Engaging Employees for Social Impact Advances Corporate Goals

Few companies have impacted our world as significantly as Amazon. On December 10th and 11th, 2020 Amazon's Self Service Performance Ads (SSPA) team participated in a virtual tech-for-good hackathon where they devoted their time and talents to making a positive impact in communities near and far. 52 Amazonians from around the world worked in teams to drive significant progress for a cohort of innovative tech-for-good projects. It was a win for the projects, for the employees, and for Amazon.

  • 90% of project leaders reported making significant progress at the event
  • 92% of employees agreed the event was a rewarding volunteer experience
  • 73% of employees said the event increased their enthusiasm for working at Amazon
  • 83% of employees said DemocracyLab provided an excellent environment and structure for the event
“At Amazon, we are continually looking for ways to achieve more with less, and work hard to raise the bar for customer experience. DemocracyLab provided us with an impactful way to use our skills to help non-profits achieve more, and contribute to improving the experience of their customers. It was time well spent – fun, impactful, and important.”

– Colleen Aubrey, Senior Vice President - Advertising Products and Tech, Amazon

DemocracyLab’s Mark Frischmuth outlines the event agenda for a group of project leaders and Amazonians.

How "Hackathons" Empower Employees

One of the first questions we often receive is “exactly what is a hackathon?” so we actually wrote an article about this! In short, it is when a group of volunteers band together under one roof - in this case, a virtual workspace - and work collectively on design and technical projects. DemocracyLab’s hackathons are different from most. Projects and participants are encouraged to work collaboratively rather than competitively, and focus exclusively on technology projects that advance the public good.

Countless studies have found that employees don’t just want to work, they want to engage in activities that make a positive impact on the world. A recent PwC survey found that 65% of people across various countries “want to work for an organization with a strong social conscience. Companies that promote active corporate volunteer programs see higher employee morale and a healthier, more energetic culture.” Additionally, a LinkedIn study noted that “while establishing employee volunteer programs is an obvious way for companies to give back to their communities and build their brands, there’s an additional benefit: volunteer programs are a powerful engagement and retention tool. In fact, when employees feel connected to their company’s giving and volunteering efforts, turnover drops by an average of 57%.” Furthermore, the study found that 79% of candidates “would prefer to work for a socially responsible company.”

The benefits of organized volunteerism don’t stop at employee morale and retention, though. They go all the way to the bottom line. A recent Deloitte case study found that 91% of respondents (executives and employees) who said their company had a strong sense of purpose also said their company had a history of strong financial performance.

Amazon has repeatedly shown itself to be a leader in finding ways to empower its employees to change the world, because they realize the importance of doing so. One of those ways was partnering with DemocracyLab on an internal Hackathon with their SSPA team.

Which projects did the Amazon SSPA team work on?

For the Amazon SSPA Hack for Good event, members of the DemocracyLab team vetted projects that were interested in participating, then selected projects that were a good match for the interests and skills of the Amazon engineers, managers, designers and user experience professionals that were participating. Members of the Amazon SSPA team were then matched with projects based on their interest and the scope of work each project articulated.

  • A/B Street: A game simulating pedestrians, bikes, cars, and buses in Seattle. Players edit lanes and intersections to improve traffic flow.
  • Banana App: A location-based food donation app system for imperfect food.
  • Every Voice Engaged: A platform that helps citizens, governments, and nonprofit organizations solve problems that benefit from effective civic engagement.
  • Fire Refuge: Fire response project to help evacuees find temporary overnight lodging.
  • iSeaTree: A game-play app that helps kids learn, identify, and record trees in King Co., WA. Works with USFS iTree CO2 calculator.
  • OpenSidewalks: Collects open data relating to pedestrian accessibility for data-driven social justice and equity analytics.
  • Orcasound: An open source web-app that lets users listen for whales and act to conserve them.
  • ShelterApp/Strappd: A nonprofit organization helping homeless and low-income families connect to services.
  • Turn The Bus: An Open edX-based app for video-based learning for students in India. The app provides tools to motivate students to learn, such as a leaderboard, badges, points and other online incentives.
Bratati Ghosh of Turn the Bus introduces an ecomm page mockup the volunteers created over the span of two days. Ghosh hopes to build a donation arm of the edtech website to sell crafts created by students’ parents.

How did it go?

Very well! Thanks to well-prepared project leaders and passionate and hardworking Amazon employees, the event resulted in immediate and tangible progress. Here are some interesting additional stats from the participants, gathered by survey after the hackathon:

  • 100% of project leaders said that the quality of work they accomplished was significantly greater than at previous hackathons in which they had participated
  • 60% of project leaders said that the quantity of work they accomplished was significantly greater than at previous hackathons
  • 92% of employees said the lineup of participating projects was excellent
  • 92% of employee agreed that project leaders were well prepared and easy to work with
  • 83% of employees said they made meaningful contributions to the project they worked on
  • 75% of employees stated they would love to participate in a hack-for-good event again
  • 75% of employees said the event increased their belief they could make a positive impact in the world
  • 50% of the Amazon employees who worked on projects during the hackathon said they intend to continue to work on the projects

Hack with Us!

The DemocracyLab platform features over 130 tech-for-good projects in various stages of development. In addition to corporate events, DemocracyLab convenes public tech-for good hackathons every other month. Over the past two years, DemocracyLab has held 15 public hackathons, engaging more than 1,500 volunteers and 200 tech-for-good projects. Hackathons have become an important program in our mission to empower people who use technology to advance the public good. Through our platform and programs we harness the powers of civic engagement and collective intelligence to create projects that have real, immediate and lasting impact. The DemocracyLab platform makes it easy to discover projects, match skill sets, and create teams.

Browse the DemocracyLab project catalogue here—signing up for a project is quick and easy!

Harness the power of Corporate Hackathons for your business!

Corporate hackathons are a perfect way to strengthen employee satisfaction by giving employees an opportunity to leverage their unique skills while improving their communities and the world. It’s a win-win for everybody! If you are interested in learning more about the value of Corporate Hackathons, visit this page or contact us.