For its most recent hackathon for good ideas, one agency was also looking for good causes.
This weekend at the South by Southwest Interactive tech festival in Austin, Texas, New York-based Huge will debut an app for iOS and Android that aims to help undocumented immigrants notify friends, family and employers if they are ever detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. The goal, according to Huge engineer Natalia Margolis, is to help people act quickly during a terrifying and uncertain situation.
“One of the problems is when people who are undocumented get detained or face some kind of emergency, it can leave people with a lot of loose ends hanging,” Margolis said. That can lead to an urgent need for quick communication between lawyers, family members, employers and others.
The app, Notifica, lets people notify others in the event of an emergency by storing contact information and personalized messages based on what they might need to communicate in the event of an emergency. The app, which is protected by a code in case a phone is ever lost or stolen, can be activated with a single click—a useful feature when time is of the essence.
It all started when Margolis visited a meeting for women and Latinos in the tech industry, where she met a man whose parents were both undocumented immigrants. He told her about the fears that many immigrant communities have—especially since President Donald Trump took office and began taking more of a hard-line approach to immigration in the U.S.
“He said ‘Well, there’s never going to be a panic button for when ICE comes to your door,’” Margolis told Adweek. “And I said, ‘Well, why not?’”
Margolis suggested a group at Huge tackle the idea during the agency’s hackathon, which led to a team of four people spending 24 hours straight designing a prototype. From the beginning, they invited the man, Adrian Reyna, director of membership technology at United We Dream (an immigration rights group) to consult with them on the design process to make sure what they developed would be useful to those the agencey hoped to help. By the end of the hackathon, they had a working prototype.
While the app will debut this weekend in Austin, a broader rollout and launch is planned for next week, led by United We Dream. The organization will be using social media to help families in states such as Texas, New Mexico and Florida know that it’s available to them in case they want to prepare for the worst.
According to Huge President Patricia Korth-McDonnell, all of the projects are being done pro bono as a way for the agency to use its capabilities for various causes.
Notifica wasn’t the only idea from the hackathon that Huge is looking to make into a reality. Along with the app, other teams that participated came up with a range of other projects and products—one is a Google Chrome plug-in to help people understand the bias of news websites, while another is a chatbot that helps people know in real time how to best communicate with friends and family on hot-button issues like politics. Its final idea is an app to help people know where to donate items they no longer need.
“I’m just really proud that this is happening and that it’s coming from the ground up at Huge,” she said. “We as a company could go say we want to do social change and work through the bureaucracies of finding a project.”