By guiding participants through the innovation process of problem framing, ideation, prototyping and testing, UNLEASH seeks to accelerate ideas solving some of the most complex development problems of our time.
The key idea behind the theory of change is that every participant in UNLEASH brings back their learnings, reflections and innovation skills and becomes a positive change maker in their local community.
The grand finale of the world’s largest Innovation Lab took place a few weeks back in Singapore. The 2018 UNLEASH SDG Innovation Lab brought together 1,000 youth from 108 countries for an 8-day intense programme designed to accelerate innovative solutions to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Singapore is the second nation to host UNLEASH. The first event took place in 2017 in Denmark.
I was fortunate to contribute to UNLEASH 2018 in Singapore as one of the 18 innovation facilitators for SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production. In total, we were 135 facilitators from all over the world working with 1,000 talents in 8 tracks linking into the SDGs.
In my track, we had 120 talents who generated 24 viable innovations for a sustainable future over the course of 5 days. Solutions ranged from e-waste management to circular product models and smart ways to influence sustainable consumer behavior.
Outside of UNLEASH, I work for Deloitte and I specialize in driving projects with either businesses or organisations (or both) with the ambition to advance solutions to the SDGs. As the lead innovation partner of UNLEASH, Deloitte sent a global team of 50 innovation facilitators to support and mentor the UNLEASH talents through the innovation process.
By guiding participants through the innovation process of problem framing (challenging to most), ideation, prototyping and testing, we sought to accelerate ideas solving some of the most complex development problems of our time. The international mix of people was designed to bring together great diversity of thought and expertise from all over the world and we were all encouraged to bring personal insights and ideas that could inspire others and be applied in new contexts.
Strong Jargon – and Strong Theory of Change
Admittedly, there is a lot of jargon in UNLEASH, e.g. a ‘global innovation lab’ for ‘innovative, and scalable solutions to the SDGs’ that brings together 1,000 ‘young global talents’ to ‘accelerate disruptive ideas by engaging top talents in problem-solving and co-creation’ etc.
I understand why some people might roll their eyes to this. Everything right now, it seems, is about being innovative and disrupting existing systems and sectors. Entrepreneurs and creative innovators are celebrated like the heroes of our time. I understand why some people may be skeptical about these terms as well as about UNLEASH.
However, what really resonated with me about UNLEASH was not the jargon, nor the competitive element of pitching and focus on fast innovations. What excited me the most was the solid theory of change behind the innovation process and the event itself.
What UNLEASH really did was not simply to bring some 200 solutions to the SDGs in a week, as impressive as that may sound. Innovation and new ideas are essential, but to me these innovative solutions were not the key output of UNLEASH. The key long-term output was and is that UNLEASH works to build the next generation of sustainable innovators, change makers and leaders.
A Positive Movement
UNLEASH represents a massive learning journey for most participants, facilitators and experts involved. By working together with others in what is probably the most diverse context and dynamic talent hub that most of us will ever encounter, by singing, sleeping and eating together, and by learning and following a well-tested innovation process, UNLEASH is an experiential education tool seeking to motivate, create hope and develop skills with talents, facilitators and experts.
In this way, UNLEASH engages and unites youth beyond solutions and towards a common goal to create change together. The key idea behind the theory of change is that every participant in UNLEASH brings back their learnings, reflections and innovation skills and becomes a positive change maker in their local community. This foundation enables talents to develop and accelerate new ideas and solutions, if not immediately after UNLEASH, then in the years to come together with others in their community.
I believe that creating hope and motivation is instrumental for achieving the SDGs. It is critical not only because the SDGs were conceived out of the hope that in cross-sector partnership we can create better solutions to the challenges described by the SDGs, but also because hope and optimism are prerequisites for creating positive action. Pessimism simply kills the urge to do anything (even small actions) about the complex challenges we face as humanity. The 1,000 talents who are part of UNLEASH each year as we move towards 2030 are part of a movement of positivism aiming to create change. Therefore, above all, UNLEASH to me is a hopeful and promising activity that helps to facilitate our efforts to reach the SDGs by 2030.
UNLEASH is a Global Innovation Lab designed to address the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The 2018 event took place in Singapore, from 30 May-6 June 2018. The UNLEASH SDG Innovation Lab brings together 1,000 talents (entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, and academic experts) from over 100 countries and harnesses the power of diversity, human empathy and creativity to address the world’s largest social and environmental challenges and not least to develop solutions to address the SDGs – see www.unleash.org
Camilla Marie Thiele is a Danish strategy consultant working for Monitor Deloitte and specializing in innovation and sustainable development. She is also the project manager of the innovation programme the SDG Accelerator, a 2-year pilot programme run by the UN Development Programme together with 30 small and medium-sized companies aiming to develop new products, services and business models addressing the SDGs.