By Farai Peter Munjoma
On the 12th of August 2017, I travelled to Denmark with two other JA Africa Alumni, Rudo Muzhando from JA Zimbabwe and Wise Banda from JA Zambia, for the inaugural UNLEASH Innovation Lab. We joined 999 other young people from across the world, to work towards crafting solutions for the Sustainable Development Goals. The 7 key sustainable development goals which were prioritised this year were in Energy, Water, Urban Sustainability, Food, Health and Sustainable Consumption & Production and Education & ICT, On the first day, the participants received key note addresses from the Chairman of UNLEASH Flemming Besenbacher, Charlotte Mark, CEO, Microsoft Development Center Copenhagen among others.
UNLEASH aims to build the world’s leading lab and platform for innovative, implementable and scalable solutions to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). By using the innovative mind set of young people and partner talents with leading companies, research institutions, foundations, non-profits, and investors, they aspire to provide next generation solutions for the SDGs. The ten-day event was sponsored by multiple multinational and donor organisations which included the UNDP, Dalberg, Deloitte, Microsoft, Bestseller and
Carlsberg foundation just to mention a few. The goal was to accelerate disruptive ideas by engaging top talents in problem-solving, and co-creation activities and by providing the support needed to bring the best ideas to life.
The day ended with a presentation by Aric Dromi, Futurologist from Volvo, as he explained the different technology and behavioural trends taking place in the world and how society could best prepare itself for new advancements in Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality and self-driving cars. One interesting point was how communities in developing countries are at a great advantage of leap frogging into the future because they have virgin land and space to deliver infrastructure for the utopian world we are working towards.
From day 2 to 7, we had the privilege to be hosted at various Danish Folk High schools. As part of the Education and ICT track, we stayed at the Oure school of Art and Performance where we crafted problem statements around education, formed 199 teams and worked towards building solutions which were to be pitched to various of judges and investors. The whole innovation lab experience was designed and
facilitated by Deloitte, who took the participants through different stages of the problem framework to the idea implementation.
With an increase in refugee populations and very little access to opportunities in their camps, this has become a global issue. It has been estimated by the UNHCR that a mere 22% of refugee adolescents graduate from high school yearly, of which most are left economically inactive afterwards. My team’s solution, HubUbuntu, aimed at creating a transformational innovation hub made of shipping containers within the refugee camp. This hub would be powered by solar energy with a major aims to leverage capacity building for young people through its training centre, it would also provide the refugee community with ICT workshops and most importantly tap into the potential of refugee entrepreneurs by creating a showroom platform where they could sell their products to the public.
My team was part of the last 12 semi-finalists however only 2 teams proceeded to the final stage of the competition, the first one being Hear-oes. Their solution was a shared economy model that leverages the web and a mobile platform to connect quality interpreters to the deaf, There are over 1.5 million deaf people in Kenya. The gap between the availability of interpreters and deaf individuals is 1:7,500. Institutions which are mandated by the government to provide these services also face a severe shortage of qualified interpreters. They look forward to disrupting this industry through their mobile platform solution.
The second team, Edulocker whose solution aims to verify and aggregate MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) in partnership with employment entities to give them real credibility and revive their value; sparking true lifelong learning, Technological development is rapidly out pacing formal education; rendering a plurality of technical skills increasingly redundant – they believe lifelong learning is the only way to prevent this social disaster taking place. MOOCs are believed to be the solution to this issue, however, they have failed because they lack employer credibility.
It was a great pleasure working on the HubUntu project with a group of diverse individuals from France, Uganda and Burundi (James- A refugee based in Kakuma camp in Kenya). Our project was documented and we look forward to the release of a short film on our quest at UNLEASH. Although the event was intense and rigorous, special time was put aside for social events and activities, ranging from sailing, golf, football and mountain biking. This was a great platform to bond and network with the other talents. After 9 days of work, we ended the event with motivational speeches from Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, Actor and Investor Ashton Kutcher, Khan Academy CEO Salman Khan and Lars Rasmussen the Prime Minister of Denmark. The participants will continue to be provided with
investment opportunities for their projects as well as mentorship support going forward.
My top 3 takeaways from UNLEASH
1. With a global village comes global competition,
As the world continues to get more open and connected, the open market approach to jobs and business opportunities can either work in your favour or against you. The questions we need to start asking developing economies, is how do we best prepare our young people to acquire the relevant skills and competencies that will make them competitive enough on the job market and business opportunities.
2. Africa needs to reimagine its entrepreneurship focus, As much as technology is trending and unavoidable, we cannot leap frog infrastructural issues hence our young entrepreneurs should start thinking of how we can harness our resources and leverage on them to create the basic access to electricity, internet, schools and transport networks etc. Apps and websites are essential but they are often underutilised because of lack of the basic infrastructures.
3. Always keep an open-mind set, this applies to both individuals and institutions. With technological rapid changes in the world, the
future is uncertain and we should be ready to adapt to it. We should prepare to develop new philosophies and be willing to let go our biases. I reflect on this takeaway with my beloved African continent in mind. As this was my first time attending a conference of such magnitude, it is my greatest wish that more young people across the world get access to such platforms, as they challenge and impact your
perspective on the world. Special thanks goes to Junior Achievement Africa and The Anzisha Prize for nominating me to attend this event and most importantly the outstanding pre-trip preparation support I received from the African Leadership University.
I am forever grateful for all your support.