Building Better Solutions Together, Faster

A look at the innovative *Weekend Movement in Malaysia.

The *Weekend Movement describes itself as “a community of people that builds crafty projects and innovative solutions to real-world problems over weekends.” I was recently in Malaysia, where I had an opportunity to spend time with three of its organizers: Kal Joffres, Brian Ritchie, and Ellyne Lamin. We talked about what is at the core of the *Weekend Movement’s successful approach to what I call “time-bound collaborative innovation,” where talented people team up and race against the clock to build out audacious new products and services.


You can think of *Weekend events as a more general form of hackathons, one rooted in design thinking and rapid prototyping. It does organize a Hackweekend for IT developers, but it also holds events for other audiences, including Makeweekend for designers and Changeweekend for social enterprises and nonprofits. Between 70 and 100 people usually attend each event, but there have been as many as 300 people at a single event. Here is what I learned from Kal, Brian, and Ellyne.

People at *Weekend events don’t talk about ideas over coffee.

People at these events spend their time actually building things—in collaboration with teammates—that can be tried and tested.

Teams working as they approach the midnight mark. (Photo by Kal Joffres)

It works like this. All projects at events such as Hackweekend are new. Participants pitch project ideas and pick teams at the beginning. Teams then rapidly develop prototypes in just a few hours. In the middle of the event, there is a “checkpoint demo,” where teams present what they have built so far and get feedback and help from experts from the room. Then they refine their prototypes and work toward a larger demo session at the end of the event, which includes people who can potentially support projects going forward.

The goal of the weekend is to foster innovation among youth, showing new makers and doers how easy it can be to experiment and bring their new ideas to life in very concrete ways.

The events have resulted in substantive projects such as:

  • Workpad, a distributed work application that received 1 million ringgit (currently about USD$325,000) in funding within a week of its demo
  •, a site used to help track down and address a string of house break-ins that were happening in a Kuala Lumpur neighborhood
  • A social carpooling app called Carpool Tunnel that the developers are now working on jointly with a team in Australia
  • G2H, a completely pressure-based hydroponic agriculture system that automatically refills itself without the use of electronics
  • A prototype of Super Jumper shoes and sandals, which have soles made from a honeycomb of recycled straws

Event participants are selected based on their ability and mindset to contribute.

Events are free to participants, but you have to apply for acceptance. Applicants are selected based on their portfolio of work and referrals, as well as their ability to get along with others—there is a “no [obnoxious person]” rule. The selection process also minimizes half-hearted participants who might bring down others’ energy level. Brian explains, “Everyone comes with a right mindset. They’re not there thinking, ‘Oh, I’m just here to learn.’ They instead say, ‘I’m here to make something happen.’ It’s a very production, execution-oriented mindset that they bring into the weekend.”

Events involve potential project supporters to add post-event value for participants.

A team works on social carpooling so that people don't have to carpool with strangers. (Photo by Kal Joffres)

Depending on the specific event, venture capitalists, organizations looking to hire, government ministers, and other people who can provide funding, jobs, and resources are invited to observe group work over the weekend. However, they aren’t announced; the organizers don’t want people to participate in the event purely for the sake of connecting with potential supporters. Instead, these “VIPs” can observe how participants work together and watch the development of prototypes built during the event.

With its record of producing results, the *Weekend Movement also attracts a wide range of sponsors. Companies sponsor Hackweekend; private foundations and government interested in spurring creative thinking and innovation sponsor Makeweekend; and foundations and CSR departments primarily sponsor Changeweekend.

*Weekend organizers understand the motivations and interests of their talented participants.

Participants go—and come back—for these five reasons:

1. Social validation and respect for their work from peers who they respect
2. Professional development—learning by doing and getting feedback from peers
3. Potential support from funders and employers
4. It’s fun
5. They get stuff done

Designers and developers work together. (Photo by Kal Joffres)

Spending time with Kal, Brian, and Ellyne has made me think differently about my own work. We are now using the principles of the *Weekend Movement to put together a program design session for TechSoup Asia. We will convene leading social innovation professionals in the region to rapidly prototype solutions that will help NGOs access and use technology.

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  • BY Keith Kamisugi

    ON April 25, 2012 11:08 AM

    Great piece, Glenn! It makes me think the model is worthy of being replicated here in the States, especially the focus on innovation without glory and the “no assholes” rule.

  • This is a great way to engage talent youth with a desire to foster social change. It would be interesting in such *Weekends could be thematic. Perhaps having a *Weekend focused on corruption, another one on poverty alleviation?

