During the UNLEASH Rwanda Innovation Lab in Kigali, Chemonics awarded next-generation changemakers financial and in-kind support to generate even greater impact in their communities and beyond.

One of the leading hubs for startups on the African continent, Kigali, Rwanda, was abuzz with the creative energy of more than 1,000 changemakers and a passionate drive to solve the world’s most pressing problems during the UNLEASH Rwanda Innovation Lab this month. Participants from more than 130 countries gathered at the Innovation Lab to ideate innovative solutions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Chemonics has served as the Lead Scale Partner for UNLEASH since 2019, supporting the delivery of innovation programs that empower young leaders to co-create a sustainable future. Chemonics co-designed and co-runs the UNLEASH Plus six-month incubator program for early stage social impact ventures which culminates in a final intensive week during the annual UNLEASH Innovation Lab. At the Lab, participants from around the world come together to learn the UNLEASH innovation methodology to design community-led solutions that achieve the SDGs.

This year, UNLEASH Plus came to a dynamic conclusion through the Dragons’ Den pitching showcase, during which the top 10 teams pitched their early stage startups to a panel of leading industry experts for the chance to receive awards and funding to support and scale their solutions.

Chemonics Senior Vice President Judith Heichelheim, a Dragons’ Den Judge, presented Chemonics’ award to Natal Cares, a social enterprise that combats maternal and infant mortality in Nigeria by leveraging the power of mobile technology, artificial intelligence, and low-cost innovation. Their pitch included a robust combination of comprehensive delivery kits, messaging services, radio programming, and more. The award includes $25,000 and one year of in-kind support from Chemonics’ global network to continue to refine their technology and services and scale their venture to reach more communities.

A man excitedly jumps with the Nigerian flag. Two people kneel next to him with a giant check. A man puts his hand in the air with excitement.

Hooked instantly by the team’s pitch and passion to drive change, Heichelheim noted, “I was inspired by Natal Care’s leadership, and I appreciated that the team has already established a partnership with the local Nigerian government, which gives further legitimacy to their solution and access to more potential clients. The idea is also scalable, both in Nigeria as well as in other markets.”

Apart from the final stage of the UNLEASH Plus program, the rest of the Innovation Lab brings together participants to co-create new solutions that advance the SDGs using the UNLEASH user-centered design process. The participants were grouped into seven themed tracks, all rooted in one or more SDGs, including noncommunicable diseases, financial inclusion, climate action and land use, and more.

Seven finalists from each of the SDG tracks in the Innovation Lab headed to the Hanga Pitch Fest to present their solutions created during the week to a panel of judges and the broader startup community in Kigali. Chemonics awarded its “Most Scalable Solution” prize to Team Texcyclo from the circular economy track. The team conceptualized a circular approach to transforming textile waste biomass into real value in Kenya, minimizing reliance on fossil fuels. The award includes one year of in-kind support from Chemonics to refine the team’s solution.

Three people smile on stage with excitement and hold a giant check in front of a step and repeat banner.

The judges appreciated Team Texcyclo’s adaptation of existing technology in a new way and felt it could be replicated in many environments. Rwandan President Paul Kagame attended the award ceremony alongside other leaders and champions of innovations from across Africa.

Chemonics’ partnership with UNLEASH reflects the company’s deeply held belief that community-led design will ultimately achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. “It is the drive of the next generation of empathetic leaders, with lived experience of the issues we face, who will solve problems from a local to a global scale,” Chemonics’ Principal Advisor for Innovation and Investment Lauren Behr said at the opening of the Dragons’ Den showcase. “Chemonics is here to provide that launching point so that every creative mind and passionate innovator has the opportunity to succeed.”