This post was written by Rohin Daswani who is a Research Assistant with the Commons Lab in the Science & Technology Innovation Program (STIP) at the Wilson Center. It is a personal reflection offered as a form of participant observation in a hackathon.
A Climathon is a global 24 hour hackathon style climate change event in which participants develop innovative solutions to a predefined challenge and work collaboratively to implement it. The 2015 Climathon was simultaneously held on the 18th of June in major cities around the world, which included Beijing, New Delhi, Addis Ababa, Rio De Janeiro, Perth and many more. Hosted by George Washington University, the Climathon is an initiative of the Climate-KIC. The DC event brought more than 30 innovators, entrepreneurs, and hackers together. The event was co-sponsored by the GWU sustainability office, and had corporate sponsors such as Coca-Cola, Roti and Bertucci’s who provided the food and drinks. The challenge we had to address was: How can public-private partnerships reduce food waste/loss generated by the DC’s residential or commercial sectors? The winning team would work with the city over a 6 month period to make the idea implementable and then travel to Paris in December to showcase it at the UN COP21 on Climate Change conference.
The Climathon was well organized and brought a diverse array of individuals together. It started off with a copious amount of information about the DC food waste problem and the current problematic systems in place to address it, which helped streamlining, narrowing and directing our thinking. After a brief presentation on Public-Private Partnerships, we were ready to move on to the fun part. We did an exercise in which each of us put our ideas in 2-3 words and read it out to the entire group. People with similar ideas came together to form a team and that’s it, the process was that easy. Once the groups formed we began a 10 minute rapid iteration phase in which groups received feedback and iterated through their idea to improve it.
The group I helped put together was formed around the idea of using a logistical network to transport wasted food from the grocery stores and restaurants to an enterprise that would add value to this rejected commodity. Seven of us (including myself) came together to work on this. Initially the experience was chaotic because as you can imagine it can be difficult to work in a team of 7. Two hours in, we had nothing substantial down on paper. With just ideas floating around in our heads we approached one of the GW professors who was there as a mentor. In the 30 minutes he spent with us, we solved 2 of our major challenges:
- Creating an affordable and scalable transportation network and;
- Creating public private partnerships that would make our business sustainable.
Good! It was 9pm and our team at least knew where we wanted to go. We spent the remainder of the night hashing out the details and implementation. The next morning when we came together it was unbelievable how quickly we put together a 10 minute presentation for the judges.
At the end, our team was selected to be one of the four finalists to work towards implementing their ideas. What we hope to accomplish is, building a detailed business plan outlining the revenue and expense streams and then forging partnerships with NGO’s, restaurants and grocery stores which would validate our idea and lastly, secure funding to run a pilot. The company would be called Raw Food Rescue, which is a logistics management public-private partnership devoted to rescuing and repurposing raw food resources within the DC area. Our services would include sourcing from the commercial sector, partnering with non-governmental organizations for transportation needs, and connecting the dots for end-user consumers. By leveraging the power of public-private partnerships we will be able to create jobs in local communities, with target groups including veterans, elderly, and disabled individuals. By diverting raw food waste from landfills, we reduce harmful methane emissions. Our services will help DC reach its zero food waste goal and address global climate change.