IE University recently hosted the 2023 edition of the IE Climathon. This two-day “ideathon” brought together a diverse group of participants to co-create ideas to address local climate challenges. We caught up with a few participants to hear about their experience in this year’s event.
One of the many benefits of studying at IE University is the vast array of opportunities to participate in international competitions and challenges. One such event is the Climathon, an independently organized event funded by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology Climate-KIC, the EU’s largest public-private partnership using innovation to address climate change and build a zero-carbon economy.
The 2023 edition of the IE Climathon in Madrid was hosted by IE School of Politics, Economics and Global Affairs, in collaboration with IE Eco Club and IE SDGs Club. This year’s challenge focused on two of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: SDG7, which advocates for affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all, and SDG13, which calls for climate action.
The event opened with presentations from Juan Silva, academic director of the Bachelor in Environmental Sciences for Sustainability and Laura McDermott, founder of Colectivo and adjunct professor of Global Challenges. This was followed by a debate moderated by debate coach Kevin Febres and a workshop from Ramon Sánchez, professor of Sustainable and Social Innovation at Harvard University. Finally, Luis Tejero, from Madrid City Council’s Department of Environment and Sustainability, provided an overview of Madrid’s climate energy crisis.
Anyone can be an organizer: how the IE Climathon was born
One feature of the Climathon is that anyone can become an organizer by signing up on the Climate-KIC website. They’ll then receive training, workshops and guidance from the organization throughout the entire process. This was what inspired Ivana Soto, a Dual Degree in Laws and International Relations student from Brazil, to take up the challenge of organizing the event. “Our central idea with it was to give IE University students not only an opportunity to discuss and act upon the climate crisis, but also a chance to act local and think global,” she explains.
For Ian Shepherd, Simon Böhm and Paul Prinz, three Dual Degree in Business Administration and International Relations students, their motivation to get involved was similar. “Our journey to the IE Climathon was fueled by a burning desire to transform theory into real-world impact,” explains Paul, “At IE University, our classes don’t just educate us; they ignite a deep-seated passion for sustainability, kindling a fire that drives us to seek more than just academic excellence.”
A real-life challenge in the heart of Madrid: the SOLFORALL Energy Living Lab
Simon, Paul and Ian saw the IE Climathon as a platform to success for their project, the SOLFORALL Energy Living Lab. Together with Bachelor in International Relations student Maya Cline, they formed the winning team. The case study for this project was La Cañada Real, a low-income community in Madrid, which hit the headlines when energy providers cut off supply to some sectors in 2020, leaving approximately 4,000 people without power—a situation which is still ongoing.
Paul describes the project as “a combination of sustainable technologies, solar farms, energy kiosks and eco-friendly pavements,” providing a fair energy transition for low-income communities. “We’re not just installing systems,” he emphasizes, “we’re empowering a community, weaving sustainability into the very fabric of their lives.” He admits that it was a tough task: “integrating diverse technologies into a singular, community-driven solution under time pressure was like solving a complex puzzle at lightning speed.”
However, the team’s hard work paid off. When they presented their vision and project to Manuel García Hernández, general director for Mines and Energy Policy at the Ministry for Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge, he was so impressed that he advised the team to approach the private sector. In addition to its social benefits, the concept is potentially very profitable. This encouragement was “a clarion call to aim higher,” says Paul, noting that the team felt they had been given “a green light to dream bigger, to scale our vision.”
A vision of the future
The SOLFORALL Energy Living Lab team says the IE Climathon transformed them. “It was a revelation that true sustainability is not just about technology, it’s about hearts and minds. It’s about creating solutions that live and breathe within the community,” Paul explains. Ivana agrees, describing the IE Climathon as “a great learning experience.” She credits her studies at IE University with preparing her for the event, and says the program has also provided her with vital hard and soft skills, naming the courses on multicultural leadership and public speaking as particularly valuable.
The project team is now ready to take their vision from blueprint to reality—and is looking to connect with industry experts, mentors and networks. In Paul’s words, “we cannot just dream of a better world: let’s start building it together, now!” His advice to future IE Climathon participants? “Jump in head first and learn along the way. Immerse yourself in the realities of those you wish to help. Be bold, think bigger, and remember that the most sustainable solutions are those embraced by the people.”