Posted: Nov 04, 2019 10 min. read

UNLEASHING an impact that matters—once again!

By Bahare Haghshenas, SDG Strategy and Innovation Lead, Deloitte Denmark

I remember sitting down with Jackie Stenson and Ulf Valentin from UNLEASH in 2017, having a conversation about how to create an innovation experience and approach that would enable 1,000 people (talents) with high ambitions to solve some of our most pressing societal challenges. The advantage: these young talents where highly skilled, talented and motivated to create new solutions to solve the challenges embedded in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The disadvantage: coming from all over the world with diverse background, profiles and competences, they had never met before. So, they had to build trust in each other in less than a day and execute a month-long innovation process in just five days. Imagine – just five days! Not an easy task. Nevertheless, it magically happened!   

We wanted to create a space with a high degree of freedom to innovate but a tight process for progress to reach the goal in time. 

We wanted to create a space with a high degree of freedom to innovate but a tight process for progress to reach the goal in time. Therefore, we introduced the idea of a self-directed process where teams would go through ‘gates’ to verify their progress, and we designed tools to support the talents to lead their own way through the process from idea generation, to problem-framing, prototyping and finally presenting their idea to a panel. 

Two years in, UNLEASH has been consolidated as a strong and influential global brand, having engaged 2,000 talents from 143 countries, developed 370 SDG solutions in cooperation with over 300 partners. UNLEASH has reached over 40 million people through social media and has been recognized as one of the world’s most influential sustainability brands as a result. And Deloitte has been with UNLEASH throughout this journey – as UNLEASH’s Lead Innovation Partner since the inaugural summit in 2017 in Denmark I’m proud to have worked with UNLEASH to shape the innovation process, and together with Deloitte facilitators around the world we have delivered the largest innovation lab on the SDGs. 

UNLEASH attendees

Do the solutions actually matter?

I still remember the solution ‘SmartWrapR’ from the first UNLEASH event in Copenhagen, which won ‘the most impact potential award’. The idea behind SmartWrapR being that shrink wrap is one of the largest hidden pollutants in the world. In the US alone, there are over 2 billion pallets which causes 1 billion pounds of petroleum waste, of which 95 percent is expected to end up in landfills. The award-winning team developed a reusable smart pallet cover to replace plastic shrink wrap. This enables us to reduce the cost to customers for pallet wrapping from $1.20 to $0.60 per use and reduce environmental impact by 50 percent in plastic waste, 95 percent of petroleum use, and 80 percent of CO2 emissions.

Two years on, SmartWrapR has become part of Climate-KIC’s accelerator (EUs main climate innovation initiative) and was picked to pitch at one of the world’s leading start-up events, Slush 100, in Finland. SmartWrapR also pitched their idea to two prime ministers during the UN General Assembly this year.

SmartWrapR is just one example. There are many more inspiring and innovative ideas, including:

  • MicroTERRA – decentralized water treatment systems that recycle fertilizer onsite by collecting the runoff from farms into a bioreactor, where microalgae is cultivated, and feeds on the fertilizer present in the water. After the microalgae grow it is harvested and processed, producing new fertilizer. The system cleans the water while creating a new product.
  • Access for Refugees – a low-cost high-effect education solution. By using tailored sms-based learning, refugees have the opportunity to learn, access peer mentors, and integrate partner universities.
  • Dianox – an accessible and cheap alternative to the current painstaking process of testing for hepatitis: a self-test consisting of a diagnostic chewing gum that can be purchased in pharmacies or even ordered online.

Accelerating progress

To accelerate the potential and business case for the solutions, we are introducing UNLEASH+ - an acceleration program to support alumni teams with prototyped solutions to fully launch into the market. The program provides tailored mentoring and network access, including a week of master classes and ecosystem dives, where the teams will pitch a full business case to a panel of funding partners and get fast-tracked into a partner accelerator program. I’m excited to see just how far these solutions will go and the impact they will have.

A remarkable journey

Approaching the third UNLEASH event, it has been a remarkable journey so far. It is amazing to work with talents, over 130 facilitators and a large number of experts and partners who share the concern for our joint future and know it takes a serious and collective effort. Who understand the urgency that we need to act now and have the interest find new solutions to our societal challenges.  And know, that while the challenge is enormous, we share the same willingness to work from a purpose-mindset. A mindset that transcends profits. 

With the Sustainable Development Goals we have set an ambitious agenda for the world by 2030. The recently released 2019 Social Progress Index shows that at current rates of progress, as a world community, we will not be able to reach these goals until 2073 – unless we take massive action now. I believe initiatives like UNLEASH can create lasting change that will help accelerate this timeline. Imagine if just a handful of the ideas materialize to create impact on a more sustainable future. Imagine if the tools to ignite this type of mass-scale innovation and co-creation can be refined, developed and used all over the world making real impact. We must continue to be ambitious, courageous and believe that we can make a difference. Together.  Faster.