What did UNLEASH unleash?

I believe I owe this text to all those who continue asking me: What is the UNLEASH Innovation Lab 2017 about? What did you actually win?

HoD team and UNLEASH Chairman Flemming Besenbacher

I was one out of 1,000 participants (they called us talents) from 129 countries invited to co-create innovative, implementable, scalable solutions for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

To be honest, I expected UNLEASH to be just one more useless and expensive high level SDG event. I assumed 1,000 people from all over the world would probably spend all those days talking about the world biggest problems and how SDGs could solve them, and I had doubts that this would really produce any serious outcomes when we all went back home. But, what I didn’t know?

UNLEASH is supported by a global consortium of actors, including UNDP, Carlsberg Foundation, Deloitte, Microsoft, Dalberg, +170 knowledge and talent partners and +20 foundations. This means that behind UNLEASH is a huge network of big companies having a core business interest in delivering solutions for the SDGs. And the business sector doesn’t like to throw money in the air. They carefully planned each step for the last two years, they wanted to make sure that after this event they would be able to support long-term innovative business solutions which will have a real impact on real problems and their plan is to continue organizing it every year until 2030.

During the first few days we were introduced to innovators, CEOs, world famous architects, ICT and education experts etc. We saw how technology and innovation can solve different problems and how, for example, new technology can secure education for children across the world. To be able to meet people who are dreamers, optimists, who have vision of a better world and who were able to make that dream become true, was already beyond my expectations! Especially having in mind that we here in Bosnia are still fighting about the question about who started the war and outside the box thinking is rather an incident that should be suffocated, then the desired way of thinking.

After spending first three days in Copenhagen, 1,000 people moved to 10 different Danish folk high schools which are most likely not like any school you experienced before. Folk high schools offer non-formal adult education. You sleep, eat, study and spend your spare time at the school. There are no academic requirements for admittance and there are no exams. You only need to be 18 years old and you can spend from two weeks up to one year there. The concept is amazing. Schools are located all over Denmark in the countryside, fully surrounded by nature. The programme is creative and includes learning in and about nature, life in general and it usually is a life changing experience for those who wonder about their purpose and mission and the next steps in life. As a person who is in love with non-formal education, I would love to see this multiplied. Brandbjerg Højskole, I’m coming back one day ❤

In those schools, the real hard work begun. We had some difficult problems to solve. That is how I meet my guys: Silvia, Madhvi, Joannes, Ryan and Rick! We became a team (one of 200) united about a problem we wanted to solve. We started to share our own experiences and problems we are facing in our own countries related to the creation of educational systems which are inclusive and accessible for everyone and then Silvia, who has 15 years of experience working with the deaf community in Kenya, told us a story about Mary:

Mary is a 9-year-old deaf girl who was raped by her school teacher, but does not have the ability to tell anyone. When Mary shows signs of pregnancy she cannot communicate it to her mother, so her mother beats her out of frustration. Mary is now pregnant, out of school and she does not know what her future will be. This is one of many examples I know on how the deaf are exploited in Kenya.

We immediately knew that this would be the problem we would try to solve. We are all coming from different sectors (and 5 different continents) and in the beginning we had a different vision on how we would try to solve it, but we were sure that this problem goes beyond education and that we really need to work hard to create the best possible solution trusting each other and putting all our efforts and knowledge into it.

I don’t really know where we were able to find the energy to work all day and night long, but I believe besides our internal motivation we were motivated by our facilitators who were constantly checking our progress and pushing us to the edge. Each team had to prepare a 3-minute pitch and those who ended up in finals needed to pass three rounds of selection including peer selection, thematic judges’ panel and finals in the Dragons’ Den format in Aarhus.

After being supported by our peers, our project ‘Hear-oes on Demand (HOD)’ was also the unanimous choice of the jury in the Education and ICT track and, as if this wasn’t enough, we were selected as the gold winners for the Education & ICT in the finals. You can find more about all winning solutions here.

During those 9 days we were able to meet different speakers and guests such as: Crown Princess of Denmark, Prime Minister of Denmark, Achim Steiner (UNDP), Charlotte Mark (Microsoft), Salman Khan (Khan Academy), Olafur Eliasson (artist), Bjarke Ingels (architect), Ashton Kutcher (actor and investor), Trisha Shetty (SheSays), activists, influencers, innovators, entrepreneurs, investors, our amazing team of facilitators… the list goes on forever…

But the most important people I met are those in the photo above — Silvia Muturi, Madhvi Aggarwal, Joannes Paulus Yimbesalu, Ryan Scott and Rick Martin. They are not only experts in their fields, but also beautiful humble souls who truly believe in a better world and who are able to make it true.

And, although we still don’t know how UNLEASH will support the implementation of solutions which were born in Denmark, we will for sure support Silvia who is on the ground in Kenya helping to make Hear-oes on Demand (HOD) a reality.