UNLEASH or how 1000 young talents came together in Denmark to bringing solutions for the SDGs

It was just a “wow” experience with a lot of “aha” moments as we spent nine days in Denmark as UNLEASH participants from IFAD. The UNLEASH Innovation Lab 2017 (hereinafter referred to as UNLEASH) is a non-profit initiative developed and funded predominantly by companies and foundations, such as Bestseller, Microsoft, Dalberg, Carlsberg Foundation and the Confederation of Danish Industry. The idea behind UNLEASH is to identify and gather one thousand young entrepreneurs, academics, professionals, etc. from over 120 countries and bring them together to elaborate disruptive, yet implementable solutions and build lasting global networks around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). IFAD was invited to nominate multiple youth delegates composed of Davinia Hoggarth (Global Engagement Unit), Fatima-Zohra Yaagoub (Partnership and Resource Mobilization Office), Thokozile Newman (West and Central Africa Division), Elena Pietschmann (East and Southern Africa Division), Valeria Smarrini (Quality Assurance Group), Maria Luisa Saponaro (Latin America and the Caribbean Division) and Anja Rabezanahary (Policy and Technical Advisory Division).

SDG 2/Food track at the Folk High School of Ry. Credit to Astrid Maria Rasmussen

Thinking out of the box and framing the problem first

The nine days took us all out of our comfort zones and pushed us to think out of the box. It all started with mingling informally, attending inspirational presentations, working together to solve business cases and joining an SDG Roadmap to visit companies that are starting to look beyond corporate social responsibility and try to integrate the SDGs more prominently in their for-profit models.
Then we were taken to different locations and hosted in different Folk High Schools throughout the country. This offered a deep dive into the Danish culture and the Danish way of living while enjoying a wonderful and conducive environment for creativity. Each day started and ended with a singing session and an inspirational moment. We were divided into teams focussing on specific challenges, and tasked to think, think and think about the problems we were to tackle and come out with concrete solutions which included a business model. This part was truly enriching because we were working with people from different professional and educational backgrounds: academia (32%), entrepreneurs (28%), tech experts (23%), and intrapreneurs (17%). So we had to leave the “IFAD world” and work with new angles and perspectives.

Team working and inspirations for disruptive and collective action

A big take away from the UNLEASH experience is how working with different people from different horizons is hard and yet very rewarding when you achieve to find a common solution. Team work is bringing out the best of us…and also the worst! We were all part of a big social experiment. This is why UNLEASH gave an award to the best team work and our colleague Elena Pietschmann was part of it. Besides, talents had the opportunity to attend speeches, interviews and panel discussions with Princess Mary of Denmark, former Prime Minister of Denmark  Lars Løkke Rasmussen, actor and philanthropist Ashton Kutcher, Denmark Minister of Development Ulla Tornaes, “Starchitect” Bjarke Ingels, and much more.

Receiving an Award for the Best Team Work. Credit to Alex Luka Ladime

Competing for the best solution for SDG 2 Zero Hunger…and winning!

One of the seven winning solutions (out of a total of 199!) was Doti Gold, designed by a team of six that included our colleague Anja Rabezanahary. Doti Gold is a social enterprise that will turn trash to gold, transforming organic waste into proteins and fertilizers through a biotechnology. Doti Gold will connect the needs of people living in urban areas to the needs of people living in rural areas. The first ones will contribute to a better waste management and the second ones will benefit from accessible and affordable agricultural inputs to increase their production and productivity. In return, the farmers will provide organic fish, chicken, pork and crop products to the markets. The social enterprise will also create jobs for people living in extreme poverty through the waste collection system. These people will receive income and training that will support them move out of poverty in a sustainable way. In addition, bigger industries/companies will contribute to develop smallholder farming and organic farming and become partners for the SDGs (see below). In sum, the model is creating a virtuous cycle between urban and rural areas for safe and nutritious food for all and will directly contribute to achieving nine SDGs (1, 2, 5, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13 and 17).

Partnering for global solutions

UNLEASH aims to generate youth-led innovative, implementable and scalable solutions to the SDGs in partnership with leading companies, research institutions, foundations, non-profits, and investors. What we took home is that UNLEASH really had the potential to be life-changing on many levels for all participants: from meeting investors and possibly securing funding to receiving quality feedback on one's ideas and insights, to enhancing a whole set of soft skills. The idea is now to replicate UNLEASH and make it become a recurrent event.

Many of the teams – whether or not they have been awarded - have concrete plans for implementing the ideas they developed during UNLEASH. UNLEASH organizers promised to set up a global platform to support the implementation of the various solutions and continued network opportunities.
IFAD can play a role and be part of key partners – where the very definition of partnership can evolve when such diverse points of view are (ex)changed. UNLEASH definitely presents a new modality with which IFAD can collaborate with the private sector in a youth-inclusive manner, for example through our grant programme.

The full programme, winners of the seven SDG themes, and partners can be found here: https://unleash.org/program/, https://unleash.org/news/winners-seven-sdg-themes-found/, and https://unleash.org/partners/