It’s been a year since the #WirVsVirus open innovation hackathon was rapidly launched in response to the onset of Covid-19 in Germany.
Inspired by a similar initiative in Estonia, the 48-hour hackathon brought almost 30,000 citizens together online, giving rise to hundreds of creative solutions that continue to blossom a year on.
We didn’t at that time – and still don’t really – know the full toll of the pandemic on society and the economy. But creating from scratch an alliance of public, private and third sector actors to take fast, collaborative action, gave those of us participating hope that even in the face of the greatest of challenges, open social innovation can be a catalyst for positive impact.
Where we go from here
One year on, this alliance is reflecting, regrouping, and kicking off a brand new open innovation hackathon: #UpdateDeutschland. Led by the German Chancellors’ Office, alongside Project Together and N3XTCODER, with Impact Hub Berlin and a huge number of other partners supporting, #UpdateDeutschland will crowdsource solutions to tackle 29 key challenges faced in 2021, from age-ism to xenophobia.
Ahead of the kick-off, and based on the learnings from the comprehensive #WirVsVirus report prepared by the consortium that launched it, here are the four most important building blocks for open social innovation.
1. Enable the broadest possible participation process
While hackathons depend upon the participation of tech-focused developers and entrepreneurs, social innovation requires involving the user at every stage of the journey too. Teachers and carers are on the frontline of many of the challenges we face and their input is invaluable. We also learned the hard way that inclusion and accessibility must come before everything else. The process should allow everyone, regardless of race, ability or any other factor, to participate equally.
2. Encourage rapid, low-risk testing and validation
Decentralised intelligence is an effective tool in facing the high complexity of societal challenges. By having civil society try out many different solutions in parallel and in a coordinated but time-limited way, it’s possible to test what works and what doesn’t quickly and with low risk. Solutions can be constantly adapted according to feedback and validation. This approach is much more promising than working out lengthy, theoretical concepts that are already outdated before they’re completed.
3. Redraw the relationship between the state and the citizens
The open innovation format allows the state to solve problems not only for the citizens, but with them. With their commitment, states can demonstrate innovative approaches to problem-solving and, where it makes sense, incorporate them directly into future policy or actions. Working with citizens and visibly adopting their ideas (as the German Employment Agency did with UDO’s solution for accelerating Kurzarbeit, or furlough payments) builds trust in the long term.
4. Cooperate across traditional boundaries
In an open social innovation process, people work together who have so far usually only cooperated bilaterally, if at all. Hackathons like #WirVsVirus and #UpdateDeutschland and their subsequent support programmes secure partnerships between federal and state ministries, mayors, civil society foundations, private companies and universities. This way of working intensively alongside people from completely different sectors offers infinite opportunities for new ideas to germinate.
The #UpdateDeutschland hackathon, the next chapter in Germany’s open social innovation journey, begins on Friday 19th March 2021. Join us there.
Our cities are reliant upon complex food systems.
These systems have developed over time to ensure that the greatest number of people have the easiest access to the cheapest goods. While this has led to the growth of economies and of populations, the costs both to urban communities and to our natural environment have been vast.
While more than half of Germany’s land is used for agriculture, four out of five of its citizens live in urban areas, so don’t often see or think about the production of the food they consume.
But when you do think about it, the unsustainability of our current food practices becomes immediately clear. On a rapidly heating planet, food loss and waste account for a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, nutrition and health in communities still vary considerably depending on socio-economic status.
Sometimes, systems need a shake-up
In June 2020, Impact Hub Berlin began a search for Germany’s most promising food innovators leading the way towards more sustainable cities. With the help of a panel of industry experts, we selected the five teams teams with the highest potential to move the dial on the challenge.
Feeding the City is a social enterprise incubation programme originally conceived by Impact Hub Kings Cross in the UK. Powered by Bank of America and with the support of local partners, the programme – happening in Germany for the first time – kickstarts ideas for better food businesses.
