Enough with CERN! How many posts about CERN? What is this obsession with CERN? Who are you seeing  from CERN to have such an obsession? Who said that? I have no idea. But I would definitely understand. It is true that I have obsessions. Start counting: chocolate, high heels, dance music, vitamins, Chanel lipstics, blogging, Barcelona, road trips, Candy Crash and many many others. And CERN is one of them.

OK the chocolate and Barcelona are quite obvious ones. But CERN? Quite an obvious one for me too.
– Super smart people.
– Super young with an imagination that defines the indefinite and infinity.
– Alternative styling that defeats the Rue du Rhone stereotypes and adds creativity to our nights out (pointing to the kind of guys that Alice falls for).
– Lives that make a difference in the universe with their intellectual achievements and their projects for humanity (see their recent Hackathon).What’s not to like?

So I do not pass an opportunity to learn from this bunch of gifted people at so many levels. Their recent Hackathon showcased how to run a successful event, to say the least. But most importantly, how to motivate people to work together towards a common goal. How to inspire people to volunteer, to invest their time, their money and their brainpower for a greater cause. So I asked them exactly about these. And they were generous enough to offer their wisdom, their tips and their ideas. All for you. They teach us that we can all make difference in this world regardless our background and our skills. Enjoy it. Get inspired. Reapply.

(if you want to know more about the full achievements of this amazing team, pls click here for their ANNUAL REPORT)

– What is the origin of the Hackathon? Was this the first one? And how was the idea generated?Michael Kagan:The origin was a simple idea by the founders that was fostered by our experiences living in Geneva. Through our relationships with friends in the international humanitarian and aid organization around Geneva, we learned about the world of aid and development, the difficulties facing displaced persons, and challenges of provided relief by organizations and aid workers. We learned about how new technology, or old technologies applied in new ways, could vastly improve the work done by the organizations and even help prevent some disasters. Interestingly, several of us had similar conversations with our friends independently, and were developing inklings about how the technology at CERN and quantitative and technical expertise of the people working at CERN might be able to help such organizations. When we realized that several of us were building these ideas, we decided that we could join efforts and make the concept of using technical and quantitative expertise to help aid organizations a reality. This is how THE Port was born, and through the dedication and hard work of the many people who have volunteered their time, we developed the idea of running a hackathon.

Hansdieter Schweiger:This year was the first edition of the hackathon, but given the overwhelmingly positive results, we are all sure that it is going to be continued next year and in the years after, with another edition in Geneva… and from there – who knows?

– What was different about this hackathon vs. others?Ines Knaepper:Differences to other hackathons are:
58 participants of 28 different nationalities, from private companies, academia and NGOs, formed 6 interdisciplinary teams to tackle a variety of modern humanitarian challenges
A rigorous interview process to encourage motivated participants
A conscious effort to balance the interdisciplinary teams in expertise and diversity
Encouraging participants to step out of their comfort zone and transfer their expertise to new fields
Fostering the exchange of ideas between teams
A six week intensive research phase leading up to the final weekend

Michael Kagan:We also had a strong focus not only on software solution, but on developing new technologies in hardware. We wanted to bring that aspect of hardware development, for which CERN has been doing at the frontier of technology, into the hackathon.

– Give us some stats pls. How many people, nationalities, age range, where from, what professional backgrounds?Hansdieter Schweiger:We hand-picked 60 participants from all over the world, within an age range of 16 to 46 years. We had applications from 38 nationalities and all kinds of backgrounds – Lawyers, Teachers, Engineers, Doctors, Phycisists, Students, even a Magician!

– What brought all these people together? What was their main driver you felt?Hansdieter Schweiger:The reasons to apply for the event were probably as diverse for each participant as their respective background. However, the main driver connecting all participants seemed to be the intention to make a difference to the world, to create a positive impact out of an innovative idea. And THE Port was giving them this opportunity.

– How many people worked on the organization of the event? Many or a small team?Ruben Fernandez Morcillo:In the beginning we were a small team and still are small team, but many people helped us to make this possible. Each one helped us his way: by advertising us, giving advise, supporting us, etc… To all of them, all of you, thank you very much!

– It looks extremely complex to organize such an event. From logistics to agenda to guiding the outcome. What was the most challenging part?Michael Kagan:We have had amazing support from expert organizers who have dedicated their time, and CERN for allowing us to use the space and bringing us in as a part of the CERN 60 celebrations. This helped a lot. But this hackathon was aimed at engaging with several international organizations in Geneva. Coordinating out efforts with these organizations was probably the most complex part.

– Based on your experience, what does it take to run a successful event?Ruben Fernandez Morcillo:All tips are obvious, but sometimes not so obvious how to reach. But I would say that if you are really passionate about it, if you love what you do and put your heart into it, you are one step closer to make it a success. And if your trust in this potential success jumps over and inspires others it is very hard to make it fail.

