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Supporting actively the start-up of initiatives in Green Care sector, promoting health and social inclusion in a sustainable way




This SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) pandemic has highlighted how significant direct impacts on livelihoods and human health can occur, if ecosystems are weakened by human intervention and are no longer able to provide their services, such as the disease regulation of vectors, pests, and pathogens, and protection against viruses that can spread as the result of human-wildlife interface (WHO, 2020).

We are facing today a very important challenge: to restore the damage done to our ecosystems and to find at the same time alternative and cost-effective solutions that could help us cope with current social megatrends, such as population ageing, climate change, increase in the number of people suffering from diseases related to pollution, stress, anxiety.

Recent studies have shown that nature-based private-public partnerships such as social agriculture, urban green infrastructures and forest-based therapy are providing cost-effective solutions to cope with the above-mentioned megatrends, while ensuring a sustainable impact on our environment. These approaches are defined as Green Care (GC), an emerging concept which sees the private sector providing health and social inclusion through the innovative use of natural resources

Nowadays the number of Green Care entrepreneurial initiatives is increasing, in Europe but also in non-EU countries: there’s in general a growing interest around the use of nature-based solutions, understood as actions inspired by, supported by, or copied from nature (EC, 2015), as a way to promote healthier and more resilient cities. 

We, as consortium of 12 organizations (University and Research organizations and Business partners) actively interested in the Green Care Sector,  believe that to improve the quality of life of citizens we should foster Green Care Initiatives, promote them, support them and act to concretely remove all the main barriers and obstacles that hamper their diffusion. 

These 12 organizations decided to join in a partnership to promote a common project; Green4C (, an European initiative (funded by the European Commission- Erasmus+ project) to study and analyze what Green Care is in Europe, focussing on four Thematic Areas: Forest-based Care; Urban Green Care; Social Agriculture; and Green Care Tourism. 

  • Forest-based care - promotion of health and well-being through the use of forest resources; 

  • Social agriculture – promotion of well-being and social inclusion through agricultural activities; 

  • Urban green care - promotion of health and well-being through the use of urban green spaces; 

  • Green care tourism – promotion of health, well-being and social inclusion through the use of nature elements in tourism destinations.

As part of the project, Green4C will deliver a training course on GreenCare, and will also organize a specialization school that will give face to face innovation and entrepreneurship training to the best training course participants.

But we think we also have to go a step further: we all know that when learning is complimented and improved through action, the impact can be further reaching;  therefore to reach our goal and really promote Green Care initiatives we have to take a concrete action to remove obstacles hindering their diffusion. A Green Care hackathon represents an innovative and effective way to bring together different stakeholders and having them discuss a specific issue, leading to a concrete proposal to solve a given problem.

Our Innovation. The Green Care hackathon challenge  - bridging the health and green research-business and public sectors

 The Green4C consortium has been recently analysing some of the most interesting Green Care experiences having a focus on health, well-being, and social inclusion, especially in Europe, but not only. We have interviewed 20 case-studies to understand their histories, the motivations behind the decision to become a Green Care entrepreneur and the opportunities but also the difficulties and obstacles they found when they decided to start their businesses. 

In order to remove some of these obstacles private and public actors should be brought together to discuss face to face and find out the best way to overcome them.

As Green4C consortium, our activities focus on  5 main EU countries, representing the countries where our members are from: Italy, The Netherlands, Austria, Romania and Ireland. In these countries the economic, legal and social frameworks to start up a business, even more if a Green Care business, is different; consequently, also obstacles may vary. For this reason, we will organize 5 national hackathons (in Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, Romania and Ireland) to better address the national context. 

The objective of our hackathons will be to solve a challenge on the four thematic sectors, contributing to mitigate in a sustainable way the effects of the megatrends previously described,   and create innovative partnerships among the green and health sector: Green4c partners, representative of the Green Care sector, public authorities will be working together one full day on a common Green Care challenge. The aim will be to create new partnerships, innovative business models and bridge the health and green research-business and public sectors. We’ll promote the creation of stable connections between actors from the health and green sector, establishing business and/or working agreements in an innovative way.  

The challenge will result in a minimum of 5 public-private innovative solutions and/or partnerships to problems identified as barriers to the evolution of Green Care in the healthcare and associated sectors.  

Every Hackathon will count 20 or more participants each; only key actors will be invited. Each hackathon will have a one day only duration.

Hackathons are an important part of the initiative promoted by the Green4C Consortium and we really believe that they can lead to significant, even cross-cutting results, able to embrace all the 4 described thematic sectors. However, we think that the innovative solutions that emerge or the partnerships that are created at the end of the hackathons need to be supported in order to ensure a concrete impact on our society and our cities.  We would therefore like to take the opportunity offered by this challenge not only to organize hackathons as initially planned but to go a step further and also reward the winning solutions that will emerge. For this reason, any contribution obtained from this challenge would be earmarked for the winning ideas that come out during the hackathons, as concrete support for their development and implementation, to help the winners and solutions go further and reach the impact we need to improve the quality of our health through Green Care solutions. The fact that the hackathons are part of a wider initiative implemented by the Green4C consortium ensures that concrete results can be achieved and even multiplied.  

