Extended Play is a conversation with Swiss innovators and entrepreneurs at all stages of the development cycle. Today Laura Groebel of the G3iD explains how a small group of people are bringing social hacking and design-thinking to International Geneva.  

GG: G3iD is a group of innovation-hackers keen on transforming Geneva into the Silicon Valley of sustainable and humanitarian development. What’s your part in this?

LG: My full time job of late is coordinating the Geneva Global Goals Innovation Day (G3iD) acting as the glue within a disparate, multidisciplinary team.

GG: Which is doing business in a way slightly alien to what we’re used to in International Geneva.

LG: G3iD is a co-created organization where everyone is equal, working without hierarchy. My role is to diminish information silos as much as possible and facilitate group decision-making processes. It’s about staying integrated and ensuring everyone is equally heard. It’s a very low-key, non-invasive style of leadership, which for us, works well.

GG: De-centralised structure, non-hierarchical, non-invasive leadership. Almost sounds subversive. What is the endgame here?

LG: We’re here to bring the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into your backyard. We want everyone in international as well as local Geneva to be aware of what they can do to advance and accelerate the SDGs, either in a personal or organizational capacity. Our aim is to offer innovation as a methodology, to actually create solutions for the SDGs.

GG: Which is all part of making SDG implementation an open-source movement.

LG: Yes, but we are still at the very beginning. We have to build bridges between local Geneva and International Geneva, between the NGOs, the IOs, the SMEs, or anyone who has the capacity to advance the SDGs. If we can’t do anything here in this extremely wealthy, cosmopolitan village, then it’s just not gonna work anywhere. Geneva has such a rich ecosystem and we need to work together to make use of it.

GG: Tell us about the ‘we’ in this proposition. Who exactly is G3iD and how did it begin?

LG: We are a network, but individuals first and foremost. It didn’t start with the International Trade Centre, Impact Hub, Pangloss Labs and The Port, it started as Raimund, Vivian, Felix, Paul and Daniel, who sat around the table and said: “We’re all working on innovation and sustainability, so let’s find a mechanism for doing this together.” Rather than just meeting every four weeks and talking, the idea was let’s do something, so we created an association in order to work towards a common goal.

“G3iD is filling a gap in Geneva. We feel there is not enough connectivity within this bubble of innovation and sustainability.
– Laura Groebel

GG: And it was this type of thinking that produced the Geneva Global Goals Innovation Day?

LG: Over eight months ago, we had this grand vision of the innovation day, with 500 participants, 40 stalls, 20 workshops, but at the time we had nothing implemented. Around 5 months ago we went into execution mode expanding the team from seven people to 30, coming from all over the world, motivated by entirely different things. G3iD is filling a gap in Geneva. We feel there is not enough connectivity within this bubble of innovation and sustainability.

GG: That connectivity is also important at the human level. Adding scale at speed is a crossroads where many small businesses collapse. Any survival tips?

LG: The one thing that binds us at G3iD is we all want to make change, we want to create it fast, and want to provide that fuel to others. Our last team meeting was about 12 people from 11 nations, some being thought leaders in innovation, others coming from the NGO world or from the private sector. We are living our mission just by sitting down in the same room together and creating things. Just as the SDGs can’t be accomplished by a handful of organizations, G3iD cannot belong to three or four people. The point is to bring together a diverse group of actors, each contributing something different, where all have an equal voice. That’s the principle of co-creation. When someone comes in with a new angle, a new idea, new ways of working, they bring something to the group.

GG: Great, so where do I sign up? Is there some sort of IQ and emotional intelligence testing involved?

LG: Sure, you can sign-up via our website and, no, there’s no testing. The most important ingredient is motivation. If at the time of introduction you are able to offer something complimentary to the team, and it seems to be working for all of us, people just filter in. There’s no one person or committee who’s making an executive decision about who can join and who can’t. We can’t be too exclusive when we want to solve the SDGs!

GG: The course of implementing the SDGs by 2030 has given focus to a heretofore fractured movement, which gained momentum after the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle and UN Millennium Summit of 2000 but somehow lost traction.

LG: The SDGs give us a framework in which we can apply ourselves. Before we had the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Under this framework we achieved a lot but from my personal point of view, the flaw wth the MDGs was attributing too much responsibility to the Global South and it wasn’t inclusive enough. With the formulation of the SDGs, the UN was extremely inclusive. SDGs actually acknowledge the huge issues we face as a global community that can only be solved if we are working on them globally. Which means Geneva is just as much part of solving global issues as much as Nairobi is, even if those challenges appear to be more pronounced in Nairobi than in Geneva. Our function at G3iD is to assist everyone who wants to help, or is capable of helping, in learning how they can support the SDGs.

GG: What you said about bringing the SDGs into our backyard implies that everyone can contribute. Often with these sweeping multilateral mandates, their implementation appears very top-down, when in the case of the SDGs the approach is bottom-up.

LG: The SDGs are supposed to be implemented by everyone, you and I as individuals, but also businesses, NGOs, and anyone who can work towards them. Today we’re facing issues like climate change, and if we want to tackle climate change we have to address issues like meat consumption. It’s not enough for governments to roll out policies, rather we must, on an individual level, realise we need to adjust our food intake and find more sustainable ways of sourcing our food. This has to happen locally. Just as much as the clothes we wear, our food consumption has such a strong impact on our ecological environment, but also in creating social disparities, and even inequalities.

