December 15, 2022, Mysore, India — We are in the Decade of Action — a short window to 2030, the date by which society must make significant progress on achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or face irreversible consequences. Chemonics believes that meeting this vital mission of making the planet more sustainable and equitable for all can be accomplished only when we forge partnerships, foster innovation, and empower creative minds to work together.
This was the drive behind a remarkable program that just concluded in Mysore, India: the first in-person UNLEASH Global Innovation Lab since the pandemic, where more than 1,000 young and motivated minds gathered from more than 100 countries to create and refine solutions for the world’s greatest challenges.
Chemonics has served as the Lead Scale Partner for UNLEASH since 2019, designing and delivering innovation programs that empower young leaders to co-create a sustainable future and drive change.
“We know how powerful and widespread change can be when local innovators are empowered to design and scale their own solutions to community-level problems,” said Chemonics President and CEO Jamey Butcher. “I believe that, with the right resources, we can enable eager and creative young minds to change the world and secure the sustainable future we all want. As the Lead Scale Partner for UNLEASH, our goal is to help their ideas thrive and ultimately tackle the most pressing challenges of our time.”
Running concurrently with the UNLEASH Global Innovation Lab, the UNLEASH Plus program — a six-month incubator for early-stage startups co-hosted and co-designed by Chemonics — culminated in Mysore with an intensive bootcamp and the Dragons’ Den pitch competition, at which the 11 top teams from the program shared their solutions with a panel of judges.
Melissa Gasmi, Chemonics’ senior vice president, served as a judge, awarding SOLVillion — an inspiring Jordan-based startup that provides access to safe, affordable, and sustainable wastewater treatment — $25,000 to help scale its idea and achieve even greater impact. The award also promises in-kind mentorship and support from the Chemonics innovation team and the company’s network of 5,000 specialists around the globe.
The grant “means a lot to us, to help us scale up,” noted Aia Abul-Haj, SOLVillion’s business development manager, after the prize was announced. “Now we can develop our own production facility and produce more systems in Jordan.”
“This win is more valuable than the check we are receiving,” added Motaz Thaher, SOLVillion’s operations manager. “We earned Chemonics’ trust, and that is worth more than the money.”
While innovators in the UNLEASH Plus program refined, scaled, and pitched their models alongside Chemonics and other mentors and experts, the UNLEASH Lab talents — including representatives from Chemonics’ technical sectors around the globe — worked through UNLEASH’s five-stage Innovation Process to ideate solutions that are specific to seven SDG-focused tracks. The process is anchored in user-centered design: It begins with problem framing and is followed by ideation, prototyping, testing, and implementing.
Team Cool-It focused on SDG 7 (Clean and Affordable Energy) and conceptualized a viable, easy-to-implement cooling tile technology that helps reduce temperatures in heat wave-affected areas like India. After its pitch, Cool-It was awarded the “Most Scalable Solution” from Chemonics’ senior advisor for innovation and investment, Lauren Behr, at the event’s closing ceremony. The award includes one-year of in-kind support and mentorship from Chemonics experts to help launch the team’s climate-focused venture.
“Chemonics is very impressed by team Cool-It’s ingenuity and background,” said Behr. “By utilizing natural fibers, the team has designed a modernized version of traditional cooling tiles. If production and pricing are optimized, this kind of material could be used for many applications, in many countries around the world.”
As part of the UNLEASH Lab program, Chemonics representatives also led an implementation workshop that was dedicated to the final phase of the UNLEASH Innovation Process. Company experts offered participants a path forward from the UNLEASH journey and shared ideas in navigating the global development and sustainability ecosystem to put their ideas into action in their communities.
Chemonics’ impact at the UNLEASH Global Innovation Lab in India comes on the heels of the first regional lab held in Greenland in August. In Greenland, Chemonics supported next-gen Arctic Circle and Nordic change-makers to address climate and sustainability issues at the community level.
At the closing ceremony, Chemonics announced its commitment to another three-year partnership with UNLEASH to continue to explore ways to support the launch and scale of social impact ventures.