IHE Delft students at UNLEASH 2019

10 December 2019

Young academics, entrepreneurs and technical experts from all over the world created solutions to the Sustainable Development Goals at the third UNLEASH global innovation lab, held in China from 6 to 13 November 2019. IHE Delft, Knowledge and Talent partner of UNLEASH, sent three students to participate in the event.

UNLEASH is a global innovation lab for the United Nations Sustainable Goals. The innovation lab gathered 1000 young talents from over 160 countries who are currently working on one of the 17 SDGs. This year the event was held in Shenzhen, China known as the Silicon Valley of Asia. The themes for this year’s lab were: Good Health & Well-Being, Quality Education, Clean Water & Sanitation, Affordable & Clean Energy, Industry & Infrastructure, Sustainable Cities & Communities, Responsible Consumption & Production, and Climate Action.

IHE Delft student experiences

Philani Cebani, Sanitary Engineering student at IHE Delft from South Africa
Overall, my experience at UNLEASH was really life changing and is one of my career highlights. The platform was a great opportunity to network and also meet like-minded young individuals working on different SDGs. I would highly recommend it.  
My team focused on addressing open defecation in Rudrapur, Uttarakhand, India. The insight was that the government had built many toilets to address the open defecation issue but results showed that many of the lower income households still could not use toilets because they couldn’t afford the cost of emptying their septic tanks.  This resulted in them defecating in the open. 
Our team came up with the solution of having a low cost sensor that has internet of things capabilities. The sensor would be linked to a smartphone app that would alert the user incrementally when it was time to empty the tank. The app will also be linked to a third party financial institution which allows the user to save up each month for the emptying of the septic tank. This will ensure that the cost of emptying does not come as a shock. Currently we are in talks with a team from the previous year who are working on a faecal sludge management tool in Nairobi. The team developed a sensor for a septic tank that can be used to alert trucks when a septic tank is full. Their sensor is used to optimise routes for faecal sludge collection.

Emal Waziri, Sanitary Engineering student at IHE Delft from Afghanistan
My team and I, in SDG6, worked to develop solutions to health issues caused by untreated domestic wastewater, which is used for irrigation in various developing countries. The untreated wastewater is used for irrigation either due to water scarcity or because of its high nutrient contents that help farmers produce high-yielding crops. Yet, this nutrients-rich water also contains pathogens that cause farmers’ children to become sick with illnesses such as diarrhoea and parasitic worm infections.
The innovation process was thoroughly comprehensive. We had extensive consultation in the group for many days to develop viable solutions. So, our solutions included: sustainable wastewater treatment and nutrient recovery options; an education and certification programme that incentivises farmers to adopt improved sanitation practices which will enable their certified cleaner products to be sold at higher market value, and a policy and regulation programme.
I am so grateful to the facilitators and fellow talents in the group, their energy and support was unmatched. It was an incredible event.

Anish Mannam, MSc. Environmental Science student from India
The overall experience of spending 10 days in Shenzhen, China has altogether added another layer of magic to the UNLEASH event. Living and understanding China from being in that country, has contributed to my understanding of the lives of people in China and the speed at which the country is going ahead with technological innovations and talent support systems.
I chose to join the SDG track 12, as my interest was in reaching the goals of responsible consumption and production, through which many other goals can be achieved. The SDG12 track itself is divided into sub-themes of waste management, food waste, sustainable consumption and tourism. I was part of the waste management group and my team consisted of various disciplines, including law, marketing, technology and science, which helped us look at the problem from different perspectives and made our debates constructive in a way to reach a more practical grounded solution to our problem.
The overview of our team’s problem is that the residents of Bandung city, Indonesia, don’t segregate waste in their homes. Most of the waste is mixed and ends up in landfill and waste management systems are often not efficient and costly. Our solution is to empower community leaders through educational programmes and to give them access to connections with public and private stakeholders. This would facilitate the co-creation of tailored sustainable solutions that tackle environmental issues affecting their local communities.
The solution was pitched to the judges and fellow talents as part of the competition at the end of the event. Being part of a group which has people from different work backgrounds taught me how to present ideas to the investors to get support for the idea to work out in reality.


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 (SDGs). IHE Delft became Knowledge and Talent Partner of UNLEASH in 2017.
Read more about UNLEASH here.


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