The insider's guide to the Jerome Fisher Program at the University of Pennsylvania

Computer Science for a Cause

by Dhruv M., M&T Class of 2015

by Dhruv M., M&T Class of 2015

When I was applying to colleges, one of the things I wrote about in my personal essay was a desire to help build technology to create social change. I was inspired by innovations such as the Tata Nano, a $2,500 car, and Embrace Global, a $100 incubator for hospitals in developing countries, and I hoped for a college experience that would help me find an intersection between social impact, technology, and entrepreneurship. Fortunately for me, Penn had a lot of what I was looking for. Computer science courses pushed me to understand how to develop and deliver products, Wharton courses and organizations like Social Impact Consulting shaped my leadership skills, and overtime I started building friendships with many others who shared my passion. Finally, during junior year, a fellow CS student (Ali, SEAS ‘15) and I decided to sit down and take our mutual interest in social impact to the next level – thus we started Hack4Impact, an organization that builds software for nonprofits and other socially responsible organizations. One of the most common obstacles that prevent nonprofits from scaling is access to customized technology, and we hoped to solve that need.

As we began pitching our idea, we realized there was a strong community in place to support us. CIS professors Chris Murphy and Swapneel Sheth signed on to be our advisors and the Wharton Social Impact Initiative adopted us as a partner organization, giving us access to funding and other Wharton resources. Most inspiring was the large group of students who shared our vision. During our first recruiting session, we received ninety applications and accepted 20 passionate and talented developers, five of which are M&Ts. We now work in teams of teams of 4-5 developers, with one product manager, with each team working with a nonprofit client in domain areas including social justice, access to food, education, health-care among others. In the first six months, we completed projects for Kiva.org and three other nonprofits (check out http://hack4impact.org for details of each project).

It’s been exciting to create something that leads to so much gain for both students and our nonprofit clients. For example, Cathy (M&T ’17), explains that “Hack4Impact is exactly what I came to Penn and M&T to do: harnessing technology to create, manage and deliver value to the community. My team and I have been working on a juvenile sentence calculator for the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights and I can’t wait to see our product being used by lawyers and public advocates to help youth in need.” Ayush (M&T ’18) says that “As a freshman I have not had too much experience developing webapps but the club has provided a great structure for everyone else to work on real projects while learning from everyone else.” The students’ dedication has led to high quality and impactful work – the nonprofits have described our service as “indispensible” for nonprofits.

I can already tell that Hack4Impact is something that’s going to be part of my life for years to come. The success of our model has attracted interest from other schools and we’re starting to plan out a strategy to help set up Hack4Impact chapters at other universities. We hope to start partnering with larger tech companies to engage more of the tech industry in social impact projects, and will soon be experimenting with different types of product ideas, some generated by ourselves, to further understand how to make the greatest impact. There’s no doubt that the work I’m doing hinges on all I’ve learned from my experience in the M&T Program and Penn so far; I can’t wait to continue growing Hack4Impact and see where it goes.

For any nonprofit interested in working with us or students interested in joining us, please feel free to reach out to me personally at dhwari@gmail.com, or visit hack4impact.org for more information.

Dhruv, from Novato, California, is a member of the M&T Class of 2015. He studies Computer Science within Penn Engineering and Management, Entrepreneurship & Innovation, and Urban Education in the Wharton School.

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