The process is the prize

Reflections by Victor Ugo after the UNLEASH Innovation Lab 2023

In December 2023, I had the privilege of serving as a facilitator for the noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) track at the UNLEASH Innovation Lab in Kigali. This was my second stint in this role. Each experience, however, brings its own unique set of exposure to, and opportunities for personal and professional growth. 

The power of representation in action was one of the most impactful aspects for me this year. In a significant move, UNLEASH, in partnership with UNHCR, brought in about 200 young refugees to participate in the lab 

Being up close as a facilitator and judge, I observed something powerful: “When those who have lived the problem are part of finding the solution, the approach is more compassionate, and the impact is magnified”. This experience wasn’t just inspiring; it was a concrete example of effective problem-solving and one that I am excited to take forward in a similar upcoming initiative. 

Another key lesson was seeing how the innovation process, despite its seemingly chaotic nature, comes together in the end – the hidden harmony. For the young talents at UNLEASH, navigating this complexity is where the real value lies. The same can be said for the facilitators and experts involved. They don’t just leave with a finished project; they carry with them the experiences, the networking opportunities, the communication skills developed, the cultural exchanges, the emotional ups and downs, and most importantly, the confidence gained from stepping out of their comfort zones into the unknown. 

One moment that perfectly encapsulated this was during a team discussion about pitching for the finals where a question came up – should they pitch together or delegate it to one person? Their decision to pitch together was a clear indication of their collective courage and recognition of a unique learning opportunity – In their words: “If not now, when?”. It was a decision that embodied the very spirit of UNLEASH – not just creating solutions, but also facilitating the opportunity for one to go beyond their typical limits in a safe environment. 

Reflecting on these experiences, it’s clear that the journey itself, with all its challenges and opportunities, is the real reward. It’s a powerful reminder that in innovation, the process isn’t just a pathway to an outcome; it’s an invaluable experience in its own right. 

What is UNLEASH?

UNLEASH Rwanda is an Innovation Lab for the Sustainable Development Goals where hundreds of young changemakers from all over the world came together in Kigali in December 2023.  

During the Innovation Lab, 1,000 young participants from all over the world came up with new ideas and co-create innovative initiatives through human-centered design thinking – a process that focuses on the real needs of the people that the solution caters to. Experienced facilitators and experts guided the participants through different stages of the innovation process. 

The 2023 UNLEASH was the sixth Innovation Lab since 2017. Read more about UNLEASH and its impact in the latest impact report

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