Feeding the City teams tackle the issues in our food systems from different perspectives. One of the ventures, Roots Radicals, set itself the challenge of reducing food loss and waste through creating zero-waste preserves. Instead of throwing away the traditionally discarded parts of fresh foods, Roots Radicals turn them into tasty, planet-protecting condiments.
🍽️ Fresh from a live demo of their food-waste-saving activities at Impact Hub Berlin last week, #FeedingTheCity team Roots Radicals presented today at this online event marking the first International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste. #FLWDay https://t.co/8j7dyh6csI— Impact Hub Berlin (@ImpactHubBLN) September 29, 2020
“We believe in a circular economy and explore this so-called ‘waste’ as an opportunity,” says Co-Founder, Monica Kisic Aguirre. The team also organise workshops that reconnect participants to food through education, empowering people to make more informed nutritional decisions. Since starting the programme, they’ve also secured a new business opportunity: a regular stall at Markthalle Neun (Berlin’s trendiest indoor food market).
Growing impact in small spaces
Some of the waste produce Roots Radicals collect recently came from collaborating with another of the Feeding the City teams – Tiny Farms. Six months ago, founders Tobias Leiber and Jakob Fels founded their first organic micro-farm on a small half-hectare plot in Brandenburg.
“We’re creating a new kind of farm,” Tobias tells us. “Small enough to be managed by one person; highly productive to create appropriate income; organic and low input to be as sustainable as possible.”
The Roots Radicals team collecting food waste from Tiny Farms.
Tiny Farms are already supplying local supermarkets, as well as schools, some of which have begun arranging visits to the farm so that the students can learn more about where their food comes from. The founders will open a second and third plot next Spring, with the long-term goal of establishing a network of sustainable micro-farms.
People power means consumer control
One of the many issues with urban food distribution is that despite the great range in products and outlets available, the human and environmental costs are overwhelmingly intransparent. Feeding the City team SuperCoop Berlin are out to change that.
Based on a model tried and tested in New York and Paris, the idea of cooperative supermarkets takes profit-driven shareholders out of the equation, implementing consumer control in its place. SuperCoop members will buy a share and volunteer once per month, in return receiving nutritious, sustainably sourced produce at cost price. In the short time they’ve been on the programme, SuperCoop has become a legally established enterprise, aiming to open its first store in early 2021.
One of their sustainable supply chains could come from initiatives like ARC Farms, another Feeding the City participant. ARC Farms are piloting an innovative production method using aquaponics units to grow food in small spaces close to the consumer.
Aquaponics systems help urban farmers to grow produce using nutrients derived from fish excretions. ARC Farms also plan to implement a subscription model, whereby consumers can train up to run their own growing system near to where they live. The circular concept is already being rolled out in many places globally, and thanks to this team, it could soon become a mainstay in Berlin too.
Embedding innovation on your doorstep
The final team is PlattenBaum – founded by two architects, Kerem Halbrecht and Maayan Strauss – who have developed plans to integrate urban growing infrastructure within a housing complex.
Maayan, PlattenBaum Co-Founder, presenting the project to the Impact Hub Berlin community.
“We’re developing three modules that cater to different groups,” Kerem says, “mini-greenhouses that residents can rent on a month-to-month basis and operate themselves; a vertical farming tower for commercial production of food; and a third module for community gardening to be installed above existing parking lots.”
Working with experts they met through Feeding the City, PlattenBaum are currently shaping their business model and preparing to establish partnerships with other industry players.
On Thursday 3rd December, these five Feeding the City teams will share more of their updates at the programme’s virtual Demo Day. Make sure you’re there to join them. Contact [email protected] with any enquiries.
F-LANE: The Vodafone Institute Accelerator for Female Empowerment, kicked off its fifth programme last month.
First launched in 2016 by the Vodafone Institute for Society and Communications, alongside the Social Entrepreneurship Akademie and Impact Hub Berlin, twenty ventures focusing on empowering women through technology currently make up its alumni network.
