Nurturing the next generation of sustainable leaders

Posted On December 19, 2019


Supporting youth innovation is critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 2030 Agenda recognizes young people as “critical agents of change”, and to ensure success, we need all young people on board—activists, innovators, trailblazers and disruptors. And we need to be part of creating the next generation of sustainable leaders and innovators. Here are two ways UNDP is doing this.

Recently I have been fortunate enough to represent UNDP at two youth innovation initiatives—at UNLEASH in Shenzhen, China and at the Youth Innovation Summit in Morocco. With the labs still fresh in my memory, the following blog is an attempt to write down some thoughts from the experiences.

But first, what are UNLEASH and the Youth Innovation Summit? And how are they connected?

UNLEASH, which took place in November, is the world’s largest innovation lab. It’s an eight-day intensive programme to address some of the challenges we face in achieving the ambitious targets of the 2030 Agenda. The movement started in Denmark in 2017 was followed by Singapore in 2018.

UNDP representatives were everywhere during the week– either as the participating problem-crunchers—what UNLEASH calls “talents”—or as the facilitators guiding the young people through the innovation process. 

The Youth Innovation Summit took place a month earlier in Rabat in Morocco.

The Youth Innovation Summit was a five-day event gathering 100 young Moroccan changemakers to develop new solutions to Morocco’s biggest challenges and the SDGs. It was organized by UNDP, the Danish-Arab Partnership Programme of the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Moroccan Ministry of Youth and Sports.

Inspired by UNLEASH and drawing upon its methodology, the Youth Innovation Summit aimed at ensuring tangible and measurable outcomes with long-term effects for the region. It was the first time that the UNLEASH methodology was applied at the national level. The talents at UNLEASH and Youth Innovation Summit were working in self-directed groups under a time crunch by a precise, tested methodology, and had to present their progress throughout the five days to the facilitators to pass through “gate checks” to the next stage of the innovation. The process has five stages; problem framing, ideation, prototyping, testing, and implementing. On the final day all teams pitched their ideas to a panel of experts.

The results were indeed impressive. Take team S-Coolwear, a team of five young innovators, who want to tackle the problem facing children in Sindh in Pakistan who drop out of school because it is too hot to attend the classes. In response they’ve developed cooling school uniforms to help reduce students’ discomfort. Another example is team “Routes for Roots” who want to tackle the challenge of coastal erosion on Colombian cliffsides by creating eco-terraces allowing vegetation to take root and build sturdier, more permanent terrain.

There are many innovation programmes. This is a unique model, not only because it brings a diverse group together, but also because the goal of the UNLEASH model is not just what’s developed during the innovation lab.

At both events, we did more than create some 220 new groundbreaking solutions that address the SDGs. What is just as important is that down the road, all those participating in UNLEASH and Youth Innovation Summit will be part of a global movement and will stay connected with each other, as well as with expertise and with partners. The methodology is less about winning the pitching competitions, but more about creating a new movement—one that will generate more than 13,000 innovators by the time UNLEASH and Youth Innovation Summit will be held for the thirteenth time in 2030.

As one of the organizers of the Youth Innovation Summit and being represented at UNLEASH, UNDP is helping create the next generation of sustainable leaders. By engaging and uniting young behind a common goal of creating change together, and by encouraging them to bring back their learnings and innovation skills and become positive change makers in their local communities, we are part of creating a whole new movement of young, optimistic people that look at the challenges embedded in the SDGs as opportunities.  

I am proud to be part of this movement. And to all the talents: UNDP will continue working with you and other young people around the world to develop innovative solutions to our shared global challenges and develop the next generation of sustainable leaders.

Stay tuned for more from UNLEASH and Youth Innovation Summit.

Read more about Youth Innovation Summit here:

Read more about UNLEASH here: