Coronovirus COVID-19 vs. Hackathons

Thousands of technology enthusiasts and others are flocking to a new wave of hackathons created to fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
The low-sleep, high-octane sessions have attracted participants world-wide to team up online and suggest solutions to problems such as the equipment shortage for health providers or a better way to track the spread of Covid-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus.
“Everyone is looking at the urgency of the situation,” said Youseph Yazdi, executive director at Johns Hopkins Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design, which organized a five-day hackathon in the last week of March that attracted 513 teams with 2.331 applicants from 34 countries.
That hackathon was around thematic areas including how to communicate effectively about Covid-19, prevention of transmission within communities and health-care equipment shortages.
Among the ideas that emerged were a location-based mobile application to track traffic in grocery stores for effective social-distancing practices, and a tool for messaging platforms to tag misinformation by analyzing keywords and redirecting users to trusted news sources.
It was the first hackathon for Helen Xun, a medical student on leave from Johns Hopkins, whose team reviewed and refined design files of 3-D printed parts such as filters and splitters so ventilators could be shared among multiple patients. The team had already prototyped parts ahead of the hackathon, but got fresh ideas on designs and materials.
“The hackathon opened this international forum for us to talk to people globally to assess the actual needs,” Ms. Xun said.
Hackathons were made popular decades ago by the software community as communal, all-night sessions, often powered by pizza and various caffeinated beverages. Social distancing means today’s hackathons are conducted online, with interactions among team members happening over videoconferencing and chat tools from Zoom Video Communications and Slack Technologies Inc.
The rapid spread of the coronavirus, which caught many officials flat-footed, has paved the way for community-sourced solutions, ranging from hackathons to 3-D printing.
“Doctors are leading the fight, but a lot of people would love to find ways to engage and help,” said Sam Lessin, a general partner at venture-capital firm Slow Ventures, which helped organize a hackathon last month, with about 19,000 participants from across 175 countries, working on themes suggested by partners such as the World Health Organization.
Hackathon participants are expected to experiment to find solutions, making such events better equipped to tackle aspects of complex problems, said Estonia’s Minister of Trade’s Kaimar Karu.
More than 1,000 people from around 20 countries participated in a remote hackathon that the Estonia government and local companies organized last month
“There’s no known way out of this,” he said. “You can only try, experiment at a small scale and based on the results you can amplify this. If it doesn’t work at all, you essentially kill [the idea],” he said.
Last weekend, Massachusetts Institute of Technology hosted a 48-hour Beat the Pandemic hackathon in which 1,500 participants worked in 238 teams.

MIT’s Covid-19 hackathon participants had access to multiple data sets.

Rebecca Sereda, a researcher in the stem-cell and regenerative-biology department at Harvard University, was part of a team that in 40 hours created a mobile app that used machine learning to score individuals on immunity to Covid-19, similar to a credit score, based on data such as location, age, interactions, and health history. The team is refining the app and preparing to launch it.
“It was extremely chaotic because people are constantly messaging, there’s a million notifications going at once from all these different Slack channels,” Ms. Sereda said about the experience.
MIT provided access to open data sets including JHU’s epidemiological data repository and Covid-19 information compiled by the World Health Organization and the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We had many partners from the health-care space and clinical partners involved. It is up to them to work with the teams to take the solutions developed and work toward putting those in market,” said Paul Cheek, a hacker-in-residence at Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, which organized the hackathon.

Leadership Lessons for all times & Some specific pointers for Surviving times of Crisis

Person jumping from cliff to another showing concept of success in business and leadership
Credit: Onchira Wongsiri/Shutterstock
Over the past 1 1/2 years two iconic corporate leaders of the 20th and early 21st century passed away: Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines and Jack Welch of General Electric. Both built phenomenally successful companies during their tenures. Both had unique leadership styles, that differed in many ways. However, there were a number of striking similarities, that provide leadership lessons for all times and some specific pointers for surviving times of crisis. Not surprisingly, these are characteristics called out in the Baldrige Excellence Framework and displayed by leaders of Baldrige Award recipient organizations across all sectors. Let me share the characteristics I gleaned from numerous readings about these two leaders and summarized in these articles about Kelleher and Welch.  I will relate them to the Baldrige framework and then to important lessons for times of challenge.
There were six important characteristics that these two leaders shared:
  1. Give people (employees, colleagues) a sense of purpose. Inspire them through participation in the mission and vision of the organization. Make sure every employee has a line-of-sight from their responsibilities to the outcomes the organization is striving to achieve.
  2. Be visible to the employees of the organization. Communicate frequently and be seen in the work environment. Listen to employees, don't just share your message for them. Active listening motivates employees and excites them with your enthusiasm for their work and ideas. Those ideas could be the source of your next organizational innovation.
  3. Value people. Treat all employees with dignity. Show gratitude and emphasize recognizing employee contributions. If employees come first, they will treat customers equally well and shareholders will benefit. Two-time Baldrige Award recipient, Ritz-Carlton, has a motto that has withstood the test of time, workforce diversity, and workforce generations, "We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen." The lowest-paid hourly employee is valued equally to a hotel guest. Actually, maybe more than any guest because the Ritz-Carlton will find another hotel accommodation for any guest who mistreats an employee.
  4. Build trust. Be transparent and honest in all interactions with employees. Messages should include positive statements, but not at the expense of full disclosure of troubling situations. Story-telling and sharing personal stories of successes and failures build trust. Demonstrate caring for employees' personal stories. For more on building trust, check this old Insights on the Road to Performance Excellence blog, entitled If You Want to Build Trust, Collect Trash.
  5. Be strategically agile. The external environment is constantly changing. Competitors disappear and new ones arise from adjacent industries. Constant assessment and reprioritization are keys to survival and success.
  6. Focus on innovation. Jack Welch always checked to see if the company was riding the right wave. Herb Kelleher treated competition from other airlines as an opportunity to innovate, starting with the belief that Southwest was in the customer service industry, not the airline industry. Welch and Kelleher set high expectations and employees innovated to deliver on those expectations because they knew they and their ideas were valued.
Not surprisingly, all of these six topics are addressed in the Baldrige Excellence Framework. Let me illustrate with some specific examples:
  • These six concepts are embedded in the Baldrige Core Values, which underpin the questions in the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence (part of the Baldrige Excellence Framework). The relevant core values are: Visionary LeadershipValuing PeopleOrganizational Learning and AgilityFocus on SuccessManaging for Innovation, and Ethics and Transparency.
  • The Leadership category of the criteria ask these questions: How do senior leaders deploy the vision and values through the leadership system, to the workforce....? How do senior leaders communicate with and engage the entire workforce? How do they encourage frank, two-way communication, communicate key decisions and needs for organizational change, and take a direct role in motivating the workforce toward high performance? How do senior leaders create an environment for success now and in the future? How do they create and enforce your organizational culture? How do they cultivate organizational agility...innovation, and intelligent risk-taking? How do senior leaders create a focus on action...and demonstrate personal accountability for the organization's actions?
  • The Strategy category of the criteria ask these questions: How does your strategy development process stimulate and incorporate innovation? How do you recognize and respond when circumstances require a shift in action plans and rapid execution of new plans?
  • The Workforce category of the criteria ask these questions: How do you determine the key drivers of workforce engagement? How do you foster an organizational culture that is characterized by open communication, high performance, and an engaged workforce? 
  • The Operations category of the criteria ask these questions: How do you pursue your opportunities for innovation? How do you ensure that your organization is prepared for disasters or emergencies?
How are you using the lessons learned from Jack Welch and Herb Kelleher to survive in challenging times? How are you giving employees a sense of purpose at this time? Are you visible to employees, even if they are working remotely? Are you giving employees an opportunity to communicate with you and are you treating them with dignity? Are you listening to their ideas? Are you being open, honest, and transparent in your interactions with employees, sharing the current situation for the organization? Are you being organizationally agile and looking for opportunities for innovation and greater safety?

Airline Industry is looking to Rewrite the Rules it Agreed to tackle Global Emissions

With global air travel at a near standstill, the airline industry is looking to rewrite the rules it agreed to tackle global emissions. The Guardian reports that the airline is billing it as a matter of survival, while environmental activists are accusing the industry of trying to dodge their obligations.

The governing body of the airline industry, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has warned that airlines will start to pull out of a plan to offset and reduce carbon emissions if the International Civil Aviation Organization does not amend the rules, according to The Guardian.

The issue is that future offsets are determined by a benchmark that averages emissions from 2019 and 2020. The higher the emissions are, the higher the bar will be set and the less the airlines will have to pay. Rather than commit to a low-carbon future, though, the airline-lobbying group is complaining that the global pandemic has reduced emissions so drastically that it will push the average down too much and future carbon targets will be too steep a challenge, as The Guardian reported.

The Green Alliance found that before the coronavirus lockdowns the airlines' plans to reduce emissions would not meet the requirements of the Paris agreement.

As The Guardian reported, James Elliott, a Green Alliance policy adviser, said, "Calls to reduce burdens on the [aviation] sector as it recovers are understandable. But the climate emergency also presents an urgent challenge which must be addressed. If the sector cannot find ways to rebuild itself sustainably after the Covid-19 crisis, it will face painful disruption again in the future as its part in the climate emergency has to be addressed."

A new investigation by Unearthed revealed that the airline industry is coordinating efforts around the world to push governments and airports around the world to roll back environmental taxes. Furthermore, the papers Unearthed found are a strategy to lobby for public money to be poured into funds to restart or maintain air travel and for any planned tax increases to be delayed for up to a year.

Emirates, America's largest international airline, has gone one step further than the IATA recommended and asked the New York Port Authority to defer any tax obligations until 2022, according to a letter from the CEO of Emirates, as reported by Unearthed.
Jo Dardenne, aviation manager at campaign group Transport and Environment, told Unearthed, "We fear that this list of demands is a way for airlines to reduce charges not only now but also once things go back to 'normal'.
"Any financial aid to the sector should be conditional on them paying their taxes and committing to governments' plans to regulate the climate impact of the sector. Given the current climate emergency, governments can't afford to be bailing out polluting sectors without strict green conditions."

IATA's director general, Alexandre de Juniac, told The Guardian that the industry was not relinquishing its responsibilities.

"We haven't given up our environmental goals … After the recovery we will continue to reduce emissions and noise footprints – that hasn't changed," he said. "This crisis is a matter of survival for the industry … We are asking governments for urgent help. Of course we will comply with our environmental obligations. Before that, we have to survive – or there will be no issue with the environment, the industry will have disappeared."

Greenpeace, however, is appalled by what the industry is asking for and takes issue with carbon offsets as responsible environmental stewardship. "At the same time as they're asking for huge government bailouts, airlines are also lobbying furiously to dodge their obligations towards cutting carbon emissions," said John Sauven, Greenpeace UK's executive director, as The Guardian reported. "Offsetting schemes have always been big polluters' favorite excuse to carry on polluting while shifting responsibility for their emissions to someone else. The industry's current proposal would only make the buck-passing easier."