Key features of the swissnex network are the extensive freedom of action enjoyed by its globally distributed locations, its horizontal governance structure and its dynamic and creative teams. This flexibility proved advantageous when Covid-19 challenges made adaptation necessary. In particular, synergies in Covid-19 research between Switzerland and its host countries had to be found and ideas coming from various disciplines about a post-pandemic world had to be shared more easily.
The first challenge was to provide immediate alternatives to the numerous events planned. The swissnex China team quickly overcame this challenge by organising a series of webinars. The first one took place in mid-February in the form of a virtual event with Swiss epidemiologists. In June, they even managed to find an alternative solution to Swiss participation in the major technology fair CES Asia 2020, which unfortunately had been cancelled. Working with Presence Switzerland and its SwissTech campaign, 20 deep technology start-up companies gave virtual presentations of their innovations to a jury and audience of 950 people, including 240 investors. The jury selected the most convincing pitch and invented a new format in the process: pitchinars. This involuntary switch to digital mode also helped to improve cooperation within swissnex, particularly through videoconferencing between swissnex locations.
Inspiration for others
Finding alternative solutions for events lasting several days was more challenging, such as the internationalisation camps for Swiss start-ups, which swissnex would organise jointly with Innosuisse. Despite the great importance of personal interaction and networking, the swissnex start-up team managed to develop an online format in a very short time. swissnex San Francisco launched the swissnex Start-up Bootcamp, which participants were very satisfied with. This successful experience also inspired our Science Counsellors at Swiss Embassies, which applied the same principles to convert the Swiss-Korea Innovation Week into a virtual workshop format.
The members of swissnex network also quickly identified key local partners in the fight against Covid-19 and put them in touch with Swiss researchers. swissnex Brazil, for instance, was able to facilitate contacts between the University of Zurich and the University of São Paulo during an event organised to create virus tracking tools. Tel-Aviv reported similar results: the academic exchange of knowledge between Israel and Switzerland on the effectiveness of lockdown measures was made easier thanks to the work done by the local Science Counsellor.
Helping Swiss tourists to return home
swissnex even departed from its ERI mandate to offer additional support during the crisis. Sébastien Hug, who is also CEO of swissnex India and Consul General in Bangalore, and his team organised and managed a complex operation to help Swiss tourists who were stuck in India to return to Switzerland.
swissnex Boston used this opportunity to combine innovation and art within the context of social distancing. Handshake, a robotics-based installation created by Swiss designers AATB, is a physical and virtual work of art intended to foster discussions on the role of technology in the absence of human contact.
A good time for reflection
An analysis of swissnex's response to the coronavirus pandemic provides food for thought on the future of the network. In a post-Covid-19 era, the flexibility of swissnex will be needed more than ever to find innovative solutions, to connect Switzerland to the rest of the world in the area of education, research and innovation, and to combine the digital world with the human one.
Malin Borg Soares, SERI
Head of swissnex Network