With the help of a new Hackathon format, Zalando SE and Volkswagen Group are developing inventive ways ideas in Berlin to increase supply-chain transparency.
Aba Rosa Schubert has a problem. The co-founder and CEO of the London-based start-up Dorae wants to increase supply chain transparency – particularly when it comes to products and raw materials that are grown or extracted in conflict regions of the world. As part of this work, her team is using blockchain technology to illustrate the areas of responsibility in the supply chain. Right now, she is hunting for a smart tracking system for raw materials that can monitor every object during its entire journey through the supply chain and reports to the digital system. That’s why she came to Berlin. For an entire day, she was able to work on concrete solutions with an interdisciplinary team as part of the Hackathon for Supply Chain Transparency organized by Zalando SE, the Volkswagen Group and their partner N3XTCODER.
Interdisciplinary and intersectoral
“Transparency in the supply chain is a pressing issue at Zalando SE in terms of the fashion industry as well as at our company, the Volkswagen Group,” said Lena Schorsch, Corporate Citizenship at the Volkswagen Group. “It is so important to us that we have set up a special unit to focus on purchasing and sustainability in the supply chain.” At the cross-industry event in the MHPLab in Berlin, company experts from a wide range of disciplines – including developers and business experts – shared their knowledge with five social start-ups and NGOs for a full day. All employees volunteered their time. During the event, five mixed teams were formed in the morning. Each consisted of project initiators and company experts. At the end of the day, a jury evaluated the solutions and selected the most innovative approach.
Starting point for a series
Salah Said, Corporate Citizenship Manager at Zalando SE, and Lena Schorsch of the Volkswagen Group came up with the idea as part of the “Netzwerk Ehrensache Berlin”. The network regularly brings together experts from companies, NGOs and Berlin government agencies for discussions about corporate citizenship. Both Zalando SE and the Volkswagen Group employ all sorts of specialists in their labs in Berlin – what could be better than jointly developing new, sustainable solutions for intersectoral problems? The Hackathon for Supply Chain Transparency served as the starting point for a series that will be continued with two events in the fall. The highlight of the Hackathon series will be the ninth Global Social Business Summit (GSBS) scheduled for November in Wolfsburg. At the summit, a number of teams will present their projects to the social entrepreneur and Nobel Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus and an interested global community.
The first few hours of the inaugural event passed quickly. At midday, it was time for double teams consisting of company founders and experts to present their first results – during the discussions, a single question frequently turned into an array of other ones. Some teams broke down into smaller groups as a way of intensifying their focus. “Is there a fashion designer in the house or does anybody know one? We need the designer for more user testing,” the founder of circular.fashion asked the group. She is working on a sustainable networking platform for the textile industry. Joining Dorae and circular.fashion in Berlin was WikiRate, a non-profit company whose founders want to encourage companies to increase the transparency of environmental and social behavior as well company management by using an open, collaborative database. Other participants included Sustify, a platform for employee training, and the Bayreuth-based start-up B3 that uses blockchain technologies as a framework for a network of 3D printers with which replacement automotive parts can be easily produced.
Where the entire Group comes together
Blockchain is an area that is increasingly intriguing the Group. In the period leading up to the event, Corporate Citizen Manager Lena Schorsch heard some extremely positive comments about the topic from employees in various departments. She immediately saw an opportunity to approach cross-industry issues like this one. “It’s great to see an idea from the corporate citizenship area become a topic that brings the entire Group together,” Lena Schorsch said. Iain Fraser, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Purchasing and Sustainability at the Volkswagen Group, is excited about the idea: “We as a company must become more agile. Sure, we won’t be able to develop a new car at a Hackathon. But new ways of thinking and acceptance of creative approaches – we can learn much in these terms.”
At the end of the afternoon, it was time for the concluding presentations. Every team had just five minutes to make its case. Aba Rosa Schubert of Dorae described the progress she made in her tracking system in the supply chain. With the help of a company expert, she developed a concept for specifically identifying every single delivery of raw materials – a system that will function even when the delivery is split up for purposes of further processing: A token, that is, a software authentication marker, will be split up every time the shipment is divided and will then accompany each portion.
It was not just a smart solution – it also won over the Hackathon jury. The token idea was selected as the winner of the day. Aba Rosa Schubert was jumping for joy afterward. “It is fantastic that you organized this,” she said. “Such an event helps build a community of developers, entrepreneurs and, in the end, users. I had a lot of really great conversations today. I now have a better understanding of the requirements that companies place on a system like ours.”
The next dates for the Hackathons organized by Zalando SE and the Volkswagen Group:
- Monday, August 30, 2018
- Wednesday, November 7, 2018