News Article

Sustainability goals and serendipity: the recipe for responsible leadership

Posted 24th July 2020 • Written by •

In extraordinary times, what does it mean to be a responsible leader? From hackathons to Fuckup Nights, we explore some unlikely examples

Think of the word ‘leader’, and what’s the first image that comes to mind? A man standing at a podium making a speech? A captain of a sports team, urging her players to one last push? A chisel-jawed CEO, rallying the troops at an AGM?

Yeah, me too. OK, maybe you were more imaginative. Even so, I bet the mental image wasn’t one of a disparate bunch of thousands of young people, hunched over laptops at their kitchen tables or on their beds, chatting and Slacking away into the night.

Well, maybe it should have been. Because that’s exactly what one of the most remarkable exercises in leadership in response to the Covid catastrophe looks like. Back in March, while most political leaders were still wrestling with how best to respond to the pandemic, a cool 27,000 people, mostly in Germany, combined in the world’s largest ever hackathon.

Under the hashtag #WirVsVirus (Us against the Virus), they pooled ideas and resources at lightning speed to come up with a range of 130 practical solutions – from 3D printed ventilators to emergency food distribution – and won the backing of the German government to take many of them forward.

The project was supported by the BMW Foundation and drew much of its inspiration – and some of its prime movers – from the foundation’s Responsible Leaders Network. It exemplifies much of what the network’s about: bringing together smart, dynamic, imaginative people from all kinds of backgrounds – way beyond the ‘usual suspects’ of conventional high achievers – in a “radical diversity”, as board member Markus Hipp puts it. And then letting the sparks fly.

“It’s creating a space for serendipity to happen”, says Hipp. And when you do so, he adds, the results can be extraordinary, as #WirVsVirus showed. Indeed, the initiative so impressed the German government that it’s declared it wants such an approach to be part of its problem solving toolkit from now on.

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