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  • Writer's pictureMonika Lionaite

Women In Innovation - Interviewed by Canberra Innovation Network

We interview women in our community about innovation and what drives them to make a difference in their industries.This week we spoke to Monika Lionaite, Founder & CEO of Openhack 2020 Australia

What are you working on?

I started my business Openhack 2020 Australia in organising hackathons a couple of months back right when I moved from Stockholm (Sweden) to Canberra.

Back in Sweden I worked as a project manager and hackathon consultant and I decided to explore Australia in terms of collaborative innovation making while organising hackathons. As a postgrad student at the Australian National University, I observed a common complaint and issue – a lack of facilitated collaboration among different departments and disciplines on campus, to start off with. That’s when I decided to organise Openhack Hack4Future 2020 Australia, a global virtual hackathon to solve the following challenges: coronavirus spread tracking, bushfire risk management and smart cities – switching towards renewable energy. With this hackathon I aim to gather a diverse group of people that can relate to any of the challenges above and empower our participants to use this time for personal development, upskilling and making professional connections while networking and sharing ideas, knowledge and expertise online with international participants. In times of such socioeconomic global disruption, digital transformation is the key driving force for increased global collaboration and we are facilitating both networking opportunities for partnerships and projects to be born and implemented as well as providing an interactive online space for people to learn about the newest tech in the field from the experts that are passionate about knowledge sharing, digitalisation, internet of things, blockchain, cloud technology and many other tech related topics that we’ll be exploring together in a diverse group of changemakers.

Why is innovation important to you?

Innovation is the key for society and individuals to progress. Through innovation making, evolution of minds takes place which results in new technologies being created and introduced that solves the modern day’s challenges. Hackathons are a perfect example of innovation making in a competition type of facilitation, where participants have clearly defined challenges, time-constrains, recognised winner titles and quick access to experts in the field that can help to go further from idea to actually launching a pilot project to test the product created by the end.

Overall innovation is the key objective why hackathons are being organised worldwide, and in this case it is also accelerated and usually comes along with a lot of hands-on learning opportunities created along the way which creates an excited and vibrant ecosystem where people get inspired while exchanging ideas and meeting diverse people. It is often the case that the technology that can solve the issues we face today already exist, however, a smart and convenient combination of using technology in a different way than we already are used to usually becomes the innovation people and organisations would look for ages if not diving deep into a hackathon experience for problem solving.

What drives you to make a difference?

It is all about making an impact towards the world you want to create together with others. Once you’ve been there and done that, it is just the beginning of the journey of empowering your community and people that inspire you. It is important to keep yourself up to date with what is happening worldwide. And it is as important to do so as to take time to talk, listen and hear what your community has to say about what matters to people. Australia is my 6th adventure in terms of moving to another country to live and get culturally-aware, and the Australian National University is my 8th university to dive in the academic side which also gives more space for philosophical discussions about how the world could look like.

Cross-cultural collaborations that I’ve been part of showcased that each individual has a bunch of unrealised potential that can be unleashed only when stepping out of the comfort zone and opening up for different ways of living and thinking. That is why I decided to go all-in the hackathon field as this proves to be the best way to awaken people’s curiosity and help them step out of their comfort zone to grow. Often changing the environment in order to self-develop and become more empathic and open to see different solutions for the same problem are one of the ways to do exactly that and these soft skills such as communication, collaboration and teamwork becomes crucial to have and critical to maintain in the globalized world that is becoming more about technology and not the people. In order to sustain the technological advancements, one needs to focus on developing soft skills as these are the main barriers for any tech-based business to survive and scale up. Creating an ecosystem where business and community can benefit each other are one of the reasons that drives me to facilitate and encourage collaboration in innovation making among different stakeholders. Sustainable development requires sustainable solutions.

Do you have any advice for getting more women into the innovation ecosystem?

Whatever dream you have, start with it today. Only dreams turned into a plan with a set timeplan becomes reality. It is a process that one should take as a lifestyle. When you truly find what you are passionate about – excitement will help you push your limits to reach the goals you set. Most importantly – self-educate and become more curious about the newest advancements. The curiosity will help you find your niche. It can be as simple as attending a hackahton that will give you the grounds to explore different ways technology can be used and re-imagine how world could look like tomorrow – if you’ll take the lead. Be the change you want to see happening!

What are you proud of right now?

I am proud to say that apart from empowering more people to discover new passions in life and filling it with inspiration, in my current research ‘Using hackathons as an instrument for creating UNESCO Learning Cities’ I’m currently bridging the gap between education and technology. It is a lot of being the middle-women between people in education policy making and people purely working in tech. Education is such a powerful tool to empower global citizens for innovation making – and yet, it is barely used for that. Another thing – bringing more females into tech. The stigma is huge when it comes to gender bias in the field, however, having females empowering females is one secure way to bridge the gap. The men will follow.

Article published by Canberra Innovation Network - Women In Innovation:

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