“The SDGs are supposed to be implemented by everyone, you and I as individuals, but also businesses, NGOs, and anyone who can work towards them.
– Laura Groebel

LG: The first step is understanding the impacts of my personal choices, and for my business decisions – how the way I am sourcing food supply is having larger ecological impacts. And then we have to survey the solutions, and if there are none, what are the solutions I myself can create to actually tackle global issues.

GG: G3iD is building a network of people who are providing solutions, at the same time learning about the solutions, and also creating them. Tell us about the organizations in Geneva that are driving the agenda, helping G3iD complete it’s mission.

LG: This started with a set of individuals from a variety of organizations. There’s Pangloss Labs in Ferney-Voltaire, which is a fab-lab, working on social issues with a very technologically-led approach. There’s the Impact Hub which is attracting not only the international community, but bridging the French and English-speaking crowd, creating a forum around social issues, which is supporting businesses. The International Trade Centre, one of G3iD’s early supporters, aims at improving efficiency and effectiveness and providing new and better services to its clients, spearheading the process of bringing innovation methodologies into the work of International Organizations. APRES-Genève, the chamber for social economic solidarity here in Geneva, jumped onboard several months ago and is leading outreach to the French-speaking community.

GG: So this network is not just creating theoretical solutions, but bridging to get those solutions into the hands of populations in need?

LG: Exactly. For instance, the G3iD Innovation Day on 24 March will convene 20 workshops where the challenges are real, outlined by a specific organization, and delivering a tangible product. We’re then bringing multiple stakeholders together, using design-thinking methodologies, to iterate these products.

GG: The idea of hackathons and co-creation labs, while new, are not dedicated solely to emergent issues, but confronting endemic problems which have plagued the relief sector for decades.

LG: If you consider, for instance, the state of sanitation in refugee camps, we’re talking camps which have been operational for 20 years, becoming permanent homes for some people. There are so many internally displaced people around the world that just have nowhere to go. UNITAR have developed a criteria which they will put forward on clean energy in refugee camps, giving us a very tactile sense of how this will have impact.

GG: Speaking of new technologies G3iD is very much an exploration into human technologies.

LG: There will many social models on exhibit, presented in such a way as to increase our understanding of organizational issues. For ITC, we are very eager to scout new projects, what can we apply in our own work, and identify who we can partner with. For me, as Laura, it’s going to be exciting to see these new ideas. Maybe I’ll find a new initiative that I actually want to commit to in my spare time, a great local project I want to volunteer for.

GG: What are some projects we’ll see during the G3iD Co-Creation Lab?

LG: There is the Perception Change Project with UNOG and GovFaces who are are designing a children’s book on the SDGs, a kind of fairytail covering each of the 17 SDGs, and they will be shipped worldwide to be taught in classrooms. They have one hour, with a crowd of 20 people, anyone is welcome, to design a prototype that will help children connect with the SDGs, taking it home from the classroom. A game, something small, portable, sustainable, something fun, that will keep the SDGs present in young people’s minds outside of school.

GG: The Co-Creation Lab is open-house then, which is basically putting design-thinking tools into the hands of anyone who’s interested.

LG: There’s overall 20 workshops, all designed by at least two organizations and facilitated by an expert on design-thinking methodologies. Each session is one hour and you’ll have 20 participants. Some have been pre-selected as experts, some are just whoever shows up. When you get there you’ll have five workshops underway at the same time. It’s first come first serve, but yes, everyone is invited to help these organizations create solutions.

GG: So with the 20 CHF entry – 10 CHF for students and interns – and a Swiss sense of punctuality, you’ll be well on your way to learning design-thinking.

LG: Well if you don’t get there on time, there will be plenty of activity, panel discussions, and the Solutions Fair will be open all day. I think missing out or being bored won’t be possible.

2 COMMENTS

  1. An engineer from London working in Mountain View and now living in NYC struggles with the notion why cities self-style to be the Silicon Valley of a particular trade, ex. SDGs. Geneva has no Sand Hill Road, no comparable migration of risk capital or specialist workforce resembling 80’s Silicon Valley and arguably the opposite is true; Dubai, Mumbai, Singapore are years ahead. Do your thing in Geneva but fit the slogans to the outlaying financial/intellectual threshold. ‘International Geneva’ can show leadership on SDGs but best rely on other metropoles to bring sufficient volume to support these targets for 2030, i.e. would urge G3ID to do more reaching out than looking in.

  2. @Frank Castle point well taken. However G3iD is forming a critical mass around SDGs allowing global partners to identify Geneva as a beacon for solutions, which has its own value, and is not always dependent on a surge of speculative finance. In 2017 it is possible to have one without the other. Being a venue for the international exchange of ideas, and indeed incubation of tools for e-learning, fair trade, sustainable housing, impact monitoring, etc. to protect communities at risk, aligns naturally with the DNA of International Geneva. Silicon Valley may be sitting at the end of a consumer-goods value chain but Geneva is clearly at the front of a human-good value chain.

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