In August, founding director Nikki traveled to Denmark to attend UNLEASH Lab 2017: where 1000 young people from all over the world met to work on solutions to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. She was selected to contribute to the conversation on global food waste. As promised in her previous blog, here are some things she learnt.
The world is huge, but humans are more connected than ever before.
When they said 1,000 people from all over the world, they really meant it, and it was very impressive. On the first day I had lunch with people from Australia, Burundi, Brazil, Italy, Nigeria and China. Over 120 countries were represented there; the chance to travel the world in 10 days. But despite the incredible diversity, I was struck by how much we all had in common. Stories about growing up, school, family, music we love, youtube videos we have laughed at, problems we see in our communities, determination to make the world a better place. Though I may have grown up on the other side of the world from another, we are all on the same page, and in many ways that geographical distance doesn’t feel like a barrier anymore.
Denmark is a really cool country.
Everyone cycles. There are hundreds of bikes. Magnificent bridges, green countryside, everything is clean, and everyone looks healthy and beautiful. Also, we heard from the mayor of Copenhagen that they aim to make the whole city carbon neutral by 2025. That’s ace.
3. Moth larvae taste really nice.
The food track’s team-building challenge on the first day was to design a new product for sale in Denmark, using a sustainable source of protein: insects. Larvae of moths, crickets or mealworms, roasted, uncooked or smoked. The first time I had tried insects, and I promise I am being honest: once you step over the psychological barrier and put it in your mouth, they are really very tasty. My team came up with “Grub: the sustainable snack for a fast-paced lifestyle”. An alternative sandwich filling, similar in texture to tuna mayo, but with an Asian palate, with coriander and tamarind in there. To our surprise, the judges loved the pitch and the flavours, and our team won. Victory to the roasted mealworms.
4. Problem solving is really frustrating.
Particularly when you have 5 days to come up with a fully-formed and tested solution to a major world issue. With help from a range of experts from third sector, academia and private sector, facilitators took us through 5 days of problem framing, innovation and solution-building. We were more or less given a blank sheet to begin with, and I ended up working on an issue I knew very little about (namely, milk waste during transportation in developing countries). It was a roller coaster: a lot of highs and hilarity, but a lot of stress, not much sleep, and the most I’ve used my brain in a long time.
5. A simple solution to a real world problem.
With a shared passion for change, determined teamwork, not very much sleep, and use of all the networks and resources we had available to us (thanks Stu and my Dad), our team managed to get through the first three pitching rounds, to be chosen as one of the final 14 out of 199 groups. I think we were liked because we framed a real and urgent world problem, and came up with a simple, scaleable solution that could make a massive impact.
6. Pitching in front of over 1,000 people, including an impressive panel of “Dragons” in their den, really gets your adrenaline pumping.
And dries your mouth out so much it feels like concrete by the end of 3 minutes. A fantastic experience. We came second in the Food track, and received great feedback from the dragons and audience members.
7. The world needs equality.
The closing ceremony in Aarhus was fantastic, with guest speakers including Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary of Denmark; Lars Løkke Rasmussen, Prime Minister of Denmark , Salman Khan, Founder of Khan Academy; Trisha Shetty, Founder of SheSays, and one of my heroes, Ellen MacArthur. The major theme that came out of all the talks was that of gender equality. To solve the world’s problems and achieve the SDGs, women must be empowered to lead the way. Sustainable growth cannot be achieved if half of the population are not given equal opportunities at every level; from education, through health and political participation, to leadership and decision making.
8. To solve the world’s biggest problems, we’ve all got to work together.
Innovation and change-making is probably most effective when it is financially sustainable and attractive to consumers. The private sector has a huge role to play. However, I am determined that not all solutions to global issues need to be profit-making, competitive and only aiming for growth. To achieve the SDGs, we’re going to need new business models, new ways of thinking, and plenty of partnerships.
9. There is hope.
Humans can be awesome. The natural world is an ingenious and resilient thing, amazingly able to respond and adapt to the mess we’re making of it. There are some phenomenal brains out there, and a worldwide response to a common call in the UN Sustainable Development Goals. There is hope.