When social innovation meets COVID-19

Friday, March 13, 2020

In what can be a disorienting and frightening time, it is encouraging to see glimmers of hope and positive action. Indeed, along with all the cancelations and changes in plans, the world needs creative and constructive responses. With the Canadian-coined term “caremongering” emerging, unprecedented levels of open data sharing, and the development of hackathons to design COVID-19-fighting technologies, there is lots going on. Indeed, the Centre for Peace Advancement has come across over thirty examples of innovative efforts to improve public health and contribute to the common good.

Youth are being included in COVID-19 solution conversations and encouraged to share their ideas:

  • Innovation Box released a downloadable “Classroom Innovation Challenge Playbook” that equips educators to creatively lead elementary and secondary students in brainstorming how to increase hand washing behaviour.
  • The New York Academy of the Sciences is also hosting a “Combating COVID-19” challenge that invites youth from ages 13 to 17 develop technology-based solutions and slow down the spread of thecoronavirus.

The coronavirus has caught the attention of the world’s technology experts, giving life to many new challenges, competitions, and projects:

  • Christian technology hub FaithTech will be hosting a COVID-19 Global Church Hackathon to build solutions to the problems local churches are facing during this pandemic.
  • Polish consultancy and software development company DO OK hosted an online Hack the Crisis: Tech for Good hackathon that challenged participants to prototype solutions in 3-5 days with the help of distinguished mentors.
  • A team of Canadian programmers from the software developer network Dev Edmonton Society is hosting a “CODEVID-19” pandemic hackathon that challenges teams to builds apps that will help people cope during the current pandemic.
  • Projects such as OpenRespirator, Project Open Air, and Open COVID19 aim and to collect and develop open-source tools, devices, hardware, and methodologies that can be quickly and effectively mobilized to fight the coronavirus.
  • COVID-Net is an open source neural network for COVID-19 detection recently created by Waterloo-based DarwinAI.
  • Kitchener company InkSmith3D recently designed and are now assembling 3D printed PPE face shields to give to front line hospital workers at no charge.

Academic researchers have a critical role to play to find solutions to the coronavirus, and have been taking part in many socially innovative endeavors:

  • The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Solve initiative is currently hosting a Health Security & Pandemics challenge that seeks technology innovations to slow down the spread of COVID-19, as well as preventative solutions for future outbreaks (solutions submitted so far can be viewed here).
  • The Allen Institute for AI has teamed up with numerous research groups to create a COVID-19 Open Research Dataset (CORD-19), a free resource to researchers all over the globe with over 29,000 scholarly articles.
  • The Mercatus Centre at George Mason University recently announced that their Emergent Ventures Program will incentivize innovation by rewarding over one million dollars through a series of prizes to those creating critical breakthroughs, important advancements, or standout reporting concerning the Coronavirus. 

The media, as well as other communicative organizations, are finding inventive ways to revolutionize how they spread information on COVID-19:

  • OPENIDEO’s COVID-19 Communication Inspiration Challenge asks participants to share how they are accessing information and what they think could be improved, which will be shared with global response authorities so that they can efficiently inform and empower communities.
  • First Draft, a non-profit tackling information disorder, has created an open COVID-19 resource page for reporters to fight the current ‘infodemic’, with different aids such as an archive of debunks, a collection of reputable articles, and a guide on responsible reporting and ethics.
  • Numerous newspapers such as The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star, The New York Times are doing business differently by removing the paywall for critical Coronavirus news articles and updates.

As well, many opportunities have been made open to the public so that more people can engage with efforts to flatten the curve:

  • Singularity University hosted a three-day virtual summit, “COVID-19: The State & Future of Pandemics”, leveraging technology to educate and provide expert advice to the public for free.
  • The Boma COVID-19 Summit, in partnership with Zoom, was a global, live-streamed, one day conference with 10 participatory sessions, each highlighting the research and expertise of a particular country. 
  • The World Health Organization has released new trainings on OpenWHO, an open online courses platform, to equip medical professionals, governments, and civil society organizations to respond to COVID-19.
  • The new Help with COVID website acts as a volunteer database for professionals to assist with various coronavirus projects.

This snapshot of actions and opportunities is not definitive or exhaustive, and, as with government and community responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, will be quickly out of date. Visit Civic Tech’s Coronavirus Field Guide web page to see an ever-growing compilation of available COVID-19 resources, such as funding opportunities, virtual events, and educational resources. Newspeak House’s collaborative Corona Virus Tech Handbook is also a useful resource, with thousands of contributors and the ultimate collection of tools, websites and data relating to the novel coronavirus.