– Specifically how one can motivate people to work together towards a good cause?Ines Knaepper:By being very honest about what we expect, what we offer and why we cannot offer the things we would like to offer and all combined with a full trust in being able to change the world. We expected a lot from our applicants and participants. From a time consuming application process, through the trust they needed to put in us that we select the right topic for them and put them in a team where everybody can contribute with his expertise and finally also that many of them had to pay their flight tickets – we always communicated that we are well aware that we ask for a lot. On the other hand, we could convince them that we offer a lot – a very special experience with many disciplinary field-leaders from all over the world meeting at an extraordinary space. We tried to show our participants that we fully recognize their working for a good cause by balancing it with a nice and special experience and the amount and quality of work we invested ourselves.

– How did you engage sponsors to support your effort? What motivates the sponsors?Hansdieter Schweiger:In short: We are a non-profit organization that wants to make a difference. Delivering this message helped to identify sponsors that found that this is a good idea. Finding sponsorship is not an easy task when you do something for the very first time, and it certainly takes some commitment from the sponsor to subscribe to a novel idea – which especially in our cultural and economic environment here in Europe is not always easy, and also not very common…however, we hope that by showing our achievements and the passion that was involved in creating something useful out of an innovative problem-solving approach will also motivate more potential sponsors to support our cause in the future.

– How do you measure the success of such events?Ruben Fernandez Morcillo:After this year’s hackathon, I would ask myself: At the end, are we leaving something that really makes a difference, that really helps others? If the answer is yes, it was successful.

Hansdieter Schweiger:In the future, however, we are also hoping that additional funds will allow us to give the participants of our projects a more solid and structured foundation for follow-up work – e.g. if they are interested in starting up a company, or if they need assistance and consultancy and want to use our network. One of the lessons learned from the event was that it in fact does not stop here – still now, more than one month afterwards, groups are still having video-conferences, meetings with experts, and are eager to really make this difference that motivated them to join our event in the first place. This is a nice indicator for the success of our event – and also, in a very positive sense, a commitment for the future.
We have summarized the outcome at: http://theport.ch/Team_2014.html

– Any anecdotes from this year’s event? What would go in your behind-the-scenes video?Hansdieter Schweiger:Probably everybody has her or his own highlights to remember. For me, there was certainly one thing that I will never forget: You have to know that one of the features of the IdeaSquare, where our hackathon was taking place, is an old, bright-red English double-decker bus that we mostly used as a creative meeting venue, which is standing in the middle of the big IdeaSquare hall. The image that was popping up in my head comprises the organizer’s infant (that was born just a couple of weeks before the event) in his baby carriage next to this bus that had “Wedding Special” written on its tag- while my group was trying to test an innovative body bag design in front of the bus, by putting a motionless volunteer participant into it with the assistance of the CERN fire brigade. This picture should be pretty unique in this world – and I asked myself what somebody that does not know what we were doing in that particular moment would think of this picture at the first glance…it must have looked pretty peculiar…

Ines Knaepper:Yes, Hans’ example really qualifies and the pictures might really look a bit odd to the outside. But I promise, none of the participants got harmed nor injured during our event.

– What was the most emotional moment for you or the team? What will you always remember from this experience?Hansdieter Schweiger:The moment after the final presentation, after such an intense preparation period and an even more intense event, would certainly qualify for this moment. As a team coach, I also remember dinner after day 1, when we spontaneously decided to misuse the second floor of the English double-decker as a dining area with Pasta and to-go Pizza from a nearby restaurant. This was a great moment when maybe for the first time, after having seen each other just on the screen before, we felt that we are a real team.

Ines Knaepper:The most emotional moment for me was standing with the whole organisational team in front of the audience after the final presentations and receiving their ovations. Team – you rock!!!

– Finally what makes CERN to be the undisputed thought leader in the world?Hansdieter Schweiger:I don’t think CERN can be called “the” undisputed thought leader in the world, as there are certainly also many other places around the world where innovative thinking is the norm. This of course is good, because this process often affects the world to the positive… however, CERN’s set-up certainly qualifies to be called unique: It is based on international collaboration work on an unprecedented scale. Thousands of people from all over the world are working together on experiments and technologies that are changing the world and change our perception of the universe. This makes it a privilege to collaborate with CERN on topics that THE Port is trying to push forward. In such a place, innovative ideas have a real chance to be applied – after all, one of CERN’s strategic goals comprises the utilization of its research capacity for society – and this is what we are trying to do.


Huge thanx to the generous members of THE Port team:
Michael Kagan (US): Secretary and founding member of THE Port, general organiser and team coach of “Pier19 – Terrain Elevation”Hansdieter Schweiger (AT): General organiser and team coach of “Pier56 – Fridge”Ruben Fernandez Morcillo (ES): Founding member of THE Port and general mechanics coachInes Knaepper (DE): President and founding member of THE Port, project and event management, communications