Unleash: A global innovation lab serving the planet

In 2017, Denmark hosted the very first UNLEASH Innovation Lab, gathering 1,000 talents from all over the world to develop solutions for the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In 2018, Singapore will be the new host. Board Director, Henrik Skovby, believes that the global community must embrace and collectively work to meet the SDGs for us to maintain a positive outlook on the future.
The UN has formulated 17 global goals as a call action for ending poverty, protecting the planet, and ensuring peace and prosperity for all people by 2030. To help meet these goals a consortium of passionate, core partners from both the private and public sectors created this innovation lab.
“There is a very important need for new innovative solutions, which cannot be developed only by governments, because they simply do not have the resources to finance and scale the required solutions,” says Henrik Skovby, Board Director, Unleash, and Chairman, Dalberg Group.
Through a competitive process, 1,000 young top talents from all over the world are invited to Unleash to design new global solutions through understanding global problems, generating ideas for solutions, prototyping these solutions, and creating implementation plans to bring their ideas to life. They will present to mentors and advisors, impact investors, and corporates that are interested in partnering and supporting new innovative solutions.
The lab format is designed to help a diverse group of talents work together on breaking down complex challenges and designing solutions at an accelerated pace. Talents leverage a toolkit of innovation facilitation activities, and work with facilitators and advisors throughout the week to further their ideas. After the innovation lab ends, talents are a part of a global network with perpetual access to the Unleash ecosystem, both for their Unleash ideas and for any SDG-focused ideas that they wish to pursue in the future.
Additionally, Skovby explains how the young talents can influence corporates and companies to be more aware of their own impact and to create more sustainable solutions.
“Daily, lots of companies are producing things that have a negative footprint on the planet. At Unleash, corporates can learn from young talents about their passions, preferences, new technologies, and what it will take to partner with the leaders of tomorrow.”
Why the young generation?
There are two reasons why Unleash focuses on a younger generation of talents. First, the younger generation is the one that will live with the consequences of today’s misusage of resources and who will experience the effects of climate change. This sense of urgency provokes the youth to take action more than the older generations.
Secondly, today’s youth have an appetite for new business models and a willingness to quickly adapt to new technologies. This combination of technological awareness and innovative thinking needs to be leveraged in terms of finding new solutions.
“Today, there is a sharing economy paradigm that for many young people is second nature,” Henrik Skovby says. “We need to think in new business models, and so it is important to get youth involved, because young people are much more eager to share resources, to experiment and to adapt. That is essential in terms of scaling fast.”
Singapore is the DNA of Unleash
Although Unleash was born in Denmark, it is a global initiative. It is set to move around the world every year until 2030.
“From the very beginning, we understood that in order for Unleash to have a global effect, we must be a global movement. Having different host countries that can bring different capabilities to the platform is essential.”
This year, Singapore is the host due to its unique position in the world:
“Firstly, Singapore’s track record shows immense development through a very short period of time, going from a developing country to a first world country in 50 years. Secondly, Singapore is a place which has shown commitment to leadership, innovation and science. And thirdly, it has a rich and vibrant ecosystem as a hub for many international companies and organizations that can accelerate and scale solutions rapidly, which in many ways is the DNA of Unleash,” Skovby says.
Global goals and awareness
The marketing of the global goals has been stronger than Henrik Skovby had anticipated. He thinks the UN has done a much better job promoting the SDGs, which were announced in 2016, than was done when the millennium goals were announced in 2000. However, Skovby still thinks there is a lot of work to be done in terms of promoting the SDGs. In countries with the highest exposure to the goals, only about 30 percent of the population know about the SDGs. Therefore, Skovby and Unleash sees a great responsibility in helping to educate the broader public about the importance of the SDGs and the opportunities they bring.
“We all need to know them because we all need to act upon them. We cannot expect governments and NGOs to do all the work. Ultimately it comes down to us as citizens taking action. Whether or not we meet the SDGs comes down to our own personal choices of how we live our lives and how we influence people around us.”
Should we be positive about the future?
Based on data about the health of the planet, the Board Director cannot deny that the future looks grim. Climate change is more drastic than ever before detected in a hundred million years. The amount of plastic in the ocean will in 2050 be as great as the tonnage of fish. Biodiversity is declining greatly. The list of troubling outlooks goes on.
“Knowing this, the question is: do we push the fear button or do we push the opportunity button?” Skovby asks. “To keep moving forward, I think we must remain positive and really try to find innovative solutions and not give up. However, we must maintain a sense of reality and not lose sight of the work that needs to be done because I do think the situation is actually very grim.”


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