Tech for female empowerment
Technology has huge potential to help societies overcome gender inequality. From training Africa’s next generation of female coders to providing financial coaching for women here in Germany, F-LANE graduates underline the extent to which smart, digital solutions can promote women’s participation in education, entrepreneurship and across industries. Some have more recently pivoted towards giving crucial support to women during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Although the context and constraints that women and girls face differ from country to country, there is no region in which full equality has been achieved. That’s why we’re excited to introduce the latest F-LANE cohort to the world at our LIVE with Impact Hub virtual Global Showcase on Wednesday 14th October 2020.
Impact across continents
From the 455 applications from female-focused ventures in 84 different countries this year, the final nine teams selected for participation in the five-week intensive accelerator offer an incredibly diverse snapshot of female empowerment across industries.
SheKab, for example, are working towards a safer future for women in Pakistan, 82% of whom have experienced harassment at bus stops alone. Their ride-sharing app means that women can safely carpool to work by booking trusted, certified drivers. SheKab also continues to push the women’s safety agenda at the governmental level.
Then there’s Bidhaa Sasa (Products Now in Swahili), whose credit payment model allows their ‘last mile’ customers in Kenya to purchase life-improving products like solar-powered energy systems. (As the key household decision-makers in many families, 70% of Bidhaa Sasa’s customers are women.)
All nine teams are already well underway with the programme content, have been matched with business mentors relevant to their industries and take part in weekly online workshops.
♀️ #LIVEwithImpactHub on Wed 14th October is the latest in a special series of online events focused on the #SDGs, featuring the teams from this year's @FLANE_VFI programme, with a keynote speech from #GenderEquality expert Amelia Lopez Huix. @impacthub https://t.co/JyYkSqSzWh pic.twitter.com/KAFMy50Lsn— Impact Hub Berlin (@ImpactHubBLN) September 28, 2020
A Global Showcase
As Community Partner to the F-LANE Accelerator, we at Impact Hub Berlin are activating our global network to support and work with the participants and form mutually beneficial partnerships. As our Programme Coordinator Clara noted after F-LANE III, it’s this often intangible, “soft side” of the programme, “this activation of our network and opening of doors for the startups” where we always see a high level of impact.
To this end, we’re co-hosting a special edition of LIVE with Impact Hub: Female Empowerment Across Industries. We’d love for you to join us there in one week on Wednesday 14th October 2020, 16:00 CEST, when we’ll hear a keynote speech from Amelia Lopez Huix, Co-Founder of MOH.INTERNATIONAL, followed by introductions to the F-LANE V participants. Because impact can’t happen in isolation.
Sign up for the online event here (be quick – participant numbers are limited) and learn more about the F-LANE teams here in advance. Interested in a Community Partnership with Impact Hub Berlin? Find out more and get in touch with our team.
A constant backdrop to the challenges that 2020 has seen, ensuring a liveable climate for the future remains our planet’s greatest test.
With Germany assuming the rotating six-month Presidency of the Council of the European Union in July this year, there is no better moment than now to direct our efforts towards supporting the country’s innovators helping to achieve the aims of the European Green Deal and Sustainable Development Goal 13.
Samsung for Impact
Mit #SamsungforImpact haben wir gemeinsam mit @SEND_ev und @ImpactHubBLN ein Programm zur Unterstützung von #SocEnt wie @perto_GmbH #FIMO #STABL und #Varomo geschaffen. Positiver Nebeneffekt: Mehr Raum und Sichtbarkeit für Zebra #Startups @DStartups https://t.co/ogUOjQ8oqW— Steffen Ganders (@SEGCorpAffairs) July 9, 2020
The programme selected four startups to receive a package of support including funding, coaching and visibility. The chosen innovations covered a range of social and environmental issues:
- The CAREcules team developed a transporter robot that helps older people or those with illnesses to safely carry objects around their homes.
- The data-driven FIMO app launched to allow people affected by fatigue to analyse and manage their condition.
- The challenger energy provider perto focusses on the replacement of inefficient heating pumps.
- Also in the energy sector, the founders of STABL created a new battery inverter technology that could be a game changer for energy storage.
