International Innovation Efforts for COVID-19 Challenges
The COVID-19 pandemic has created challenging conditions. Under these circumstances, economies and societies have struggled to find their bearings. During such times, citizens look to social institutions for guidance. This guidance helps bring peace and unity during times of distress.
During this pandemic, some social institutions have risen to the challenge. They have faced the problem head on and acted accordingly. For certain aspects, however, they have looked to others.
Everybody has been forced to innovate to find solutions during this pandemic. Governments have had to innovate appropriate restrictions to protect others. Businesses have had to innovate their operations to fit these restrictions. Citizens have had to innovate to fit their practices to these restrictions.
This collective effort has brought together the government, civil society, and the private sector. The government is actively working with private businesses to find possible solutions to their problems.
Germany held its first government hosted crisis hackathon for the same effort. This event produced useful solutions while promoting collaboration. Hackathons have a history of providing the best solutions. They are dynamic and flexible in setting and this allows creativity. Participants gather in a common space, form teams and work on providing a solution to the presented problem.
In the current situation, these hackathons are used to create solutions to social challenges. These are created by opening up development to people and organizations outside of the government. The City of Toronto, NASA, NSF, and UN etc. have all used them in the past.
The German #WeVsVirus was special due to its urgency and scale. Typical hackathons allow around three months of preparation. This event, however, came together in just four days. The organizers were pleasantly surprised by the social interest in the event. Nearly 43,000 people signed up and 26,581 participated. These numbers helped make this event the world’s largest hackathon to date.
Organizers crowd sourced problems and existing efforts. They were able to gather 1,990 problems from both: people and the government. After shortlisting 809 problems, they were separated into 42 categories. Participants had 48 hours to develop and submit their solutions via a hackathon platform called Devpost. Additionally, they also had to create a two-minute video pitch.
Collectively, this contest received over 1,494 proposals. Industry experts and government officials selected 197 of the best projects. The hackathon jury then selected the 20 best projects.
To support this initiative, the German government then launched a program to develop and implement the proposed ideas.
While this hackathon provided the government with solutions to problems, it also helped participants. During this isolation, the mental health of many has been compromised. Of the 20,000 participated, most expressed feelings of “euphoria, positive energy and persistence with which people worked, developed ideas and created innovation”. This helped bring positivity to an otherwise grim situation.
Some of these solutions have been fast-tracked to implementation. The first occurred on April 10. The government’s federal employment agency added the winning idea to its website. This tool helped businesses and employers apply for short-term labor grants. This allowed employers to reduce employees’ working hours while compensating them for lost earnings. Although this tool was simply an add on to the existing portal, the proposed development time was impressively short. It took around two weeks from conception to implementation for the tool.
German State Minister for Digitization Dorothee Bär 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 closely with the private sector in a similar way. The government of Canada has several labor grants in place specifically for this pandemic. Funds such as the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, Temporary 10% Wage Subsidy, Work Sharing Program are all available to Canadian businesses for support. For businesses looking for credit, the Canada Emergency Business Account is available to access.
Similar to Germany, Canada too has options to collaborate between governments and businesses. Specifically, the province of Ontario and the Ontario Together effort. Ontario has some of the most innovative businesses and initiatives in the nation. The provincial government has set up a website with problems they need solutions to.
Via this platform, businesses can help propose their ideas and projects for the problem proposed. The province has also set aside a fund to help develop and implement the solutions as soon as possible. Through this, Ontario and the entire nation is fostering innovative collaboration between the private and public sectors to fight this pandemic.
The Government of Canada also provides other methods to support innovation and research. The largest and most common method for this is through the Scientific Research and Experimental Development Tax Credit Program. This program, held in collaboration with Canada Revenue Agency, awards tax credits to companies working on research and development related projects. Businesses can be rewarded a portion of their related expenditures in tax credits or cash refunds.