On March 13–15 2020 the first-ever Hack the Crisis hackathon was organized in Estonia as a goal to find tech solutions to deal with the crisis and the era after it. Only one week later a similar hackathon was organized in Finland. During the next weeks, tens of countries have joined the initiative by organizing their Hack the Crisis hackathons.
The CEO of startup campus Maria 01 Ville Simola and Managing Director Minttu Viitanen from Accenture Health & Public Service Finland participated in Hack the Crisis Finland as mentors. Both Maria 01 and Accenture were also supporting partners and Accenture had its own two teams participating. While the hackathon brought Simola and Viitanen together over the common good, they also have a continuing connection as Accenture is one of Maria 01 partners.
“Many startups are struggling but still wanted to help others. They also saw the potential in finding alternative business models”, says Simola.
“This was a perfect opportunity for companies, like Accenture, to help the teams and support their ideas to see daylight”, says Viitanen. She also chaired the group Ratkaisuryhmä, which has continued to help the teams after the hackathon weekend.
A triumph of collaboration
When the crisis hit many felt paralyzed. People wanted to help but the situation was so new that no one knew what to do. The hackathon was an open call for everyone to join and soon the organizers and mentors understood that not only the tech people answered the call — everyone from doctors to developers came together to fight back the pandemic.
“The most empowering thing was to take a stand and being heard. We wanted people to understand there was a lot we could do, there was hope. I was really inspired by Jussi Tapio, who was the initiator of the hackathon in Finland, and how he was able to get in a few days about 2500 people to join forces for this cause. Shows the power of a great idea and value of the networks people have”, Viitanen says.
“Hack the Crisis is based on openness, cooperation, high moral and sharing. When there is a common purpose to which people can sincerely commit, many things that seem almost impossible become possible”, says Jussi Tapio, the initiator of Hack the Crisis Finland and Strategic Growth Advisor of Ghost.
“We were in a hurry to implement our own hackathon because the virus will not wait, and we need quick solutions. We started from scratch and took the movement started by our Estonian friends to the next level. This all happened just after the exceptional circumstances had begun”, he continues.
According to Ville Simola, the best part of the hackathon weekend was seeing participants being there to solve the problems.
“When during the hackathon, the director of Finnish Institute for health and welfare (THL) tweeted asking for solutions on tracking the infected, he immediately got dozens of solutions from the hackathon teams”, he tells.
It was soon realized that they needed to get the public sector to collaborate. Viitanen sees that the private sector is used for this kind of co-operation but working with the public sector is new to many. However, in a situation like this, the importance of collaboration between all parts of the society emphasizes.
“The Finnish officials answered the call immediately: for example, the city of Helsinki was there from early on and Business Finland joined quickly. When I contacted people I know from the Ministry of Finance, they came back in five minutes with the answer we are in”, Viitanen tells. “Everyone used all the connections they had, no matter if it was a neighbour, an old friend from school or a bestie.”
As much will change in societies due to the current situation, organizations need to be prepared to work in a different world afterwards. To tackle the challenges Viitanen and Simola both see that collaboration is needed. “Both the public sector and companies should be ready to partner up. The teams with their solutions must not be left alone.”
“In Finland, we have this spirit of volunteering, “talkoohenki”. It means people will voluntarily come together if there is a mutual challenge to tackle. You could really feel that during the hackathon, and I hope it will spread in Finland and globally”, Simola says.
Would you share your personal data for the greater cause? That’s the question for every one of us to answer.
While the ideas are developed further, there are still obstacles to overcome. The most pressing is data privacy.
“For example, the heatmaps about infected people would be based on the most sacred data: personal health. And combining that to personal location data — that’s almost crazy to think that could happen in a normal situation”, says Minttu Viitanen.
“Sharing data should always be voluntary, but as we face a global pandemic, we see how personal data could be put in use for the greater good. This question has been there for some years already, but the situation forces us to face the question for real,” she continues. “Would you be willing to share your data for a common cause and your loved ones to stay safe?”
Viitanen reminds, that many of these problems we now need to solve are old ones. “During the crises, you see clearly what is important and what is not. I hope societies remember this for later when finding new ways to apply technology to help citizens’ life.”
From a busy weekend to permanent solutions — on a global scale
Both Viitanen and Simola hope that the great solutions brought forward in Hack the Crisis will be used sooner or later. The saying “let’s not waste a good crisis” applies.
“At the moment countries are developing their own solutions, but we would need more collaboration on a global scale. The systems might be different, but we shouldn’t try to tackle the same issues in every local hackathon”, Simola says.
“I’m excited about The Global Hack on April 9–12 because I believe it will bring together a huge amount of ideas that have already been developed locally. The upcoming EUvsVirus is also interesting since it is strongly organized by a public organization, the European Commission, while so far, the organizers have been mainly private volunteers”, Jussi Tapio says.
Simola and Viitanen also think a hackathon follow-up would be needed in Finland to revisit the solutions and to help the teams move forward with their ideas.
“Maria 01’s biggest asset is the community and we have great partners like Accenture”, Simola says. “I promise that Maria 01 will help connect companies and ideas right away if we see ways to contribute to the current solutions.”
“I’m committed to helping as many innovations as possible to realize,” promises Viitanen, who continues to mentor some of the teams. “Same time I will be working with our clients at Accenture to make sure we can serve them in the best possible way and come out of this stronger than as we went into it.”
Both Simola and Viitanen are truly thankful to all the participants and organizers for the job well done. The journey to tackle the crisis has now begun, so let’s continue bringing different parties together and building an active ecosystem where the solutions can thrive globally.
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