How does an international event cope with a pandemic?

(Image via Openclipart)


(This article originally featured in our event magazine the CLP Daily #4)

One inescapable difference between ClimateLaunchpad 2020 and previous years has been the monumental challenge of hosting an international event almost entirely online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the pandemic is scary, confusing, and fraught with anxieties for both the health of loved ones, and the ongoing uncertainty of wider impacts, as always, the clean tech space has risen to the occasion and remained solutions-focused – despite facing a gigantic, complex problem.

“A big shout out to all the country leads who made it possible.”

“We managed. We are still here!” says ClimateLaunchpad Founder Frans Nauta when asked about how the event has dealt with the pandemic. “A big shout out to all the country leads who made it possible and ran their programmes locally and online. Everyone has been incredibly flexible and has adapted,” adds Nauta.

The annual meeting of ClimateLaunchpad teams, trainers and associates, from all across the world, is usually an energetic face- to-face event with unforgettable in-person connections and idea swaps. “There is such a sense of energy at ClimateLaunchpad, and human connection is important,” Dr Kirsten Dunlop, CEO of EIT Climate-KIC says.

“We will really notice a difference between the usual annual jamboree, and this year it is not happening,” says Michelle Winthrop, Policy Director for Irish Aid. “Last year’s finals there was a massive buzz in Amsterdam,” she says. “There is something around that momentum we will miss. It is hard to keep momentum sitting at home,” she adds.

All of the enthusiasm, hope and spirit cultivated from ClimateLaunchpad this year had to be translated to the perimeters of Zoom screens. This year’s competition relied on internet connections, computer cameras, microphones and headphones.

Innovation expert and Cyprus national lead for EIT Climate-KIC, Paris Thomas, had to give global training without flying this year and instead, built a whole TV studio in his office. “That’s pretty neat!” says Nauta.

But the switch to virtual teaching certainly has limitations. To try and compensate for the restrictions on in-person teaching, ClimateLaunchpad ran an online course. “Thousands of people took it. I was shocked by the numbers. People outside ClimateLaunchpad took it too, and that is really interesting,” says Nauta. Although video production costs were much higher this year, it has been much more accessible, says Nauta.

“Dramatically lower carbon footprint.”

The travel restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak have also dramatically lowered the carbon footprint of the event, which was “really ironic”, says Dunlop.

She explains the frustration of hosting a climate change event that often involves lots of air travel: “Last year we were at the point of saying to ourselves ‘we cannot do this’ – it is just not coherent.”

Although the reason for staying at home this year is not to do with carbon emissions, the effect of lowering carbon emissions is positive, and ClimateLaunchpad is embracing that, she says. As well as lowering carbon emissions, the virtual event has made this year more accessible for people who struggle to travel.

“Every year there are problems with people getting visas,” especially for participants from Asia and Africa,” says Nauta. “Travel costs can also be an issue, but that’s not the case this year, which is nice!”

“I have spent so much time in the least developed country space and the faffing around – for visas and vaccinations, or people getting lost in airports – there has to be savings in that,” says Winthrop.

“We managed. We are still here!”

Shloka Nath, Head of the Sustainability Portfolio at Tata Trusts, says that the pandemic has spurred more innovative ideas. “I am really looking forward to seeing how teams are adapting to the current crises and how they might be creating and innovating around it,” she says.

ClimateLaunchpad trainer Shiva Susarla told ClimateLaunchpad Daily earlier this week that a common theme involving responses to COVID-19 included solutions around food security and contactless payments.

“It will be interesting to see how the 2020 cohort compare to the others – we will learn a lot from this,” adds Winthrop.

Nauta also says the model for finding a vaccine and solutions to COVID-19 – having small specialist, well-funded teams working on a problem – can be applied somewhat to climate change too.

“That laser focus; small groups trying to tackle a hard problem, it is what start-ups are. It is a fantastic model. This model will solve COVID-19 and it will solve climate change,” says Nauta.

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