Over the course of the programme STABL worked with our industry experts to revamp their pricing and sales strategy, while perto were able to scale up their team. FIMO began their medical product certification and CAREcules explored a new use case for their robots in automated disinfection of buildings during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Tech for Green Deal
For the Samsung for Impact 2020/2021 programme, we’re launching a call for innovative tech-based solutions in Germany working on one of three key climate-related topics:
- Sustainable industry;
- Sustainable mobility;
- Climate action.
We’re looking for startups and social enterprises founded in the past five years, are operational in Germany and have a team of two or more people. All solutions must meet our three key criteria: being digital, social and profitable – zebra companies, rather than unicorns.
Today is #EarthOvershootDay: we have consumed so far in 2020 more than the earth can regenerate in a year. We only have one planet. We must #MoveTheDate. With #EUGreenDeal we work on energy, biodiversity & circular economy to make Europe climate neutral & take care of our planet.— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) August 22, 2020
The three ventures selected will receive up to €15k in funding, a personalised support package including coaching and access to networks, as well as Samsung electronics devices to enable their work. If you are, or know of an innovative team who should apply, you can find all information and the application form here.
The deadline for applications to this programme is Sunday 4th October 2020. Any questions? Get in touch via [email protected]. Want to learn more about our impact acceleration partnerships in general? Reach us at [email protected].
Last week, four months on from #WirVsVirus – the world’s biggest online hackathon – the nine teams selected for its Solution Builder follow-up programme delivered their Demo Day pitches.
The value of optimism
Taking part in the hackathon was, in the words of RemedyMatch’s Melanie Uhlen, “overwhelming chaotic – but I enjoyed that! … I liked the speed at which people were doing things, not just discussing.”
Melanie, whose day job is in international development, joined Impact Hub Berlin in early 2020, so knew the value of a positive, proactive attitude well before the hackathon kicked off. “I knew this was my kind of crowd,” she says.
RemedyMatch helps emergency supplies like face masks reach organisations and authorities in most need of them. “We’d seen doctors in the media saying ‘this is my last pair of gloves before we run out’,” Melanie recalls. Her team’s solution was a direct response to this call for help.
The need for diverse experience
lokalkauf’s Max Seidel agrees that positivity and a diverse, committed team are the key ingredients in their success. “It’s a marathon,” Max told us; “it’s really about motivation.”
lokalkauf is a platform best described as “a digital shop window,” where local shops affected by the COVID-19 lockdown in Germany can list their updated opening hours and delivery options so that customers know how best to support them.
Max, whose varied experience includes marketing and strategy, joined the team to bring a different perspective to the project. “I thought they might just need an ‘innovation guy’,” he says.
Melanie also saw #WirVsVirus as unique in its ability to bring a diverse range of professionals together, as “a lot of these hackathons tend to die if there are only ‘techies’ there.”
How cross-sector collaboration helps move the dial
Part of the Solution Builder selection criteria was the teams’ long-term potential for wider impact. quarano, whose team member Oliver Drotbohm is part of the Impact Hub Dresden community, have shown particular promise in that area.
“What the hackathon did was shake the system from the ground up,” says Oliver’s teammate, Ferdinand Biere. The hackathon and the ideas it spawned won plaudits from the highest offices in the country and saw renewed calls for greater digitalisation. “Everyone saw what is possible,” Ferdinand says.
quarano, an open source management platform for healthcare authorities, created a prototype in just two days, and two days later had the health authorities in Mannheim on the phone asking to trial it.
The product allows healthcare workers to triage patients, thereby increasing their efficiency by 80%, dealing effectively with caseloads that for some have increased tenfold. It’s now being used across the entire city, in the third hardest-hit state in Germany.
Although the context in which the #WirVsVirus solutions were initiated has changed – and continues to change – the issues they tackle: streamlining healthcare bureaucracy, securing essential supply chains and supporting small businesses, are very much permanent.
All the teams are continuing their work and are looking for more partners to help them scale their activities. Get in touch via [email protected] if you think that your company or department could be the partner they’re looking for.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our #WirVsVirus blog series. If you haven’t already, you can still read previous instalments on the hackathon, the community and the mentors. Be the first to read our future blog posts by signing up to our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter.
