Open Innovation Festival 2023: innovation to strengthen the social link

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Thomas Maillart is the founding president of Open Geneva and a member of the faculty of economics and management at the University of Geneva. He looks back on the 7th edition of the Open Geneva Open Innovation Festival, which will take place from March 16 to 26, 2023 throughout Geneva.

Since 2017, Open Geneva has been organizing a unique annual innovation festival that aims to mobilize collective intelligence on the scale of a city like Geneva, which is rich in a huge diversity of people, both in terms of culture and expertise.

How can we imagine that innovation is a strong link between musicians, disabled people, refugees, retired people, researchers, journalists, students or international civil servants?

What is the idea. Open Geneva was born from the idea that all citizens together can improve the quality of life in Geneva. Innovation is not only the result of great scientific and technical discoveries, but also of a multitude of improvements, often "low tech", to which all citizens can actively contribute every day with the means at their disposal.

This "open" practice of innovation has very positive consequences on the social link, learning, quality and social acceptability of innovation.

How it works. The rapid changes and complexity of the world in which we live increase both the opportunities for innovation and the difficulties of finding viable and, above all, socially acceptable solutions. To find them, a great diversity of perspectives is needed, with the risk that they collide. Reconciling and synthesizing points of view so that the whole is more than the sum of its parts is the science of collective intelligence.

Hackathons, these innovation marathons that last 12, 24 or 48 hours with the objective of finding practical solutions to concrete problems, are one way to address these issues.

They also have social benefits, as shown in a recent study conducted in collaboration with the Unige. It was observed that social interactions are strengthened, that learning and contributing in a fun and non-judgmental work environment tends to strongly increase citizens' motivation, commitment, as well as their pride in contributing to common good goals.

At the interface between society and technology. In order to preserve the search for diversity, the Open Geneva festival does not put forward a theme. However, each year some strong topics stand out. For the 2023 edition, innovation at the interface between society and technology takes an important place.

Some examples:

To enhance the Festival experience beyond these events, Open Geneva in collaboration with Digital Content Marketplace Swiss, is offering Festival attendees the opportunity to learn about NFT technology. Everyone will be able to download an NFT in the form of a QRcode giving access to free products and services from numerous partners in the city (bar, café, bakery, wine cellar...).

The international touch. In 2017, a delegation from the prestigious Tsinghua University (Beijing) visited Geneva during the first Open Geneva festival. Following this visit, a similar festival was organized in 2019 on the Tsinghua campus in China.

With the support of the DFA and Unitar, this initiative has spread throughout Southeast Asia. Numerous open innovation festivals and hackathons, under the label SDG Open Hack! have been held in Singapore, Vientiane (Laos), Bangkok, Bali, Lalitpur (Nepal) and in several Chinese cities.

In this way, Geneva inspires the world through a collective approach to innovation that increases its social acceptability while strengthening social ties and education. In this spirit, the Open Geneva Festival opens each year with the Geneva Trialoguea day of international dialogue on innovation and education for sustainable development, co-organized with Unitar and Unige.

Some other events not to be missed.

The faces of innovation - episode 6

"This concept should be a tool for the country's political process," says Isabelle Wachsmuth, and adds that "each commune could organise theatres ahead of votes."

Check out her portrait in this episode in collaboration with Geneva Solutions!

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The faces of innovation - episode 5

Vaibhav Chhabra is the creator of one of India's first so-called fabrication laboratories, otherwise known as a "makerspace" - a workshop where people can meet, exchange ideas and create. His space is called the Maker's Asylum, "because it's a crazy place for makers," he says laughing. During the pandemic, the lab came to the forefront of the international scene thanks to its online open-source manuals to make face shields, and repair oxygen concentrators when the country was going through a major shortage.

Check out his portrait in this episode in collaboration with Geneva Solutions!

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UNITAR and Open Geneva, partners to promote the education and practice of Open Innovation for the SDGs!

The United Nations Institute for Training and Research(UNITAR) and Open Geneva have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to promote the education and practice of open innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

The document was signed by United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and Executive Director of UNITAR, Mr. Nikhil Seth and the President of Open Geneva Association, Dr. Thomas Maillart in May 2021. 

UNITAR supports SDG Open Hack

This agreement formalises, establishes and enhances the ongoing cooperation between the two partners, to design and run open innovation practices with sustainability, including inclusivity, accessibility, spaces of non-judgement and of shared practices, as well as with participatory and bottom-up approaches.

The Agreement is complementary to the recently signed Agreement between UNITAR, the Geneva School of Economics and Management of University of Geneva and the School of Economics and Management of Tsinghua University, aimed at setting global standards for SDG Education and open innovation.

The parties have established a track record of designing and running open innovation practices that involve multiple stakeholders as well as participatory and bottom-up approaches. 

Through implementation of the MoU Agreement, stringent performance measurements on the ways open innovation fosters the SDGs will be established, through certificates of participation and of achievement to beneficiaries. UNITAR and Open Geneva will collaborate on common research and development on open innovation performance, including regarding collective intelligence stemming from expertise and cultural background diversity, effects on cultural change including inclusion of large populations in the innovation process for the SDGs and for business and consumer engagement. 

Among other forms of cooperation, research & development will be explored around developing technologies to track activities, measure performance and record achievements by individuals and groups of innovators, supporting the development and establishment of open innovation standards and governance.

The signed MoU Agreement will globally expand the practice of open innovation through hackathons, and will set research and technological foundations for the standardisation of the practice of open innovation for the SDGs. For this purpose, new synergies and collaborations with international organisations and private sectors are procured to emerge. 

Voisins new partner of Open Geneva

Open Geneva and the coworking spaces | café Voisins in Geneva become partners!

Notice to startupers, entrepreneurs, freelancers, coworkers of our Open Geneva community, get a 10% discount on Nomade subscriptions, to continue to innovate and work everywhere in Geneva! Interested? Write to us at