WASHINGTON DC – During a brainstorming session a group of young Venezuelan professionals in Silicon Valley created Code for Venezuela, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing together innovators to use their talent to meet the most pressing needs in this South American country.
“This idea literally comes from meeting a group of Venezuelans every Friday, after work, in a restaurant and saying what we do from a distance,” Johanna Figueira, one of the founders of Code for Venezuela, told La Voz de América.
However, Johanna Figueira and her husband Rafael Chacón Vivas have lived outside of Venezuela for many years. So when they started the project together with their colleagues, they wanted to know first hand how they could help.RELATED
“We needed to look for people who were day by day with the challenges that are being presented in the country and that is when we met with some organizations and individuals who were actively working in Venezuela,” says Figueira, who also works in the marketing area for Wells Fargo in San Francisco.
Hence the first initiative was to make a hackathon, that is, an event that can last from two to three days and where a group of people meets to collaborate on programming and technology development issues.
“At that time in Venezuela, #ServicePublic was very popular on Twitter, people wrote when they were looking for acetaminophen and, through there, someone answered you:” I have this antibiotic, “” said Chacón Vivas, a computer engineer.
The other key event took place when many blackouts were taking place in Venezuela; On that occasion, they worked with the Zulia State Human Rights Commission.
“They were interested in seeing if we could help them create tools, also using Twitter to understand which municipalities and which cities were being most affected by the blackouts in Zulia state,” Chacón Vivas told the VOA.
The challenges of “Code for Venezuela”
Rafael and Johanna regret that many of the initiatives that they have built and that they have wanted to implement in Venezuela have been stopped due to the constant atmosphere of change and needs that arise in the country.
In fact, one of his first initiatives was to create a mentoring program.
“When we started doing this and we got to make a prototype, we started having a few guys who were part of the group. The light thing happened and Venezuela was practically without electricity for a month and from there, the problems were different, “said Chacón Vivas.
At that time, their priority became to develop an application that would be useful to know where more blackouts were occurring, after that, they recall, the lack of medicines arose and at the same time they were structured as an organization.
“I think that at a tactical level,” Chacón Vivas explains, “starting any organization is a job that is very difficult to achieve, creating cohesion in all the people in the group and beginning to articulate a vision of what it is that we want to achieve.”
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The creation of the CovidVZLABot
After the quarantine began in the United States and the first cases of coronavirus were announced in Venezuela, the idea of the CovidVZLABot was born, a tool that assists in the diagnosis of coronavirus and also helps to spread truthful information from a professional medical source.
“We decided to make a bot that is essentially an automated chat that can determine a risk or the risk of the user having contracted the disease and falling into intensive care or in case of having some type of comorbidity,” explained Fabiola Rosato, software engineer. in a video game company and member of Code for Venezuela.
Being able to develop and make the application accessible was a race against the clock; This is how Fabiola, Rafael and Johanna describe it, who also denounce that there is no knowledge of what is happening in Venezuela’s hospitals and consider that it is necessary to be able to provide such a service there.
“We are using almost all of Google’s tools. There is one in particular called Dialogflow that allows you to train an artificial intelligent network so that it understands what the user is asking, “said Rosato.
So far 10,000 people have used the CovidVzlaBot and hope to increase the number of users in the coming weeks.
Code for Venezuela has 14 members in its organization. Every weekend they meet through Zoom to continue their initiatives and projects.
These young professionals hope, in the near future, to achieve a greater dissemination of their initiatives and that they have an impact both in Venezuela and elsewhere, since the CovidVZLAbot is also being developed in countries such as Peru and Colombia.