This blog is the final part of a four-part series for the Microsoft Global Social Entrepreneurship Progam, a sub-programme from Microsoft for Startups, which Impact Hub Berlin supports as a Community Partner. You can read parts one, two and three here (in German).
As an Impact Hub, enabling social entrepreneurs is in our DNA.
In 2019, we helped 60+ early-stage social enterprises to develop their activities through our dedicated incubation and acceleration programmes.
It’s another long-held Impact Hub belief that to enable impact at scale, working with unlikely allies is a key component. This is why – as a Community Partner of the Microsoft Global Social Entrepreneurship Program – we’ve been utilising our local and global network to connect promising social startups with Microsoft’s extensive support package.
To dive deeper into the nature of corporate relationships with social enterprises, our Co-Founder, Nele Kapretz joined Robert Heinecke, Founder and CEO of Breeze Technologies and a recipient of Microsoft’s support, at a virtual event, Microsoft ENABLE Social Entrepreneurship.
Jetzt #LIVE: @msft4startupsEU, @ImpactHubBLN und @projectbreeze über #SocialEntrepreneurship: "Now it´s time for everyone to act in order to maintain a planet that is liveable for everyone." 🌱🌎 @heinecke #MicrosoftENABLE pic.twitter.com/cWf0O72WPZ— Microsoft Berlin (@MicrosoftBerlin) June 25, 2020
Viewers tuned in from Germany to India, Ireland to the US to listen along and ask questions, before finishing up at virtual networking tables with the on-hand experts.
Putting your money where your mouth is
Unsurprisingly, funding and finance were identified as pain points early on. In this area, Microsoft offers up to $120,000 in free software to social enterprises, as well as access to Microsoft Philanthropies grants. Support of this kind has enabled social startups like Breeze Technologies, who have scaled their air quality monitoring programme throughout the city of Hamburg.
It was agreed that more must be done both in Europe and beyond to better connect social entrepreneurs with much-needed funds.
Supporting under-represented founders
Audience members were also keen to learn about what support companies are offering specifically to female and other under-represented entrepreneurs.
♀️ Nele answers a question from the audience about supporting female entrepreneurs:— Impact Hub Berlin (@ImpactHubBLN) June 25, 2020
There are ever more programmes out there. Check out some that #ImpactHub Berlin has been involved in over the years: @FLANE_VFI, @womenaco's #Womentum etc. #MicrosoftEnable @MicrosoftBerlin
Creating better opportunities for female founders has been something that both we and Microsoft for Startups have been working to improve. We learned in this year’s German Social Entrepreneurship Monitor that with women founding 46% of Germany’s social enterprises, this is one key area in which the business world in general can learn from the world of impact entrepreneurship.
Tools for the digital age
The value of having the right digital tools (and the competence to use them effectively) has become ever more apparent since the COVID-19 outbreak caused businesses worldwide to resort to remote work.
Microsoft has been among the companies quick to respond to the crisis, supporting blockchain-based supply chain innovations like Skuchain, for example, while at Impact Hub Berlin we’ve also been busy with our government-backed #WirVsVirus initiative to tackle the fallout from the pandemic.
Even the platform the event was hosted on, Airmeet, was highlighted as an example of an innovative digital solution to the ‘new normal’ of dispersed teams.
After the panel conversation wrapped up, audience members joined them at the virtual networking tables, to discuss more topics such as community, sustainability and tech for good. We hope they left feeling connected, enabled and inspired to continue building the solutions of the future.
Those interested in applying for the programme can find all information on the Microsoft Global Social Entrepreneurship Program website.
Want to learn more about becoming an Impact Hub Berlin Community Partner? Get in touch via [email protected].
Impact Hub Berlin and six other partners first launched the #WirVsVirus initiative almost three months ago.
The initial hackathon, which has grown into multiple support programmes for the participating teams, sparked not only hundreds of ideas but fostered working relationships that continue to flourish.
