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Cannes Lions: Hacking for Good at Cannes Lions

Words and photos by JR Ignacio, Dentsu Jayme Syfu

CANNES – When I think of Cannes Lions, the first thing that comes to mind is award-winning work, learning from people who made award-winning work, and beach parties to celebrate the people and their award-winning work. For the most part, it’s about looking back on what happened in the past year.

When I learned about Huge and Amazon’s #ChangeForGood Hackathon at Cannes Lions this year, it got me excited. As a technologist/programmer in a creative agency, I love the idea of hackathons because it gives us space and time to focus. It’s all about solving problems, creating and testing prototypes to illustrate how your solution will work. It’s about looking towards the future.


I was even more thrilled when we got word that our team at Dentsu Jayme Syfu was one of seven teams selected out of 35 applicants worldwide. Our group, the only one coming from Asia, is composed of team captain Nikki Golez (Creative Director), Biboy Royong (Creative Director), Benci Vidanes (Art Director), Aya Hamada (Copywriter at Dentsu Inc. Japan) and me.

The #ChangeForGood Hackathon was the first of its kind at Cannes Lions

The brief: “Push the boundaries of what we know and what we can create to build a product or idea that will solve one question… How can we change the world for the better?” It was open enough to give us the opportunity to go all out with things we are passionate about.

The client: Global Citizen, an organization with a vision of ending extreme poverty by 2030. Among their priority issues, we picked gender equality. Having done work for various women’s groups, the issues women and girls face everyday in the Philippines and Japan are dear to us.

As with most hackathons, there were constraints. Most creative pitches give you thirty minutes to an hour to present your idea and campaign. Here we were given only seven minutes to present the idea, the prototype/demo, the product roadmap, the go-to-market strategy and campaign, with no time for questions. Moreover, our solution had to include an Amazon Alexa skill. Alexa skills are apps you install on your echo speaker to add more features to it.

The mentors from Amazon

The biggest challenge, however, was coming up with an idea that can have social impact and value globally; something that cuts across both the developed and the developing world. Drawing from Nikki and Aya’s personal experiences, we gravitated towards something that we felt could be universal — street harassment.

After some research, we discovered that true enough, most women feel unsafe when they’re alone on the streets. So we thought, how might we make women feel and be safer when walking alone?

Coming into the hackathon, we weren’t sure what the Alexa skill would be and how we would tell our story in seven minutes. During the course of the hackathon, we worked on the product and the story with the help of mentors from Huge, Amazon and Global Citizen. We went through various what-ifs, iterations, and executions.

Nikki and Aya presenting our product idea

After about a day and a half of ideation, prototyping and consulting with the mentors, we eventually came up with Walk With Me, a female AI bodyguard that can be installed on smartphones as a free-data app with three main features:

1. The first is where Amazon’s Alexa comes in. You activate it by saying “Alexa, walk with me.” It gives you a friend who is always available anytime you feel unsafe, talking to you on your way home so you can feel safe.

2. In case something happens, the second feature can be activated by saying “Help,” making it a witness. It will record what’s happening using both cameras and will automatically send the location and other pertinent info to your preset contacts.

3. Finally, it collects data that can be used to lobby for safer streets like getting governments to install more lights and CCTVs, or even pass laws against harassment.

We were the first to present, and thankfully we were able to tell enough of the story before we were cut off because of the 7-minute limit. As the presentations went on, we saw some relatively advanced (technologically) ideas from the other teams: a “smart” buoy that tests water quality, a product that assists people with dementia in keeping up with their routines, and several others that really focused on Alexa’s voice technology. So when Mark Lehmann (CTO of Global Citizen) announced that we won the hackathon, I was in disbelief. 

The team with DJS Chairmom Merlee Jayme

As Mark explained the reasons why our product stood out, three things stuck to me. First, he said they liked how we presented our product through a cohesive, well thought out story. Second, because we opened with Nikki’s and Aya’s personal experiences, it made our product story more powerful and relevant. Lastly, they appreciated how we humanized the technology, particularly A.I.

After seeing all the wonderful product ideas at the hackathon, the talks and the award-winning work at Cannes Lions, I felt hope and optimism that we as an industry could really change the world for the better.

While winning the hackathon was the highlight of our Cannes Lions experience, the work we need to do is only starting. We’re excited to build Walk With Me and bring it to market. We are hopeful that it can be a force for good and help make the streets safer for everyone.

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