Rising to the Challenge: Great Challenges Berlin (January 16-18, 2012)

How can we facilitate access to sustainable sources of energy for individual consumers? How can we curb the rampant waste of food and consumer goods in the developed world? How can we ensure equal and open access to digital and mobile networks throughout the world, as these take on an increasingly central role in people’s lives? How can a small group of individuals, through simple collaboration, find solutions to problems previously deemed unsolvable by many?

These are some of the greatest challenges faced not only by businesses of all sizes, but by individuals and by society as a whole, in the present day. On January 16, the Stockholm University subsidiary SU Innovation brought a group of students, academics, and entrepreneurs to betahaus for Great Challenges Berlin, where the group spent three days exploring these different challenges, as well as the ways in which they could be faced. During these three days, participants were invited to present their own ideas and strategies while getting to know the many examples of individuals, startups, and advocacy organisations facing these challenges in the city of Berlin.

The conference began with a series of presentations by entrepreneurs and thinkers from Berlin and from around Sweden, each one presenting their own solutions to different challenges. Speakers, from companies such as Jovoto, Doonited, and SecondMuse, among others, discussed the many ways in which even small-scale initiatives, when carried out as a collaborative effort, can have a significant impact on the world.

Several more startups, many of them from across Sweden, then discussed their own innovative strategies for addressing the challenges of sustainable living and resource management. These strategies involved either directly providing sustainable products or services to consumers, or providing incentives for consumers and companies alike to make conscious choices. Participants learned about how goods and services; such as portable solar-powered chargers, regional grocery-delivery services that make use of as many locally-sourced products as possible, or a service that collects and donates leftover bread from bakeries to soup kitchens, can help overcome these challenges on a local or individual level. Meanwhile, companies such as Gadimu, Cryptango, and Pamoja Cleantech, presented similar strategies with a more global reach; such as information-security for industrial waste-management systems, or inexpensive, environmentally-friendly technology for rural communities in developing countries.

On the second day of the conference, participants were taken on a tour of Berlin, focusing on the city’s many different examples of innovative strategies for dealing with the challenges of today’s world. The tour began with a visit to nearby Impakt Social Labs, and continued on to various other projects and places in the city, ending with a light-hearted drink at the café and coworking space, St. Oberholz. Throughout the day, participants learned how Berlin came to be a European centre for culture and innovation, and continues to maintain that status today. The day concluded with a dinner at betahaus, held by Sandbox, an organisation which seeks to foster young talent across the world. The Sandbox dinner provided a relaxed environment, in which guests were encouraged to network and meet others by discussing their main fields of work or other topics that interested them.

The third day offered participants the chance to either experience the coworking environment of the betahaus, or to visit one of Berlin’s most successful green startups, Coffee Circle, which works to provide high-quality organic, direct-trade coffee from Ethiopia to customers in Germany and across Europe, and 6wunderkinder; another young, Berlin-based startup providing mobile apps with practical, everyday uses. The final official event of Great Challenges Berlin took the participants to the Swedish Embassy, where they were then able to participate in a round-table discussion on the role of impact investment in the future.Great Challenges Berlin provided both SU Innovation and betahaus Berlin with the opportunity to collaboratively discuss and explore the great challenges faced by all in the 21st century, as well as the new and innovative solutions that many companies and individuals continue to develop each day.

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