by Arnaud Castaignet, Board Member & Tech EU expert, Estonia.
If much can be discussed about the contribution of European institutions to the fight against the pandemic, an interesting aspect is that they quickly embraced the idea that Tech for good communities of innovators, start-ups and makers of all sorts could contribute to develop innovative solutions to be deployed to alleviate the negative consequences of the corona crisis.
Two main initiatives have been supported by the European Commission.
#EUvsVirus – The pan European hackathon
This joint event between the European Commission and actors from similar national initiatives from Member States has been organised on 24 – 26 April with public officials such as Blazenka Divjak (Croatia’s Minister of Science and Education) and Pedro Duque (Spain’s Minister for Science and Innovation), private partners from the European tech community such as Daniel Ek (co-founder and CEO of Spotify), Peter Vesterbacka (creator of Angry Birds) and Juan de Antonio (Founder and CEO of Cabify) and organisations such as the French Refugee Council, Women In Tech Portugal and European Association for the Defense of Human Rights, to name a few.
A total of 117 innovative solutions to tackle the coronavirus have been selected and some notable winners were Aidbind (Bulgaria, Germany, Malta, Sweden, Switzerland) for their solution to the information gap between demand, supply and funding of medical products, procured via donations and charity and Bankera Business Care (Lithuania) for their solution to provide SMEs with short-term financing to cover their liquidity needs during times of crisis.
#TheGlobalHack (Hack the crisis movement)
This event was held on 9 – 12 April and has been initiated by 3 Estonian organisations Garage48, Accelerate Estonia and Guaana that already organised Estonia’s Hack the Crisis hackathon on 13-15 of March. It gathered 12,000+ participants from 98 countries and received the active support and participation of organisations such as the UN SDG Action Campaign, the European Space Agency, the European Investment Bank, EU4Digital, Hack for Italy, Blockchain Philanthropy Foundation, World Cleanup Day, Business Finland, Innovation Centre Kosovo, to name a few.
Among notable winners, there are Berlin-based SunCrafter, a solar powered disinfection station using UV light that doesn’t need maintenance and produces no waste and is already going to be implemented in Ghana, and Act on Crisis (Lithuania), a platform in which professionals can provide emotional support through phone calls to people with increased anxiety due to lockdowns.
Many online hackathons have been organised across Europe since the beginning of March. The largest hackathon has been the one organised in Germany on 20 March for 48 hours with 42869 participants who developed 800 projects.
No magic wounds but a proof that EU #SocialGoodTech Community has a lot to offer
Of course, no technology and none of these initiatives pretend to “solve” the pandemic. The real heroes are the doctors and health workers currently saving lives and risking theirs, often lacking basic medical equipment such as masks, gloves, tests or ventilators. However, this pandemic highlighted the need for countries and organisations to be agile and adaptable.
Across Europe, the makers community and networks of small-scale DIY manufacturers have played a relevant role and mobilized to fix the shortage of medical supply. The names of Cristian Fracassi and Alessandro Romaioli may not sound familiar but you have probably heard about their story. They are the 2 engineers who turned Decathlon’s snorkelling kits into emergency ventilator masks. In France, Covid-Initiatives platform, initiated by the French network of fablabs, gathered the community of makers to direct them where emergency PPE was needed.
Hopefully, collaboration between European institutions and such communities is going to continue after this crisis. The European Commission has shown it can act quickly to support innovative initiatives and put the right financial support into them. But EU Social good Tech community would need durable investments and skills reinforcement to proove all its potential in the next few years.
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