Creative Solutions to the UN’s SDGs
On November 5th, between the tall modern buildings and green parks of Shenzhen City, hundreds of young people from all over the world gathered with enthusiasm, insights and ideas about solutions regarding the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Those young creative individuals came from 162 countries to participate in the global innovation laboratory UNLEASH.
UNLEASH is a unique nonprofit that started two years ago with the intention of accelerating next generation ideas through sourcing young talent with vision and drive to work towards a more sustainable world.
The event has been held twice before, in Denmark and Singapore, and it creates a global platform that is completely dedicated to the SDGs, while introducing the talent to work on solutions to pioneer innovation and development; investors, NGOs, governmental agencies and other partners.
UNLEASH has a number of partners; it is managed by a board of directors in cooperation with a global advisory board who supervise the secretariat of the initiative. The Idea was first developed by Professor Flemming Besenbacher, the Chairman of the Carlsberg Foundation and Carlsberg Group.
Youth from Everywhere
Mr. Wang Lixin, Deputy Mayor of Shenzhen, expressed the city’s delight at hosting the event during his speech at the opening ceremony, pointing out that his president is one of the biggest advocates of the 2030 Agenda. “I am very happy to see lots of international friends here, UNLEASH is held for the first time in China and it’s a great chance to show our friendship to other nations.”
“Shenzhen is the emerging technology hub in China; and it’s actually the ideal venue to give the potential talents a perspective of what’s expected from them. I went to UNLEASH last year as a talent and now I am a facilitator; and it’s very exciting for me to see it from another angle this time”, Samuel Kpartor, a business development specialist from Liberia, told 7Dnews, adding that one of the things he loves the most about the program is the diversity, as people come with all their complexity yet work together to achieve a united goal.
The Director of the UN’s Global Pulse, Mr. Robert Kirkpatrick, addressed the young group before starting the innovation process. During his speech he stressed the need for immediate action towards achieving the 2030 Agenda.
Kirkpatrick praised the efforts of UNLEASH while informing the talented group that they would be the “world’s super-heroes” as they are working to co-create solutions to the world’s biggest challenges. He also expressed the UN’s commitment to the program, “Rest assured, the UN will continue to work with you to develop these solutions and more importantly; to put your ideas into practice.”
Shao Lee, is a young Chinese Designer who lives and works in Shenzhen; one of many young talented people participating in the event. During the opening celebration she was so happy to socialise with peers from all over the globe. “I got the chance to meet different people from different places and I look forward to learn more from this opportunity. I plan to go abroad after getting my master’s degree, and it’s great to talk with international people,” she told 7Dnews.
Emanuel Marfo is the co-founder of the Grassroots hub in Ghana, and also a facilitator in the program who has been participating since the start; at first he was a talent and his team won the competition, following that he came as an instructor to guide participants through their journey. He told 7Dnews that the event is different now than in past years in terms of diversity. “UNLEASH 2019 in China this year is unique as the talents aren’t just coming from NGOs; this time we have people from governmental sectors and people from academic or business backgrounds,” he stated, adding that there’s no language barrier as well.
The SDG innovation lab is the process talents go through to shape up their ideas and frame the solutions they are suggesting. “It is very important to make more effort in achieving the SDG agenda,” Samuel Kpartor, a Business Development specialist who came to UNLEASH this year as a facilitator from Liberia, told 7Dnews stressing the need to increase the impact of what could be done by the year 2030.
Before pitching their ideas to potential investors and sponsors, the young people go through many steps of problem framing. “In this process we expect talent to recognise the problem they are tackling in a different context, understand its nature and determine why they want to work on it. They also have to convince the facilitators about the scalability of the potential impact and how much progress it would bring to achieving the SDGs, in addition to how people using the solution can benefit from it,” says Samuel.
After emerging from the first phase which can be very tricky, the second step is the ideation of their solution right before pitching; this stage is more competitive as every group wants to be the best and for their idea to go further. Samuel explains that the second stage has more in it than it looks. “It’s more than just the process; it’s about the fact that they are presenting solutions that can be implemented in many places around the world and create an impact. That is huge as UNLEASH is bringing diversity of experiences to address big challenges.”
During the Lab experience, each group works on a different SDG, in these groups people have been divided according to their experience into sub-groups of 5 people; each sub-group is working on a sub-theme of the overall SDG. Lots of great ideas are evaluated by expert judges, and all the sub-groups that pass the stage of problem framing and ideation present their pitches to the judges, facilitators and to their peers.
Judges will be looking into different aspects of each presentation, focusing on the innovation, impact potential, viability and then the performance. The talents themselves can give their peers feedback after their first presentation in front of everyone in their SDG group, facilitators and the judges.
From every group two teams are picked to represent their SDG in an event that includes all the talents, experts, partners and much more. All the best teams of every group will pitch their solutions to a pool of investors and other entities that can support them in turning their idea into a reality.
Gildas is one of the talents in SDG6, “clean water and sanitation”, he came from Denmark to contribute. He told 7Dnews that he heard about UNLEASH through the International Foundation for Science as he is a researcher working on waterborne diseases. “It’s great to be here working on a real solution, as I come up from a research perspective and we don’t come up with solutions. What we are doing here is population oriented and it’s really useful.”
Gildan, who is originally from Benin, says that he hopes to see great innovation coming from different minds. His team is working on leveraging an existing solution in a new way that would solve a huge problem by using an available solution that’s overlooked, and that’s one of the remarkable things about such a gathering as it can bring new and creative and revolutionary ideas of all kinds.
After the initial pitching phase, young talent from all the SDG groups gathered once again for the last couple days of the program, stood on the stage again and presented their idea to those who can help put it into practice and hoped to be selected as the winners of UNLEASH 2019.
The Winners will receive more mentoring, get the chance to gain funds and sponsorship for their idea to implement it on the ground and achieve a real change that represents one step closer towards the 2030 agenda taken by the young.