kia Rite. Additionally, it’s fantastic that Microsoft give employees three days a year to volunteer and help organisations with the skills we possess, it’s a great way to put action to the Microsoft vision of:

Our mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.


  1. Claus September 8, 2017
    • Sam McNeill September 8, 2017
  2. Paul Bowkett September 9, 2017
    • Sam McNeill September 9, 2017

I am always keen to discuss what I've written and hear your ideas so leave a reply here...

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