BlackRock and Benetech Help Nonprofits Build Software for Social Good

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What does the open source technology community have to do with natural disasters? More than you would think. When a disaster strikes and technology is needed, the open source tech community lends its time and expertise to build software that can serve a direct purpose.

Greg Bloom, a Benetech strategic advisor and founder of the Open Referral Initiative, was recently highlighted in an article about 700 volunteer hackers across the U.S. who came together for Hurricane Irma relief. Shortly afterward, Benetech’s Code Alliance led an open source hackathon at the BlackRock office in Princeton, New Jersey, which brought together more than two dozen engineers and product experts from BlackRock to help build technological capacity. The engineers also assisted Open Referral by updating applications that were using an out-of-date API (application programming interface).

How Did this Event Make an Impact?

For background, is a gold-star charity led by CNN Hero, Gary Oppenheimer. The organization allows gardeners and farmers to donate extra produce to local food pantries. To date, 42+ million community gardeners have shared their extra harvest with local food pantries through a search capability hosts on its website. needed a better way to support families in Houston looking for fresh food in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. They also needed to increase capacity to get the word out about their success in resolving food waste issues in America.

To that end, the BlackRock team helped create a new website, transfer existing PHP (hypertext processor) food pantry data, and complete an SSL (secure socket layer) activation along with features to update the website services. The team also created a new donation page so can continue its outstanding work in Houston and beyond while it continues to support families in Houston looking for fresh food:

Over the three-day hackathon, BlackRock also provided a dozen engineers to help Open Referral, which maintains a data standard for health and human services information, update three mobile applications that were using an old version of Open Referral’s API. The engineers updated the API for three projects, created better data standardization tools, and helped create processes that will aid software related to relief efforts in South Florida. These advanced software tools are meant to standardize and connect data that flows through various social sector organizations and allow individuals and families better access to multiple services in the wake of disasters. Open Referral is also partnered with Benetech in efforts to connect data about Florida legal aid services and to build infrastructure connecting all social services in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Why are Open Source Projects Like These Important?

Software changes every few months. That means that something that is built today may not end up working correctly six months from now. Dependencies, libraries, browser-compatibility, user devices, and other technologies are constantly evolving. The result is a chaotic environment for organizations that are using software to deliver immediate impact. Without a strong community of open source developers behind them, many nonprofits building software for social good quickly find that their applications lag behind user needs. Benetech is proud to support a community that continues to build software for social good and to expand the field of humanitarian, open source technology.

Going Beyond the Call of Duty

BlackRock is one of many companies that lends its engineering time to nonprofit organizations, but they went above and beyond in delivering on their promises. The software professionals from the company that joined the event were highly engaged and extremely knowledgeable. Most importantly, they took time to genuinely understand the needs of each nonprofit. They conducted themselves as consultants and really enjoyed learning more about social services and food waste problems in America.

I would like to thank BlackRock for helping and Open Referral solve some tough technology issues.

Want to read more about nonprofits & hacking for social good? Here are two more articles: