The COVID-19 pandemic has created tough conditions wherein the economy is suffering.
During this pandemic, some social institutions have risen to the times. They have faced the problem head-on. They have also looked to others for help.
Everybody has innovated to find solutions during this pandemic. Governments have had to innovate the right restrictions to protect others. Businesses have had to innovate their operations to fit these restrictions. Citizens have had to innovate to fit their lives to these restrictions.
This effort has brought together the government, civil society, and the private sector. The government is working with private businesses to find solutions to their problems.
Germany held its first government hosted a hackathon for the same reason. This event produced useful solutions while aiding collaboration. Hackathons have a history of providing the best solutions. They are dynamic and flexible allowing creativity. Participants gather in a common space and form teams. They then work to create a solution to the presented problem.
Currently, these hackathons are to create solutions to social challenges. People outside of the government create challenges. The City of Toronto, NASA, NSF, and UN, etc. have all used them in the past.
The German #WeVsVirus was special due to its need and scale. Typical hackathons give three months to prepare. This event came together in just four days. The social interest in the event surprised the organizers. Almost 43,000 people signed up and 26,581 participated. These numbers helped make this event the world’s largest hackathon to date.
Organizers crowdsourced problems and existing efforts. They were able to gather 1,990 problems from people and the government. After shortlisting, 42 categories separated the 809 problems. Participants had 48 hours to create their solutions. The solutions were then entered into the platform. Additionally, they also had to create a two-minute video pitch.
This contest got over 1,494 proposals. Industry experts and officials selected 197 of the best ideas. The hackathon jury then selected the 20 best projects.
The German government also supported the effort. They did this by launching a program to develop and carry out the proposed ideas.
This hackathon helped in two ways. It helped the government find solutions. But it was also helpful for participants. Mental health has been an issue during this pandemic. It has forced people to social distance themselves from each other and isolates themselves. Out of 20,000 participants, most said they felt better after working with others on this. One said, “euphoria, positive energy and persistence with which people worked, developed ideas and created innovation”. This helped bring positive energy to a hard situation.
Some of these solutions have been rushed to use. The first happened on April 10. The federal employment agency added the winning idea to its website. The ideal was a tool to help businesses and employers apply for short-term labor grants. This lets employers reduce employees’ working hours while paying them for lost earnings. Although this tool was added to the old portal, the proposed development time was short. It took only two weeks from start to finish for the tool.
Dorothee Bär is the German State Minister for Digitization. She said, “The number of the depth of solutions is impressive. We should think about using the hackathon for other problems as well”.
In Canada, the government is working with the private sector in a similar way. The government of Canada has several labor grants in place for this pandemic. The following:
are all available to Canadian businesses for support. Businesses looking for credit can access the Canada Emergency Business Account.
Like Germany, Canada too has options for governments and businesses to collaborate. The province of Ontario has the Ontario Together effort. Ontario has some of the most innovative businesses and efforts in the nation. The government has set up a website with problems they need solutions to.
On this, a business can put forward their ideas for the issues. The province has also set up a fund to develop and put the solutions to use quickly. Ontario and the entire nation are fostering innovation through this. This promotes collaboration between the private and public sectors. Together, this can help fight the pandemic.
The Government of Canada provides other support to innovation and research as well. The most common grant is the Scientific Research and Experimental Development Tax Credit Program. Canada Revenue Agency holds this program with the government. It awards tax credits to companies working on research and development projects. Businesses get a part of their expenditures back in tax credits and refunds. This can be up to 65% of project costs. This can include labor, materials, and contractors.