UNLEASH: What happens when 1000 youths gather to spark ideas for a better world?

Exhibition of the ideas at Suntec by participants at UNLEASH 2018

by Tan Yi Han

It can be tough being a child, torn by the stress of school and relationships but without the experience to cope with it. With the aid of the virtual reality (VR) content created by Adila Sayyed and her team at VERE.360, children can now learn about mental health issues and how to go about addressing it. This is just one of the ideas born at the inaugural UNLEASH last year that is now making a real impact.

UNLEASH is an annual event that brings together 1000 millennials from more than 100 countries around the world to come up with solutions for eight of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, ranging from “zero hunger” to “climate action”. This year, from 30 May 30 to 6 June, UNLEASH was hosted in Singapore.

During the first few days, participants were grouped into diverse teams comprising people from different countries and background. The teams then had the chance to consult experts in various fields. Robin Low was the designated expert for refugee issues, but had to dissuade some teams from working on refugees as they lacked knowledge of the issue. Many teams were talking about providing education to the refugees, he shared, but the real problem was girls getting raped and then getting pregnant, so they could not attend school anymore.

Mr Low shared his experience with UNLEASH, “As an expert, I give facts and my experience with the topic. The talents are there to innovate and work on solutions. I facilitate and connect them to beneficiaries and hopefully help them understand the problem better before designing the solution. The facilitators are the ones who work on team building and ideation, etc. The process and deck of UNLEASH is quite innovative and interesting.”

After six days, 16 finalists got the chance to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges at the Dragon’s Den. The diversity of ideas reflected the diversity of the teams.

Top two teams for the Quality Education track await the results after pitching to the judges.

One of the teams looked at deforestation in Kenya, and realised that a key factor was that community meetings on forest conservation were male-dominated, leaving women out of the loop. The solution? Get the hairdressers on board! So while the women were getting their hair braided, they could have a conversation about conservation.

Another team wanted to challenge the problem of disposable cups in United Kingdom – numbering 2.5 billion a year! The team proposed getting cafes to use reusable cups which customers can take away but with a deposit included. Once customers are done with their drink, they could then deposit the cup in a smart bin to get their deposit refunded. The cups could then be collected and returned back to the cafes.

The judges generally gave encouraging comments, perhaps not quite living up to their name as Dragons. However, they asked a lot of basic questions like durability and safety of the proposed product, or whether an idea would be feasible. Unfortunately, the short timeframe meant that most teams did not come up with a working prototype and most ideas were untested.

Perhaps conscious of this shortcoming, Henrik Skoyby, Executive Director of UNLEASH, announced yesterday (June 5) that UNLEASH 2019 would also have an advanced track for participants who have already prototyped their ideas but need support to scale up.

Fiona Lee, participant in UNLEASH 2018.

Regardless of the outcome, for Fiona Lee, one of the Singaporean participants at UNLEASH 2018, the journey was rewarding enough. A Year 2 student at the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), her team came up with an idea to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) make bulk purchases of sustainable packaging.

Despite not winning any award, Fiona beamed as she shared, “It has been such an enriching journey. I have no industry experience and so I never thought of things at a business level. But thanks to my teammates who have the expertise, I was able to understand those issues.”

Eager to join UNLEASH 2019? Watch the space at https://unleash.org/

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