Objectives :

  1. To promote Green Care enterprises by removing some obstacles hampering their diffusion;

  2. To foster dialogue and collaboration between Green Care experts, practitioners and public actors;

  3. To facilitate the exchange, flow and co-creation of knowledge among universities and businesses coming from two key sectors that often fail to cooperate: the social, health, and environmental sectors.

  4. To create stable connections between actors from the health and green sector, establishing business and/or working agreements in an innovative way.


  1. Increased awareness of Green Care businesses as a viable solution to some of today's main social problems.

  2. Concrete removal of obstacles that may slow down the spread of Green Care initiatives;

  3. Increased number of Green Care initiatives at European level

  4. Wider and easier access to green care solutions by those who need them

  5. Increased capacity of business to exploit the potential for marketable process, methods and services, to promote sustainable businesses in the field of Green Care

  6. Positive impact of the environment, as Green Care businesses represent a sustainable solution

  7. Fruitful partnerships between public and private actors, between the health/social sector and the green sector


Who will take these actions?

The Hackathons will be organized and promoted by the Green4C consortium made up of expert universities, research institutes, businesses and international organizations working together in  the Green4C

Each Green4C Consortium partner has been selected for their key soft, technical and entrepreneurial skills and for their specialization on a specific Green Care topic (either health or green related). Universities and research centres have been selected because of previous research projects on GreenCare, their teaching experiences and wide educational networks. 

The consortium is composed of 12 partners, 4 HEIs, 3 research centres, 4 SMEs and 1 transnational public research institution from 6 EU countries: Italy, Austria, Ireland, Holland, Romania and Germany (though the one based in Germany is an international organization). The last partner is from Canada. 

We will invite to the Hackathons Green4c partners, representatives of the Green Care sector, public authorities, scientists, experts, professionals and practitioners representing the health and wellbeing sectors as well as the sectors connected with the use of natural resources. 

It is important to ensure the participation of stakeholders from all sectors involved:  health, well-being and social inclusion sectors, as well as the sector connected with the use of natural resources. The stakeholder(s) that will present the best idea to overcome the obstacle identified will be awarded the prize provided by this challenge. 

What are the projected costs?

In order to ensure the success of the initiative, careful preparatory work is needed beforehand. First of all, the obstacle to be tackled must be identified at a general level. A contribution to defining the theme of the Hackathon comes from the work that has been done by the Consortium in recent months, a study and analysis of Green Care in Europe, also from the point of view of the sector's market. Further moments of confrontation with the Green Care practitioners will allow to deepen the investigation and identify with certainty the theme to be addressed. On the basis of the results obtained, the definition of the subjects to be invited to the Hackathons will follow. Obviously, the main costs are related to the promotion and organization of 5 events in 5 different cities, since we expect the participation of at least 20 people per event.  It is important to ensure that what emerges from the Hackathon is then put into practice, and therefore a phase of national promotion of the results will follow, which will be accompanied by concrete actions (such as the creation of public and private partnerships to overcome the obstacles identified).

All costs related to the initial preparation, publicity, organization and dissemination of the hackathon results are borne by the Green4C consortium, as part of a wider project that is already running. As explained, the prize of this challenge would serve to reward the winning ideas of the hackathons in order to give their implementation the support it deserves. The POST COVID19 CITY prize would be used to push the solutions to do their best, generating a wider impact from all entry ideas. 


The Hackathons will be organized in 5 countries, in different moments. 

By the end of this summer 2021 the Green4c consortium will produce 4 reports on the Green Care market in Europe, in 4 thematic areas (Forest-based care, Social Agriculture, Urban Green Care and  Green Care Tourism). These reports will identify the characteristics of the market and the market outlook, highlighting which elements may negatively or positively influence the start-up and diffusion of Green care businesses. These reports can therefore help to identify the obstacles that prevent or slow down the development of Green Care initiatives and therefore form part of the preparatory work that will help the consortium to identify the specific theme to be addressed in each hackathon. 

Hackathons will be organised once this research and analysis work is completed, most likely in a period between October 2021 and December 2022. The possibility of organising the 5 national hackathons concurrently or during the same week will be evaluated, in order to give more emphasis and visibility to the initiative. 

About the author(s)

Georgia Bertagna - She has a degree in international law and is currently Project Manager at Green4C for the University of Padova - Italy (Department of Land, Environment, Agriculture and Forestry) coordinating the activities of the Green4C consortium. She has long experience in the field of microfinance and sustainable local development as well as in international projects, and has worked for 15 years with emerging countries. She taught principles of microfinance at the first level master in economics for development at the University of Parma. 

Colm O’Driscoll -  Environmental consultant with specific focus on business innovation, development and assessment. Forest plantation management experience with private consultancies in Ireland, mainly forest management planning (establishment and harvesting activities). International experience in forest management and sustainable development (in the United States, Madagascar and Nepal). Currently, activities (in Italy, for Etifor Srl) include project development and management, network building, business development through acceleration and incubation.

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