Amidst the humid, almost sweltering heat of Singapore, 1000 young leaders from over 108 countries gathered to participate in the world’s largest innovation lab.
Many were unsure of what to anticipate, yet all came with a shared purpose. Each one of the talented young leaders came to help design solutions to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). An almost daunting task. Three of Melbourne’s Global Shapers, Ian Buck, Gerald Fisher and Sam Rogers were lucky enough to be selected and participate in UNLEASH, the 8 day social innovation program.
The UNLEASH program is dedicated to solving some of the world’s most complex challenges, bringing together and eclectic bunch of dedicated people, keen on devising solutions to the SDGs.
Each team strove to design solutions to specific key indicators of sustainable development within their own ‘track’ or SDG. Of the 17 SDGs, eight were chosen as themes for this year’s UNLEASH program:
- SDG 2: No hunger
- SDG 3: Good Health and Well-Being
- SDG 4: Quality Education
- SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
- SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy
- SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
- SDG 12: Responsible Supply Chain and Consumption
- SDG 13: Climate Action
The program itself was split into four parts: an opening ceremony, an innovation lab, a Dragon’s Den style pitching event and a closing ceremony. There was a good mix of panel discussions, group work and cultural activities throughout as we were encouraged to rethink solutions to create a more sustainable world. The so called “innovation lab” was the centrepiece of the program. An immersive process utilising the principles of design thinking to spark innovation.
Guided by Deloitte and Dalberg, we worked with experts in our teams sharing our insights related to our SDG and focussed on the following phases of the innovation process (1) problem framing, (2) ideation, (3) prototyping, and (4) testing. The process was insightful, exciting and challenging. Devising a solution to a complex challenges is obviously difficult, and when the issues are so multifactorial and relate to some of the world’s largest challenges, you feel a certain pressure to get it right.
With such a diverse list of issues to tackle brought together a diverse group of people; public servants, academics, nurses, managing directors, consultants and writers together with entrepreneurs, athletes and students. These myriad of skills and personalities brought both challenges and rewards as we all formed teams of 3 to 6 people within each of our themes.
Not only was the challenge of finding solutions daunting, the challenge of working in diverse groups led participants to step up, or indeed step back and let others take the floor. Watching groups struggle with ideas, extraverts and disagreements was a fascinating and rewarding process to participate in; at the very least understanding how to work as a team, finding comfort in conflict and what makes great teams and leaders effective was invaluable.
One of the most valuable pieces of the program, however, was the process itself. Navigating the challenges of working in a team with strong-minded, intelligent leaders from different cultures lent itself to challenges in communication and reaching consensus between group members. Building agreement, maintaining focus and managing the ups and downs of each day which all began before 6am and often didn’t wrap up in the classroom until 11pm or later – sometimes getting no sleep at all, left some struggling to gather their thoughts, and at times their emotions.
After days of sleep deprivation and bleary eyed discussions fuelled by caffeine, our work culminated in pitching our ideas in front of a panel of judges. Needless to say, there were some standouts. Blockchain (of course) for energy credits, vending machine use for contraception delivery, cheap modular and cooling transport vessels for fresh produce, all having large (some forecasted to increase GDP by 8%!) knock-on effects on sustainable development within their target markets.
On the final day UNLEASH organised a closing ceremony which featured Piyush Gupta (CEO of DBS Bank), President Yacob of Singapore, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Jose Ramos-Horta (Nobel Peace Prize laureate) and Forest Whitaker. It felt like the Oscars for social impact. Like replacing a Tony Robbins event with a head of state and a CEO and 1000 adoring fans. Bizarre, inspirational and fascinating.
All in all, the innovation process and the event was gruelling, but rewarding. And just like anything, it’s not the process but the people that truly make the experience, that imprint themselves on your memory. Some proclaimed to have found their raison d’etre. We had all taken a journey together; yet it didn’t feel tacky, or even tokenistic, it felt real. Investment in multiple ideas and solutions across the event made it even more so. We’re all looking forward to seeing how these ideas develop, and how this shared purpose continues.
Unleash will be hosting an innovation lab around the SDGs every year until 2030. Find out more at www.unleash.org