As well as the more than 27,000 people who signed up to take part in the hackathon, there were almost 3,000 who volunteered as mentors. Their brief was to support the teams to develop their ideas and give critical input.
With online moderation and mentoring ever more relevant in the post-COVID-19 world, we caught up with three #WirVsVirus mentors to hear their tips. All three continued to support the teams after the hackathon itself and throughout the Community Management phase.
“I had kind of a rough start,” Lukas, an eHealth and data protection expert, says of his initiation into the hackathon. As a specialist, finding and connecting with those who needed specific support was a challenge at first. After locating others with similar skills, the mentors got to work in streamlining their communications and collecting resources in a focussed Slack channel.
“You need to focus your attention and to pick between mentoring a team and being a ‘floating mentor’.”
Florian Rathgeber, a tech engineer at Google in the UK, but also now working remotely from his home in Germany, experienced this issue too. (Google have since become a corporate partner of the #WirVsVirus Solution Builder.)
“Probably my biggest mistake was trying to keep up with all the channels and get the whole picture of what was happening… which was of course impossible. You need to focus your attention and to pick between mentoring a team and being a ‘floating mentor’.”
I signed up as a #mentor for the @wirvsvirushack #hackathon this weekend (20-22 March) to help fight #covid19 #impact: https://t.co/n72IemhrF4— Florian ?? #WirVsVirus #EUVsVirus #HackTheCrisis (@frathgeber) March 20, 2020
Don't speak / understand German but want to help? Need a #translator #buddy? Feel free to reach out!#WirVsVirus #coronavirus #covid_19
After identifying where to be of most assistance, having patience when supporting participants, who often simply needed directing to the right information source, was important to keep in mind.
Kathrin Helmrich, an IT software marketer with Oracle in Munich, signed up as a mentor in part to make use of the extra time she would usually have spent at the local golf course after it closed due to the pandemic.
“Be proactive!” she advises. “Nobody reached out in the first couple of hours but all the teams that I approached answered.” Active listening to ascertain what each team really needed was important, she says.
This is backed up by Lukas’s experience too. Yes, be proactive, but “think twice before you answer a question,” he adds. Often the team hasn’t correctly identified the issue they’re having. Sometimes reading between the lines to help them understand their problem is necessary.
All three mentors share a positive, ‘can do’ attitude – an overlooked advantage in the challenging timeframe of a 48-hour hackathon. This was something that stayed with them even after the weekend.
“I started to apologise for being too positive!”
“I started to apologise for being too positive in my business meetings the next week” laughs Kathrin. Florian, a self-professed veteran of around 150 hackathons before #WirVsVirus says it was “one of the best” both in organisation and quality of projects. Lukas highlighted the diversity of participants as key to the experience.
Florian found it notable that the hackathon was such a success in Germany, “not exactly the frontrunner when it comes to digitalisation”, in the eyes of some. This was testament to the management of the organising team, the government’s rallying behind them, and – of course – the collaboration between engaged, enthusiastic participants and mentors.
One month ago, with Berlin and many other major cities around the world reeling from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we at Impact Hub Berlin and six other partners launched the #WirvsVirus Hackathon.
The 48-hour sprint to develop COVID-19-related innovations caught the imagination of tens of thousands of eager participants across the Germany. A week later, we announced the jury’s top 20 projects, alongside four avenues of further support open to those who took part.
These include two accelerator programmes: the Solution Builder and Solution Enabler, as well as a Matching Fonds crowdfunding campaign. This post focuses on the Community Management aspect and what we’ve learned so far.
We’ve been in the business of ‘managing’ a dynamic community of changemakers since 2014. Yet a fully virtual, 27,000-strong one brings a change in scale and the need for a new perspective.
Ah, I see. Well, there's a lot going on right now & we don't have the capacity to make changes to fundamental systems like that. I thought you meant there were already 40,000 people in the Slack instance. Adding 40,000 all at once to a single instance seems like … a bad idea 🙂— Stewart Butterfield (@stewart) March 20, 2020
After the initial burst of activity during the Hackathon weekend, not letting the energy and enthusiasm for building creative solutions to alleviate the COVID-19 crisis fade became the next big hurdle. How could we most effectively support this newly-forming community?
