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Jin Lee

Big Ideas: Using Technology to Build CommunityMarch 29, 2018

At 25, Janelle Hinds (B.Eng. ‘15, Electrical and Biomedical) is a tech-savvy entrepreneur who has already left a lasting mark on McMaster and is now being noticed by the rest of the world.

Most recently, she was named an “everyday political citizen” by the charitable organization Samara Canada for her work with young people. Judged by notable Canadians, the annual awards highlight individuals working to strengthen democracy.

Renowned novelist Margaret Atwood singled out Hinds for praise, remarking on her many efforts “to change the game positively.”

As founder of Helping Hands, an online platform that encourages youth to participate in their communities and provides tools to connect them with skill-building volunteer placements, Hinds is using technology to enable youth civic engagement.

“I encourage students to be changemakers in their communities,” she explains.

Her efforts have also been recognized by the Ontario government, in the form of a grant that allows her to facilitate workshops with young people. She urges them to become involved in political decision-making and community affairs, and to build their skills through volunteer opportunities. She also promotes STEM careers in under-represented communities.

For her own part, Hinds is politically active on a number of fronts. In 2017, she took part in an initiative known as Daughters of the Vote, which allowed her and other young women to take over Parliament on International Women’s Day. She also recently spoke at the Toronto Women’s March.

Meanwhile, the student group she founded at McMaster in 2014 as HackItMac (now PhaseOne) continues to thrive, and recently hosted its fourth DeltaHacks competition. She launched the club after developing her first app as a second year student.

“I wanted to establish the club to help other students learn about technology, so we could go to hackathons, and to create an environment of self-directed learning,” she says.

That desire to help others, combined with a chance stumble across a web article on robotic arms led Hinds to bioengineering. And while opportunities have led her down a different path, she says her time at Mac provided her with valuable learning and analytical skills.

An enthusiastic entrepreneur, Hinds enjoys running her own business, and particularly the ability to quickly implement change. “If I see a problem, I get to just come up with the solution.”

As for the future, Hinds only knows that she wants to continue to grow Helping Hands, with the vision of eventually serving young people in every corner of the province. No doubt her positive impact will continue to be felt.