YOUNG PEOPLE AT THE CORE OF GLOBAL TRANSFORMATION

In my thoughts, “after National Service, get a travelling experience; expand your network, learn about different cultures, get to know people, the world, put your knowledge and skills to practice while occupying your mind with novel innovations and impact-driven information…”

I talk to myself a lot of times, and often, what I say to myself manifests. Pause! …wait a minute! You have to walk the talk! So, after talking to myself, the steps I take are often in agreement with what I have imagined or said to myself, then the manifestation.

UNLEASH appeared as proof of the self-talk. Thus, after the submission of the long application… boom! I got selected, with a nice title that, of course, comes with huge responsibilities — “UNLEASH Talent!”

Big News!

Arriving in Guangzhou, in my Ghana-made African print, I met some amazing UNLEASH volunteers and talents. Casie (a volunteer) saw me and screamed, “Wakanda!” — I responded with the salute and said: “Wakanda Forever!”. The Wakanda aura ignited a conversation; we shared our journey experiences, spoke about our countries, what we do etc. No need for a fortune teller, I just made my first value-adding friends (Casie, Joseph, Tarek, and Nour).

In Shenzhen, China, here I am, with 999 young super-heroes from over 160 countries about to unleash our powers through the co-creation of solutions to the SDGs. A culturally inspired atmosphere with great speeches from UN thought-leaders, Political leaders from the host city and former UNLEASH Talents. For your imagination, believe you me, it was a contagious atmosphere, young people excited and cheering with energy for action; here we are “2019 UNLEASHers” duly served with a memorable opening ceremony.

I joined fellow Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH) enthusiasts at Kingkey Oriental Regent Hotel — our home. However, the beautiful hotel was only a place to eat, sleep and socialize, the work was outside the hotel.

Fast forward, all talents and facilitators were bused to our workplace — the Shenzhen Water (Group) Company Limited (SZWG); a key municipal water enterprise. I thought, “quite a short distance”. Next morning, two or three colleagues shared their walking experience, and due to the quick spread of information, majority of us turned to walking from the hotel to work and to the separate restaurant booked for our lunch and dinner almost every day.

In Shenzhen Water (Group) Co. Ltd (SZWG), here we are, 100 of us — about to develop solutions to SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation). The UN has defined 8 Targets and 11 Indicators for SDG 6. The targets specify the goals and Indicators represent the metrics by which the world aims to track whether these targets are achieved.

Hence, we were divided into four and five-member teams that depict the targets or sub-themes under our track (SDG 6). With facilitators beaming with excitement as much as we were, names of all talents were grouped according to our areas of interest for the targets of SDG 6.

Almost immediately, I met my team — Abishek (Indian), Xiaofeng (Chinese), and Kate (Philippine). Irrespective of our different expertise and background, we had something in common; these, among others, became our value proposition — a sense of humour, respect for diversity, tolerance, professionalism and a desire to achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all.

In the sub-theme of Sanitation and Hygiene, which is essentially Target 6.2, we start on the innovation process.

According to the UN: “By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations”. (SDG 6.2)

The UNLEASH Innovation Process has five phases: Problem Framing, Ideation, Prototyping, Testing and Implementing. The goal is to birth our ideas and solutions through the process, which leads to the implementation of solutions that can help address SDG 6.2.

Uncommon among all teams, problem framing was the most engaging phase. It involved exploring why a problem exists, understanding the problem in its simplest form and articulating the problem with clarity. It took us almost two days to define and reach a consensus on a problem before we could move to Ideation.

Our Problem: Government & Business Leaders are not sufficiently investing in sanitation services for the urban poor in low and middle-income countries because they are unaware of the financial benefits of safely managed sanitation.

After our problem was well-framed, our team of four was reduced to three. A member had to report home — Xiaofeng, left Shenzhen to attend to an emergency, but with massive support from the facilitators (Patricia, Christian, Abram, Barry and Samuel), we went through the process with unwavering energy and focus.

With our problem insight, and to arrive at a solution, we had to dig deep and discover why we care about solving this problem.

700 million people lack access to safe sanitation, and for every $1 spent on sanitation, at least $9 is saved in health, education and economic development.

We had to measure the impact of our solution in light of its connection with other SDGs, design the cost structure and the value of our solution to the user or society as a whole. It took us almost two days to agree on a solution.

Our Solution: Government and Business Leaders, innovatively exposed to the fact that there is “money in shit” through customized Virtual Reality (VR) videos of financially successful cases of sanitation services leads to exposure visits, conclaves or consultancy meetings. Starting in Ashaiman (urban-poor area) in Ghana, then we scale-up to other urban poor cities in LMICs.

With lots of enthusiasm, we built on our idea, created our prototype, got our slides ready and went through our work to prepare for our pitch. Judges were seated, and my team (To-Let) presented our solution to the rest of our group of 100 talents in SDG 6 with the most trendy mantra “There’s Money In SHIT!”.

At the Marketplace, where we sell our solution to potential investors, two teams selected from our track were announced to pitch at Dragon’s Den (Finale of the Innovation Process). We cheered for them, and later in the evening, they pitched to all 1,000 talents and a panel of Chief Executives and a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate — Leymah Gbowee. It was a night filled with the spirit of optimism for the SDGs. The wealth of ideas and solutions across the eight SDG tracks were just incredible! The global transformation agenda starts with young people being at the centre of the conversation.

The pace of our world towards the achievement of the SDGs is not convincing. Therefore, to increase our pace in progress to Agenda 2030 demands an increase in our commitment and an increase in collaboration. Collaboration here means the Co-creation of initiatives and solutions for the achievement of the SDGs. UNLEASH Innovation Lab for the SDGs is a classical example of this. Now there are 100s of solutions that have the propensity to drastically alter conventional solutions and create a better and a more sustainable world.

The 2030 Agenda is focusing on People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnerships (5Ps), therefore in collaboration with the United Nations, (UN)LEASH Global Talents are with a common ambition of accelerating progress, and promote the achievement of the SDGs by scaling up solutions for green, inclusive, equitable, accountable and resilient development across the world.

Overall, UNLEASH has been thought-provoking, breathtaking, ecstatic and fantastic!
A BIG THANK YOU to all Sponsors, Shenzhen, the Carlsberg Group, UNDP, the UNLEASH Secretariat, Volunteers, SDG 6 Facilitators, Experts and Talents for the memorable experience!

Finally, to my Team (To-Let), you made it for me, Love you all!

This one will stay with me for a long long long time!

Originally published at http://andrewakotoaddo.wordpress.com on December 10, 2019.

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ANDREWS AKOTO-ADDO

Part-time Writer | Social Innovator | Designer & Manager of Purpose Driven Initiatives