  • James Hanusa's avatar

    BY James Hanusa

    ON April 25, 2012 02:53 PM

    Nice piece Glenn! I see the big leader in this space in San Francisco being Jake Levitas at Gray Area Foundation for the Arts. They designed and produced the Summer of Smart last year to create mobile apps to social issues in hackathon weekends made up of people from various disciplines including coders. They have an event this weekend called creative currency that takes it to the next level.

    Jay Nath, Chief Innovation Officer for Mayor Ed Lee has brought these type of engagements to City Government. He has partnered with California College of the Arts on unhackathons over the last few months integrating system and design thinking into the process.

    At Burning Man Project we recently hosted a one day rapid prototyping session with visiting students from Mondragon University in the Basque Region of Spain. The students were on an innovation learning journey for a month in the Bay Area. Our day consisted of a tour of Central Market Street in San Francisco, interviews with people on the street and shop keepers, empathy map and persona development and finally solution creation and presentation. Less than 8 hours. It would have been great to have another day to refine the solutions and actually build the prototypes.


  • BY Shai Coggins

    ON April 25, 2012 06:51 PM

    I love the fact that the Weekend Movement is all about “Getting Stuff Done”.

    There are a lot of “think tanks” or “talk tanks” groups - and while there’s a lot of merit in strategising, brainstorming, inspiring, sharing etc., it’s great to see individuals who get together and just do things.

    These project-based meet-ups yield tangible results that can encourage people to keep coming and supporting. That’s why I’d love to see what the great folks are doing with the Weekend Movement replicated in different locations worldwide. Perhaps, with TechSoup leading and supporting its global partners to make things happen. grin

    In any case, thanks for sharing this piece, Glenn! Great job and I look forward to hearing more.

  • Nice writeup, Glenn! 

    I’m really interested in how these ideas and hackathons in general can be applied to the social good space where the result isn’t a product or a website.  How do you rapidly prototype services in this kind of setting? 

    Even further, if foundations and NGOs are working on changing government policies and programs, could they use a variation of this to bring toether diverse stakeholders?  Seeing how dysfunctional the energy policy world is, I’m looking for new tools to to break the current paradigms and actually make meaningful change in timeframes less than years.

  • BY Andreas Ericsson

    ON April 26, 2012 02:59 AM

    Nice piece Glenn!

    I love this fairly new idea where organisers create space for creativity and innovation. A traditional conference with plenary and workshop sessions has its clear benefits, but it well to often end up confirming existing knowledge and does not take our work to the next level, and certainly doesnt spark new ideas.

    When gathering interested and skilled persons in a room and providing with tools and perhaps some senior expertise often great things happen.

    This model can be replicated in a number of fields in the third sector in my experience. Also, it is a great method of breaking down the organisational barriers and pride that sometimes is an obstacle when building a more sustainable world.

  • BY Tierney Smith

    ON April 26, 2012 12:49 PM

    Very interesting piece, thanks for sharing Glenn! It’s very exciting to hear about the innovation that is going on around the world. Andreas also makes an interesting point about how different this is from our traditional conference model.

    One of the angles I find interesting about the *Weekend movement is how it engages young people. When I was in high school I participated in the Shad Valley program (which may only be in Canada?), where students live at a university for a month, go to workshops on a wide range of topics and work together on creating a prototype and business around a certain theme. The business itself didn’t go anywhere, but the experience certainly had a lasting impact on me in terms of seeing myself as an innovator/entrepreneur. This type of event seems to be doing the same thing, and even more so.

    I’m also intrigued to see that some of the projects coming out of these events have had ongoing success. Is this more often because the participants get funding and are able to pursue the project themselves, or are there ever partnerships with existing companies/NGOs to pick up these projects and sustain them?

  • Stephanie Tsai's avatar

    BY Stephanie Tsai

    ON April 26, 2012 01:05 PM

    This is awesome. Thanks for writing and sharing it, Glenn!

    Totally agree with the other comments so far… I had the same initial thought as Ted. How do you rapidly prototype something that isn’t a product? Reminds me of GAFFTA’s recent weekend projects (as James mentioned) and Insight Labs ( Insight Labs is basically doing a version of this, hosting themed labs where they partner with an NGO and invite participants to address a specific goal, for example “Mobilizing Parents for Education Reform”. I’m curious about their process and the results and follow through they’ve had. And I’m particularly intrigued by the idea of the lab organized with the intent of making (policy) changes within an existing system.

  • BY Jamie Leo

    ON April 27, 2012 04:04 AM

    Thanks, Glenn. 
    Here’s my ‘report from the field’ of a recent NYC hackathon:–-farmbill-hack
    And an overview of still another:

  • BY Kal Joffres

    ON April 28, 2012 03:17 AM

    Tierney, Stephanie, thanks for the comments. The main determinant of follow-through for projects is whether the thing that they built gels with what they are looking to commit a significant amount of their time on or with the goals of an organisation. One of the biggest things powering follow-through from the projects is the participation of organisations who can take on / make use of the projects afterwards.

    Ted, policy is a very interesting area. We’ve touched on this with some of our efforts on open data, but one of the difficulties with changing policy is that it’s an effort that requires a lot of staying power. I think the Weekends are best-suited for projects that can be carried out fully in 3-6 months. If there are ways to achieve the results you’re looking for in that period, that would be great.

    James, Jamie, great resources. Thanks for sharing!

  • Keisha Taylor's avatar

    BY Keisha Taylor

    ON April 30, 2012 06:07 AM

    Great post Glenn, This is really a good model that is worth replicating. Looking forward to seeing how TechSoup Global incorporates some of these ideas. I like the way that young people are engaged. It really caters to the voluntary/community spirit, and shows that technology is really just the vehicle for change.

  • BY David Chiu

    ON April 30, 2012 09:30 PM

    Great post, Glenn, and thanks Kal, Brian, and Ellyne for sharing your knowledge on how to make hackathons and other kinds of time-bound collaborative innovation work better.

    This weekend in San Francisco, I took part in the Creative Currency event James mentioned.  The energy of the participants was fantastic, and the outputs - - were intriguing.

    San Francisco can learn a lot from Kuala Lumpur and vice versa. There’s art and nuance in the successful execution of these innovation events, and I appreciate the Weekend Movement’s keen understanding of the interests of their participants and of how to skillfully hook in support of the best ideas.

    I’d like to see more on how this approach can be used to surface the best innovative ideas to address civic challenges, and for San Francisco city government to support the most promising projects that produce results in the 3 to 6 month timeframe Kal mentioned.

    President of the Board of Supervisors
    City and County of San Francisco

  • BY Chris Worman

    ON May 2, 2012 01:41 PM

    Thanks for this Glenn.  Great to see these happenings happening around the world.  In Romania these types of events have proven very interesting for young programmers because they offer something social, socially responsible and tangible (vs the usual back-office-industry email of ‘hey geek, fix this’). 

    One of the challenges we have noticed is getting players to keep playing.  Getting NGOs/social change agents with a good problem definition is not a challenge.  Getting programmers, similarly no challenge.  Keeping the spark alive to get to the nitty gritty after the event ... has proven more of a challenge.  Part of this is getting the social change leader to share creative and ownership space.  Part of it is time commitment from already busy programmers (students or not).  Interested in how the group is negotiating this?

  • BY Elizabeth Sabet

    ON May 3, 2012 11:14 AM

    Great article Glenn!  The *Weekend Movement clearly has many things in common with Random Hacks of Kindness and much they could collaborate on.

  • BY Glenn Fajardo

    ON May 4, 2012 06:23 PM

    Thank you everyone for your comments so far - Keith, Pedro, James, Shai, Ted, Andreas, Tierney, Stephanie, Jamie, Keisha, David, Chris, Elizabeth, and of course, Kal. Great to see different points from so many different countries and at least four continents.

    I agree with Elizabeth - there are many things that the *Weekend Movement and Random Hacks of Kindness have in common. I also see parallels with the work of Creative Currency, Campus Party, the folks Jamie mentioned, OpenIDEO, NetSquared, and others.

    I wonder if anything modest (read: quickly doable) can be done to support what I see as an emerging community of practice around these similar types of events, networks, movements, and organizations. As David said, “there’s art and nuance in the successful execution of these innovation events.”

    What are concrete ways in which we can learn from each other, support each other, and amplify each other’s impact in these “time-bound collaborative innovation” endeavors? In the spirit of design thinking, I’m wondering what others think could be done as the “mininum viable” things we can do to get the ball rolling quickly on this?

  • BY Elizabeth

    ON May 8, 2012 01:28 PM

    Glenn, I know Random Hacks of Kindness has collaborated in the past with Campus Party (Bogota) and has also talked with OpenIDEO about how our work might intersect.  From our perspective, we are all working towards common goals and the more we can support one another, the more effective we can be.  Certain challenges lend themselves better to one approach or another, and to the extent the initiatives in this space know one another well, we can direct participants, projects and ideas accordingly.  In addition, in our experience one “innovation event” is usually not enough to conceive, build, pilot and implement an innovative new idea or product.  To the extent we can leverage one another’s events and communities to take existing prototypes and ideas-in-development forward to next steps, we may see a significant increase in the effectiveness of these events.  One challenge of innovation events, hack days and startup initiatives is that we often see the same wheel being built again and again!  Coordination to minimize that replication of effort would be a big step!

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