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Source: University of Waikato

When New Zealand went into Level 4 lockdown during the Covid-19 outbreak, Alan Chew, like many others, wanted to help.

While community groups rallied and donations to various causes were made up and down the country, technology entrepreneur and University of Waikato alumnus Alan thought hard about how he could contribute.

He put his talents towards developing a contact tracing app prototype, and his ideas now form the basis of NZ COVID Tracer, the Government’s official contact tracing app.

“At the start of lockdown, like a lot of people, I thought ‘there must be something I can do to help.’ We know that contact tracing is vital during a pandemic, so I thought I could lend my technology know-how to the cause,” says Alan.

After developing a draft app, Alan got in touch with Waikato senior lecturer in computer science Bill Rogers, who made further improvements before it was ready to pitch to the Ministry of Health.

“I am very grateful to Bill for looking at the app from a fresh perspective and making the changes it needed to get the right certifications. With his support from a university perspective, the app made it into the right hands at the Ministry of Health which helped push it along.”

The app is now widely used in New Zealand, helping create a digital diary of where people have been, making contact tracing accurate and efficient.

Putting know-how to good use

Founder of Houston Technology Group, an IT services provider in Hamilton and Tauranga, Alan makes a point of giving back where he can. His company employs several Waikato graduates, he regularly speaks publicly and sits on a variety of community and commercial boards. Alan believes helping others with time and knowledge is just as beneficial as financial giving.

Alan immigrated to New Zealand from Malaysia in 1975 to study a Bachelor of Management Studies at the University of Waikato on a scholarship. He says in a way, developing a contact tracing app was a way to give back to a country he felt had given him so much.

“Arriving in New Zealand in the 1970s, it was so different to Malaysia. Everyone was so welcoming and friendly straight away – I felt instantly at home.”

Alan has fond memories of his time at Waikato. “The Waikato welcome mat – that’s how I describe the way we were welcomed and included. Everyone was equal and went out of their way to help you out.

“I vividly recall [founding Vice-Chancellor] Don Llewellyn turning up at a flat on Tralee Place, driving up in his Fiat Bambino to drop off a new student’s luggage – that’s just how it was then.”

Connecting Malaysian alumni

Alan remains close with many fellow Malaysian alumni who studied at Waikato in the 1970s, regularly catching up overseas, including at a recent University alumni event in Kuala Lumpur in February.

“So many of us received a great education and we feel it’s important to pay it forward,” says Alan. “I know many alumni in Malaysia and further afield with successful careers, all giving back to their communities in one way or another, and almost all of them can trace it all back to their time at Waikato.”