CS students and alumni at UNLEASH 2017

Photo: Andrea Cuesta
Photo: Andrea Cuesta

WHEN: 13th-21st of August 2017
WHERE: Denmark
WHAT: “UNLEASH is a global innovation lab that brings together people from all over the world to transform 1,000 personal insights into hundreds of ideas, and build lasting global networks around the Sustainable Development Goals” unleash.org/about/
BY WHOM: Non-profit initiative developed by a number of core partners from different countries and sectors

UNLEASH connects sustainability professionals from all over the world to act on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) defined by the UN. In 2017, UNLEASH innovation lab concentrated on seven themes: Education & ICT, Energy, Food, Health, Sustainable consumption & production, Urban sustainability, and Water. This year, three CS students and two CS alumni were selected to be part of this effort. Below you can learn more about their UNLEASH experience.


CS Participants:

Elizabeth Miller (CS Business Student):
Participating in UNLEASH was an incredible experience. For me, the magic really started when they split the 1000 participants into smaller groups that would each be working on one sustainable development goal. Each group went to a separate højskole, which is a traditional Danish public school rooted in personal development and creativity. The school that I went to, Snoghøj, was on a beautiful lake in a rural part of the country.

At Snoghøj, I had the privilege of working with a team from five continents on developing solutions that can facilitate more sustainable modes of production and consumption. We decided to look at how new technology, particularly artificial intelligence, can be used to help people adopt more sustainable lifestyles. During the weeklong innovation process, I felt like I was back in a Creative Sustainability (CS) classroom. My CS courses, especially Sustainable Product and Service Design, prepared me well for this intensive innovation sprint with a multidisciplinary, multicultural team.


Anna Pakkala (CS Business Student):
In the picturesque countryside Vestjylland Folk High School, on the coast of Western Denmark, the 100-strong UNLEASH Energy theme ideated towards solutions for off-grid electrification, wind turbine recycling, and measuring air pollution, among numerous other projects. My team worked on creating a network to de-risk energy offtakers in developing countries, in order to increase foreign institutional investment in renewable energy projects.

Apart from long days working and eating amazing organic food from the school’s own garden, our week included a visit to a Vestas wind farm and wind turbine factory, as well as conversations with leading experts in energy financing, project development and energy research.

To me, the week proved the power of multidisciplinary work, and above all, multicultural exchange. While the work itself was highly educational, the real learning in the casual conversations and debates over a bonfire or dinner table, where people from nearly every continent came together to share stories and experiences. I count myself very fortunate to have participated in such an inspiring, diverse gathering of some of the brightest and most ambitious people I have ever met.

A number of interesting projects are being conducted by CS students at the moment, not to mention the significant achievements.


Sara Lucía Rueda Mejía (CS Design student):
For me, Unleash was one of the biggest, if not the biggest successful and diverse social lab that I know and have ever participated in. From my perspective, Unleash is an experience that focuses more in each of us, the participants rather than than developing insights into working ideas. It was concentrated on weaving teams, as well as an entire community, around common passions and goals.

The previous was my biggest take-away from this unique experience. In order to aim for big changes in the world, we first need to focus on understanding other team members’ desires, truly connecting with them and then, give the next step to co-create the idea that can achieve that long-awaited change.


Caroline Knappers (CS Design Alumnus):
Some years ago, I graduated from the CS program. For some years after, I worked on projects that mattered. Projects I felt were making a difference. I wasn’t ending hunger, cleaning up the oceans, or providing clean drinking water, but I was facilitating the possibilities. I was catering, in some form or other, to those who did work on such projects. In 2016 I decided I needed a change. I wanted to focus more on direct contact with social entrepreneurs, and get back into the field that was more close to my heart: sustainable building use and urban planning. I took a deep dive, but never reached the water. I couldn’t, for various reasons, achieve what I envisioned.

Maybe my vision wasn’t strong enough, or maybe it was never viable and deep down I knew it. Whatever the reason, I ended up applying for ordinary jobs, ideally somewhat related to spatial design and sustainability. I landed what turned out to be an incredibly unsatisfactory job, and was willing to give anything to get a change of scenery.

That’s when UNLEASH came along. I applied, was accepted, and quit my job in order to be able to attend, and in order to save myself. UNLEASH was my buoy, and all I had to do was grab it. I went to Copenhagen, and later to “my” Højskolen Østersøen in Aabenraa, where I met the most inspiring and amazing bunch of people. I got to work and brainstorm intensely with them, which gave me the energy and courage to continue my quest for finding new ways to reuse vacated buildings.


Andrea Cuesta (CS Real Estate and Water Management Student)
The UN estimates that there will be up to 250 million climate refugees by the year 2050. Communities will face the devastating impacts of climate change, including extreme flooding, droughts and loss of arable land. Many of the communities predicted to be the hardest hit are also the most impoverished, making them ill-prepared and under-resourced.

This was the problem my team was working with during UNLEASH in the Urban Sustainability theme. It was not handed to us, but it was a long process of analysis and discussion until we ended up with an issue we were all passionate to tackle. The solution is a participatory action toolkit to engage youth in communities most vulnerable to climate change to co-plan and implement resilience-building community projects, called RESILYOUTH. This project is still ongoing and thanks to UNLEASH I am lucky enough to work with one of the most inspiring and hardworking people I have ever met. The team includes a social entrepreneur working with peacebuilding in Colombia, a social entrepreneur working with transparency in Uganda, a Master’s student working with disarmament policies, an environmental facilitator working on youth engagement and me, a CS Master’s student with a new interest in planning for resilience.

Posted by Creative Sustainability
2 years ago