We opted for continuing to host a Slack workspace to allow the hackers to communicate and access resources and contacts. The aim was to transition it from a one-off ‘wild weekend’ to a nationwide forum for all those coming together against COVID-19. The Community Management team employs a light touch approach, aiming not to over-engineer and to be clear on what it is (and isn’t) there to do.
A key enabler has been democratising and decentralising the knowledge and resources built up over the early days and weeks of #WirVsVirus.
For example, setting up ‘Know How’ Slack channels for questions about specific topics (such as project management, design or tech) reduces the need for direct engagement from moderators and empowers the community to support itself.
Around 5,000 hackers each week still access the workspace, made up of almost 300 channels. Others who prefer different tools have moved their communication there and many chose to receive our weekly summaries directly to their email inboxes.
Magnets in the Haystack
Alongside light touches from our team and tapping the hive mind of the hackers themselves, individual tools act as another time-saving ‘bridge’ between the community and its managers.
It quickly became clear that finding an individual with the ideal skillset to meet a team’s need was like finding a needle in a haystack. A participant decided to set up a Google Form to build up a database of offers and needs – a much more efficient means than searching through the workspaces’s half a million messages. ‘Magnets’ like this make finding the right needle much faster.
Often, the Community Managers themselves become the magnets. Among so much information, repeating, repeating and repeating the most important parts is sometimes the most realistic hack.
To date, it’s been a privilege to host such an open and inspiring group of passionate individuals, many of whom we’ve also learned a lot from over the past month.
The second week of March 2020 had already been a long one.
The global outbreak of the coronavirus COVID-19 had become a pandemic. One member of the Impact Hub Berlin community had already tested positive for the virus and – like other Impact Hubs around the world – we’d had to take the tough decision to temporarily close our co-working and event space.
A tweet and a phonecall
Our Co-Founder, Leon, stuck indoors and scrolling through Twitter like the rest of the world that Sunday, was following the online ‘Hack the Crisis‘ initiative. It had been rapidly set up by the Estonian startup scene to crowdsource solutions to the COVID-19 situation. “I just thought it was a really cool idea,” he says.
Hey @impacthub Can we make this happen with our members worldwide?? What do you think? @ImpactHub_STR @impacthubzurich @impacthubJKT @ImpactHubSP @ImpactHubTorino @ImpactHubMilano @ImpactHubPraha @ImpactHubMunich @impacthubvienna @ImpactHubBCN @ImpactHubBLN @ImpactHubKigali https://t.co/xR6XdeFm3I— Leon Reiner (@impactpioneer) March 15, 2020
After sending out the above tweet, almost right away, the phone rang. Our long-time partners at Social Entrepreneurship Netzwerk Deutschland had seen this and invited us to join a conversation with the Prototype Fund and Tech4Germany (the German government’s tech and innovation task force) about launching something similar.
“Of course we’re on board,” was Leon’s response.
We joined a call the next day, along with Initiative D21, Project Together and Code for Germany, who also all signed up on the spot. Within 24 hours, the German Chancellor’s Office was in too. Just like that, ‘der Hackathon der Bundesregierung: #WirvsVirus‘ (us against the virus) was born.
Impact can’t happen in isolation
The fledgling team jumped into action mode. Each of the seven partners brought different skillsets, specialities and networks. We immediately divided up responsibilities, launching the website, setting up the tech infrastructure and agreeing on the parameters of the challenge.
The Impact Hub Berlin team took on developing the agenda and flow for the weekend as well as a facilitation and moderation role. Onboarding the growing team to the Slack, Airtable and Devpost platforms that would later be used by the participants, mentors and corporate supporters was in itself no small task.
The plan was first to crowdsource challenges from both the government and the general public, then sign up the coders, developers, social entrepreneurs and creatives to work out how to solve them.
Phoning our friends
The call for ideas, already shared far and wide by our networks on social media, received 1,924 submissions within two days. We were happy with the tools we’d chosen but, said Leon at the time, “If we have more than 1,000 participants we might have a problem…”
When the deadline closed, we had a total of 42,968.
By Friday we’d recruited 100 friends, family and colleagues to join the organising team, but, as Leon recalls, the tech was struggling. “Slack crashed, the challenge platform crashed, YouTube crashed…”
2,922 supporters signed up to mentor the teams, meaning we also found out the hard way during our induction call that Google Hangouts has a strict user limit (it’s 250, in case you’re interested). LivestreamBerlin jumped in to help us broadcast our Welcome Call to thousands of viewers around the world on Friday 20th March. And with that, we were underway.
Lots of coffee, not much sleep
The next 48 hours saw our participants join together in remote teams, match up with a mentor and start work on their ideas. The 48 topics included gamification, research, helping the vulnerable, local business support and many others.
The support of Prof. Dr. Helge Braun, Head of the Chancellery, was soon backed up by the German President, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who described the participants as “the heroes and heroines of the corona-crisis.”
Beim #Coronavirus lesen wir täglich besorgniserregende Nachrichten. Aber es gibt Dinge, die Mut machen: Mehr als 40.000 Menschen haben am Hackathon #WirVsVirus teilgenommen. Kanzleramtschef @HBraun sagt Danke – und stellt Ideen im Kampf gegen #COVID19 vor: pic.twitter.com/fR7oLAnyCN— Steffen Seibert (@RegSprecher) March 23, 2020
We wrapped up on Sunday evening in true Berlin fashion by linking our livestream to the coinciding virtual club night put on as a fundraiser for the local music scene.
What’s next for #WirvsVirusHack?
1,223 pitch videos have been uploaded (a phenomenal outcome within the timeframe). Our 600-strong team of mentors are nominating the 150 best solutions. These will then be presented to a high-level jury of politicians and leaders in business and civil society. On Monday 30th March, we’ll announce which teams they choose.
Meanwhile, we’re working hard to create a programme to support the rapid development and roll-out of the most promising solutions and to help crack the COVID-19 crisis. We’re also advising many other organisations globally who are looking to start similar hackathons.
- Are you or your company able to support social innovations to fight COVID-19? If so, please contact the organising team via [email protected].
- Interested in Impact Hub Berlin’s online facilitation, innovation events or other consultancy services? Let’s talk via [email protected].
At the start of the 2020s, to look back at the past decade is to survey a scene of rapid and often radical change.
Whether in the area of technology (where digitalisation has become ubiquitous) or the environment (damage to which continues to rise exponentially), institutions across the board must adapt to these changes to survive.
Today, on International Day of Education 2020, we’re highlighting the educational system as just one field in which paralysis caused by these challenges must be tackled in novel ways.
#EdExperts on tour
The Consultancy Team at Impact Hub Berlin recently led a programme with the German-American Fulbright Commission, Hochschulforum Digitalisierung and Stifterverband. The aim was to bring together directors and high-level experts from Germany and the USA. The focus: “The impact of digitalisation on the future of Higher Education”.
Impact Hub’s approach has always been to start with the problem (the future impact of digitalisation). We then engage ‘Unlikely Allies’: representatives of different fields, places and topics that wouldn’t usually meet or collaborate. During our seven days in New York and Boston in October last year, followed by four days in Berlin in December, experts mingled with students, EdTech start-ups, accelerator programmes and innovation labs.
Cornell Tech, MIT Media Lab, Derek Bok Center Learning Lab, the New School and the German Chancellery were just some of those represented. Across ten days of conversation and collaboration, three key points emerged:
- Undertaking a physical journey as a group enables more shared moments, deeper learnings and faster removal of the ‘fear barrier’ than at any regular conference.
- The Unlikely Allies approach broadens the perspective of participants, who were able to focus on who higher education is for (students) and why (to fulfil their future career needs).
- Education is a crucial gamechanger if we want to shape a future that works for all. The programme has given Impact Hub Berlin fresh inspiration to innovate further in this field.
Want to unleash the innovation potential in your industry? Contact Héloïse via [email protected]