Coding Together: Hackathons for a Sustainable Future

Hackathons have been adopted by universities to explore new forms of learning and cooperation. Join us to find out how the University of Geneva and Tsinghua University leverage these sprint-like team events to catapult us towards a more sustainable future.

Squeezing the most out of only one or two days – hackathons are all about coming up with solutions in a short amount of time. Participants often forego lunch and dinner for a pizza break (eaten in front or very near a computer) and a comfy hotel bed for a sleeping bag. Despite them containing the word “marathon”, hackathons are more like a prolonged sprint with participants typing away at their keyboards often throughout the night (the other part of the word doesn’t refer to “hacking” as in trying to breach other computer systems, but rather to a way of exploratory programming).

The first use of the word can be traced back to 1999 when a cryptographic programming event was held in Calgary, Canada. Since then there have been countless hackathons all over the world sometimes marking the starting point of a remarkable success story. Companies such as GroupMe (later acquired by Skype) or Nitobi (later bought by Adobe) were born out of a hackathon event. Presenting a new and innovative approach to learning, hackathons have also been adopted by universities, among them the University of Geneva and Tsinghua University.

Mr. Felix Fellmann, Head of International Cooperation at the Embassy of Switzerland in China, will briefly touch upon the Impact Hackathons Asia Pacific project. Building on the existing partnership between the Geneva University and Tsinghua University, this hackathon tackles sustainability-related issues and is managed by Dr. Renaud Vuignier as part of the SDC Beijing office portfolio.

Subsequently, Ms. Pearl Donghui Mao will describe the Tsinghua SDG Open Hack in detail (an event inspired by a hackathon of the University of Geneva). She will explain how it helps students to understand the innovation process and how it develops their teamwork skills. Ms. Mao will also talk about the goals of this undertaking – namely finding practical solutions to bring about a more sustainable future.

Next, Mr. Thomas Maillart, Founding President of Open Geneva and a Senior Lecturer at University of Geneva, will present the Geneva Crisis and Resilience Innovation Fund, a joint endeavor launched by the Canton of Geneva, the University of Geneva, the University of Applied Sciences in Geneva and Open Geneva to build a more resilient and sustainable economy. To conclude, Mr. Jonas Haertle, Special Assistant to the Executive Director, United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), is subsequently scheduled to give a brief address on a related topic.

Event Rundown

16:00-16:10                Introductory remarks


16:10-16:15                 Impact Hackathons Asia Pacific – Exploring innovative ways for cooperation and development
(Mr. Felix Fellmann – Head of International Cooperation at the Embassy of Switzerland in China)


16:15-16:30                From ideas to sustainable impact: SDG Open Hack at Tsinghua University
(Ms. Pearl Donghui Mao – Director of Tsinghua x-lab, School of Economics and Management (SEM), Tsinghua University)


16:30-16:45               Open Innovation & Crowdsupport to Upgrade the Economy
(Mr. Thomas Maillart – Founding President Open Geneva, Senior Lecturer at University of Geneva)


16:45-16:50               Knowledge to Lead
(Mr. Jonas Haertle – Special Assistant to the Executive Director, United Nations Institute for Training and Research UNITAR)


16:50-17:00               Q&A and Conclusion


In collaboration with

Connected Series

The Connected Series is a new format at Swissnex in China putting a spotlight on the best Sino-Swiss collaboration projects and research efforts. It highlights how teams from both countries can best work together to create synergies and get their projects off the ground.