#WirVsVirus: Sprinting through the Marathon

Maurice Weiss/OSTKREUZ

In the blink of an eye, a spontaneous idea at the early stages of the Corona crisis has turned into a powerful movement to fight the virus – and the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt and its Responsible Leaders Network are playing a key role in this undertaking. In March, 27,000 people participated in the #WirVsVirus hackathon; the 130 most promising solutions are now being realized and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research provides funding for the implementation of many solutions with an overall budget of 1.6 million-euro.

Today, on Wednesday, May 20, 2020 – just two months after the start of the hackathon and exactly 42 marathon days after the #WirVsVirus solution enabler program was launched under the patronage of the Federal Chancellery – the participants are taking stock and sounding the bell for the second leg of the race: through a huge digital meeting and a large-scale social media campaign using the familiar hashtag #WirVsVirus.

Sponsoring Partners

Together with the Vodafone Institute for Society and Communications and Google, the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt is funding the program with a total of 500,000 euros.Through this start-up grant, the initiators want to make sure that, in the next six months, the human resources will be available to adequately guide and advise 130 teams comprised of over 1,000 team members as well as the 30,000-citizen-strong #WirVsVirus community and to quickly validate and implement the solutions. The KfW Stiftung just joined as fourth sponsoring partner. In addition to their financial contributions, the partners also provide pro-bono support, networking, and coaching.

They are catching their breath after a digital sprint that is unprecedented in this form. At top speed, ideas in twelve action fields related to the Corona crisis have been tested, discarded, validated, refined, and piloted. All of this took place virtually, mostly using the platform Slack. And it involved people who had never seen each other before – much less worked together before – in real life.

During the 48-hour hackathon alone, 464,866 Slack messages flew across virtual space. Swarm intelligence 2.0. Dorothee Bär (CSU), the German minister of state for digitalization, enthused: “The hackathon was a huge success, with some 43,000 registrations, 27,000 active users, and 1,500 registered projects. It was not only the biggest hackathon worldwide; it also showed the great solidarity and willingness of people to help solve problems in the current situation.”

Now, the initiators are justly celebrating the milestones and successes of the first leg, which will help society come out stronger of the current crisis: from gathering and digitalizing hospital resources, to food distribution, to 3D-printed ventilators, to Chatbot UDO. With the aid of this automated program, you can, in the blink of an eye, apply for short-time work online – currently an absolutely vital service for many employees and companies.

The 130 supported projects aim to develop simple and above all scalable solutions with major social value added to the most pressing challenges. It is amazing to see how easily and quickly civil society and the federal government are working hand in hand and how easily the results of the collaboration find their way into institutions – such as, for example, the health-care system or the Federal Employment Agency, one of Germany’s biggest agencies.


RESPOND Accelerator Supports #WirVsVirus

The BMW Foundation provides additional support to the #WirVsVirus Solution Enabler and Solution Builder through know-how and coaching from its accelerator program RESPOND, which is supported by UnternehmerTUM. For the Solution Enabler experts share their knowledge in weekly masterclasses that are constantly adapted to the needs and requirements of the projects. Upcoming sessions will, for example, deal with topics such as B2B Marketing and Impact Business Modelling. In the upcoming Solution Builder program, RESPOND aims to support ten selected projects through individualized coaching sessions. Moreover, RESPOND also contributes through its network of coaches and mentors, partner organizations, BMW Foundation Responsible Leaders, as well as staff capacities.

“As a foundation, we actively want to support cross-sector innovation,” said Frank Niederländer, member of the board of the BMW Foundation. “The program has a huge potential to demonstrate, in real time, how solutions directly impact large-scale systems and how it is possible to intelligently interconnect government, society, and business. Believing in the strength of impact start-ups, we launched the accelerator program RESPOND, whose know-how also contributes to the program.”

In addition to the financial support and the expertise offered by RESPOND, the BMW Foundation is also throwing the full weight of its Responsible Leaders Network behind this initiative. Numerous members of the network are key levers of the #WirVsVirus program: as mentors, patrons, experts, door-openers and, above all, as enablers. These include, on the front line, Philipp von der Wippel, managing director of ProjectTogether; Leon Reiner, managing director of Impact Hub Berlin; and Markus Sauerhammer, chairman of SEND e.V. (Social Entrepreneurship Netzwerk Deutschland).

Philipp von der Wippel, managing director of ProjectTogether. Marc Beckmann
Leon Reiner, managing director of Impact Hub Berlin. Impact Hub Berlin

“Through the excellently curated network of the BMW Foundation, doors have been opening at a speed that otherwise would have taken months,” said Philipp von der Wippel. It is obvious, he noted, that there is a deep foundation of trust among the participating Responsible Leaders. “And it is this very foundation of trust that now makes all the difference in a crisis when it is about getting solutions quickly to the right levers.”

"It is this very foundation of trust that now makes all the difference in a crisis when it is about getting solutions quickly to the right levers."
Philipp von der Wippel

Philipp launched ProjectTogether at the age of 16. His focus is on shaping a new open social innovation process of how to tackle complex societal challenges in combining the strengths of bottom-up initiatives and top-down institutions. Under the motto “prototyping solutions today which shape tomorrow ” ProjectTogether wants to empower bottom-up initiatives to quickly test out many solutions at the same time, so that we can collectively learn which solutions should be implemented on a large scale. As co-initiator of the #WirVsVirus program, ProjectTogether offers guidance in the form of weekly sprints, update calls, test and learning processes, 1:1 experts, needs-based resources as well as optional individual coaching to support the teams all the way from idea to validated solution to implementation.

In short, Philipp and his colleagues have hardly slept for weeks, they are coordinating, organizing, consulting, and constantly engaged in calls. “This is a great team performance – each and every one is giving his/her best, and thus we are able to create something that one person alone would not have been able to achieve.”


#WirVsVirus Hackathon

The world’s biggest hackathon #WirVsVirus on March 23 was a digital collaboration, organized by the federal government and seven social initiatives, to fight the Corona virus; its eventual turnout – 27,000 participants – surprised even the organizers. The idea was to solicit creative ideas, programs, and digital projects from many walks of life that would be able to help deal with the Corona pandemic. As part of the competition, programmers, designers, creatives, problem solvers, and socially engaged citizens over a two-day period developed prototypes. Participants worked on a total of some 1,500 projects from the approx. 3,000 challenges in connection with the pandemic, including more than 100 challenges from federal ministries or from government agencies such as the Federal Office of Civil Protection or the Federal Police.

The rapid speed of the last two months is having an effect even on hardened veterans of the social entrepreneurship scene such as Leon Reiner, who, with the Impact Hub Berlin, is advising and supporting, among other things, a kind of “fast lane” program. A total of ten project teams whose ideas have been attested special potential, are receiving human resources support, so that they can implement and scale their solutions in a timely manner as part of the #WirVsVirus Solution Builder program.

These include Ernte Erfolg, a platform connecting farmers with harvest hands from the region, and the matching initiative Pflegesterne, connecting former qualified nurses with hospitals, nursing homes, and mobile nursing services that are looking for staff.

“During the first two months, we were on a constant high, but it is definitely taking its toll,” said Leon Reiner. What predominates, however, is the enthusiasm and the justified hope that #WirVsVirus can offer a blueprint for future collaborations between civil society and the government. “We have triggered something whose dimensions we would never have expected,” agreed Markus Sauerhammer from SEND, who, together with his team, is not only involved in #WirVsVirus, but since the beginning of the pandemic has also worked hard to save crisis-affected social entrepreneurs from collapse.

Markus Sauerhammer, chairman of SEND e.V. Marc Beckmann
“We have triggered something whose dimensions we would never have expected.”
Markus Sauerhammer

He too sees the crisis as a big opportunity for future collaborations. “Here, we are all pulling together: governments, ministries, civil society, companies – that is, society as a whole. This collaboration in a time of great transformation is a very important step to quickly achieve solutions.” For Leon Reiner from Impact Hub Berlin, the commitment and patronage of the Federal Chancellery has clearly been a major accelerator. “The topic was given top priority and this has opened many doors.” In addition, there was a big urgency and a clear target corridor, and #WirVsVirus offered a great chance to tackle the crisis constructively. The implementation program facilitated quick testing and thus the low-risk development of creative solutions for social problems.

Philipp von der Wippel added: “It is an opportunity to bring together the wealth of ideas from civil society with the implementation power of the state and use it for the common good of 80 million citizens. The #WirVsVirus concept can clearly also be translated to other challenges.” Leon Reiner describes the collaboration between the social-sector initiators of the program and the government agencies as a huge learning process. “They are really trying to make things possible in the shortest of time and at all levels – without creating new structures.” The #WirVsVirus consortium, too, has deliberately refrained from creating a new organization. “This is a move for doing this together. By the summer, the structures will hopefully be in place for us to be able to take a backseat.”

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