29 August 2017

UNLEASH: One thousand millennial disruptors tackle the planet’s most pressing problems

Young global thought leaders gathered from 13 – 21 August 2017 for the UNLEASH Innovation Lab, to co-create solutions related to the Sustainable Development Goals.

From 13-21 August 2017, Denmark hosted the first UNLEASH event, where 1,000 top talents from 129 countries met to create innovative solutions to challenges within The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is perhaps the largest and most diverse group of young top talents to ever collaborate on solutions to the SDGs and the talents have been carefully selected based on their innovative insights, ideas, and experience. The talent pool draws from tech entrepreneurs, leading academics, and young development program officers. This year, talents co-created solutions focusing on seven SDG-related themes: Health, Food, Water, Education & ICT, Energy, Urban Sustainability, and Sustainable Consumption & Production. Without innovative and transformational thinking, it simply won’t be possible to realise the Sustainable Development Goals before 2030. It is of utmost importance that we activate youth and allow them to challenge conventional thinking, which unfortunately still resides in many organisations. ‘Rethink’ is the keyword.”

9 days of innovation

UNLEASH kicked off on 13 August in Copenhagen, where the talents solved case challenges with large corporations and engaged in plenum talks with thought leaders. The futurologist of Volvo Aric Dromi got the talents to think in new ways, and world-renowned architect Bjarke Ingels gave a live keynote from New York. On day two, the talents visited innovative companies in Copenhagen that address global sustainability challenges. On the third day, the 1,000 talents were dispersed to 10 Folk High Schools all around Denmark, to co-create solutions with guidance from experts and company partners. They then split into 200 teams and four days to develop and refine their ideas. The UNLEASH Innovation Lab was facilitated by Deloitte to assist the talents with fine-tuning their solutions.

On 20 and 21 August, UNLEASH culminated in Aarhus – the European Capital of Culture in 2017. The UNLEASH Festival “Be the Change” invited the public to learn about the SDGs through interactive educational activities hosted in refugee shelters. Meanwhile, the 200 teams went through two rounds of pitching their ideas. First, to their peers, who chose the best 12 solutions within each theme. Those teams then got to pitch in front of an expert jury, which whittled each list of 12 down to two finalists within each theme. The two finalists in each theme then faced off in a “Shark Tank” set-up, before a panel of international judges. One team from each theme was awarded and finally, five winners were announced at the “UNLEASH Awards Show – Presented by BESTSELLER” in Musikhuset Aarhus.

Among the luminaries in attendance were Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary; Prime Minister of Denmark Lars Løkke Rasmussen; actor and investor Ashton Kutcher; Founder of Khan Academy Salman ’Sal’ Khan; artist Olafur Eliasson; UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner; UN Envoy on Youth Jayathma Wickramanayake, and founder of SheSays, Trisha Shetty.


A fund is being established in collaboration with the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, and Dalberg to secure proper follow-up on the talents’ solutions. All talents will be part of a global support system, consisting of partner corporations, organisations, accelerator programs, and investors.

The partner consortium

UNLEASH is sponsored by both Danish and international corporations, supported by 15+ philanthropic foundations and a global consortium of 200+ partners, including the world’s leading academic institutions, organisations, and NGOs. The execution partners are The Carlsberg Foundation, Dalberg, Deloitte, The Confederation of Danish Industry, Højskolerne, and UNDP.

For more information please visit www.unleash.org 


Flemming Besenbacher

Chairman, Carlsberg Foundation and UNLEASH