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Helsinki Sustainability Jam through the eyes of a GSUSJammer

By Polina Racheeva

During All Saints Day weekends Helsinki finally saw the worldwide hackaton called Global Sustainability Jam. After a four year break the Jam had finally returned to Helsinki.

As the name suggests, Global Sustainability Jam is a global hackaton, held in over 3o countries simultaneously. The “Sustainability” part suggests that the aim of the event is to generate solutions which will move the world towards sustainability. “Save the world in 48 hours” is the key message of the jam. Participants in different world locations get together, hear the Secret Theme and develop the working prototypes. The main rule is to create a working prototype of your product or service: “Prototypes, not presentations”. All the works need to be uploaded by Sunday afternoon, usually by 15:00 local time.

What happened?

On Friday 30th October the Jam started with networking. Notably, the participants were from various backgrounds: game developers, IT-experts, engineers (electrical, chemical and civil), architects, designers and media experts, business and marketing, and even people from public health, cultural management and international politics came together to save the world in 48 hours. People started to immediately intermingle with each other far before the warm-up exercises. What was especially pleasant is that some of participants came from other cities just to take part in the Jam! Is that not a good sign?

After the icebreaker there was an inspiring speech by Brenann Maury Clark, the Co-founder of Froodly startup. In brief, Froodly is a mobile application that helps Helsinki shoppers to find discounted expiring food. Food industries are throwing away tons of food, which can generate the same amount of greenhouse gases as 100,000 cars in a year.

Soon the secret theme was announced. There are a few rules about the secret theme. The most important one is to never disclose it to other jammers (as Adam Lawrence, one of the global organizers says: “No spoilers!”). The second rule is that there is no right or wrong interpretation of the theme. Instead, the theme is just a starting point. By the end of the evening teams came up with the ideas and started making the first scratches.

Why should you go to Jam?
#1. To make your idea tangible

Of course, you do not make an app in two days, but you can make the early version of a product. Reason one point one: make your thing real in a short time. Often, it takes projects weeks, months, even years to come into life, but not here. Have an idea of a board game for making home sustainable? Fine! Just do it (an indirect reference to Shia Labeouf motivational speech)! Thinking of a chat points for sustainable conversation? Great! Do it! During the jam you realize, that actual 48 hours can be used very efficiently and productively. Perhaps, we do not actually need as much time for a project as proposed by our companies and universities.

#2. Meet great and motivated people

Taking part in the event is already an indicator of motivation, openness and desire to change. If you pitched the idea of a Jam to an average person, saying that they will be staying in a facility doing something completely out of Earth from materials found by the hand and going crazy, would there be a large sample prone to do so? That’s doubtful. Global Sustainability Jam Helsinki saw a great handful of talents, who worked non-stop: wrote programs, drew, wrote, searched for information and tested their prototypes.

The fun continued even after the official Jam hours: teams went out to have more fun. How often do you have great time with people whom you met yesterday? Oh, this reason runs as a thread through the blogpost: have fun! During the event you can become a tribe of Helsinki aborigines and sing a ritual song, each of us can become a superhero (like Twitter Woman) or a magician (see photos on Facebook and Tweets #GSuSJam). Oh, and take a must-have selfie with horse skeleton in HelsinkiThinkCo!

Jam was an impressive event!

Personally, I was impressed by event.

First, I was impressed by the ideas. Conventionally, sustainability is associated solely with environmental protection. However, during the Jam teams touched broader aspects: creating better connectivity in community (Eco Chat Points), integration of foreigners into Finnish society (Culture Crash game), community wellbeing and trust between citizens and urban planners (Ecorigami app for reporting environmental problems), economical aspects of sustainability (Sustainable Home board game) and sustainable education (Mission Iceberg board game).

Second, I was impressed by people’s drive and energy. Some teams had stayed up late, some went into the city, but all worked non-stop, sometimes grabbing a Bullet Meal or own snacks.

Third, I was surprised by the dedication and drive of mentors, such as Armi Temes, the lecturer of Creative Sustainability in Aalto University, Antti Lippo (google), Livia Hakala and Mario Di Florio, one of the organizers of Startup Weekend Helsinki. All of them gave a deep insight into development and business aspects, but all were impressed by the ideas.

Last but not least, is that being global is easier than it seems. We even had a chance to have a Skype chat with Andrew Laurence, who is one of the organizers based in Berlin. Helsinki was among over 30 Jam locations, and yet, got so much location.

Be brave, be crazy!

There is a great lesson I learnt during the Jam: be brave, be crazy! Whatever idea you have, just do it! As soon as you get your hands on the idea, it is to as impossible as it seemed. What is more, you will always find people ready to be in the same boat with you. Those people can be found globally! So, be global and just do it!

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