Designing a better future: unpacking UNLEASH Rwanda

As part of our mission, we are committed to host an Innovation Lab on every continent before 2030. A little over a month ago, we hosted the latest UNLEASH Innovation Lab and, this time around, it took place on the African continent for the very first time. In Kigali, Rwanda, we welcomed 1000 young changemakers to spend a week creating solutions for a sustainable future.  

Rwanda, the land of a thousand Talents


Year after year, we have seen a lot of enthusiasm from young Africans across the continent to be part of our programs and they have become an incredible part of our UNLEASH Community. So, we were very excited to finally host an Innovation Lab in Africa!

Rwanda’s growing innovation ecosystem and Kigali’s start-up hub in East Africa were the perfect backdrop for the first-ever UNLEASH Innovation Lab on African soil. With the support of local partners, UNLEASH Rwanda was embedded in the social innovation scene in the country, fostering sustainable development aligned with local needs and global trends.


The Innovation Lab experience

On the afternoon of December 2, the auditorium of the Kigali Convention Center witnessed the great energy and passion that is typical of UNLEASH Talents. They met one another for the first time, danced together, and got inspired by sustainability and innovation leaders at the Opening Ceremony. “The future rests in your hands. Use today to shape the tomorrow and future you want.” With those words, the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister of Rwanda, Édouard Ngirente, sent everyone off for an impactful week.  

Indeed, that energy and passion from the Opening Ceremony transformed to a relentless commitment during the days after. The melting pot of cultures that were teaching each other their traditional dances a day prior, were now working in diverse teams to co-create solutions for the SDGs. Talking a walk around the big tent – the shared space were all teams worked – was nothing short of magical. You could observe a team with members from Ecuador, Mozambique, Denmark, Uganda, and Rwanda coming up with a toolbox for Ugandan secondary school teachers. 50 meters further, a team from DRC, Myanmar, Rwanda, Canada, and Madagascar worked on the damages from high intensity rainfall.


With 136 nationalities represented, this was the most diverse UNLEASH Innovation Lab to date. In our commitment to be the most inclusive platform for the SDGs, for the first time we partnered with UNHCR to integrate 100 refugees into the program. Through the UNLEASH Methodology, the 1000 young Talents learnt the principles of design thinking applied to social impact and pitched their solution to their peers.


Simultaneously, and just like we did in UNLEASH India and UNLEASH China, the top UNLEASH Plus Teams joined the Innovation Lab for the final phase of the Incubation Program. With guidance from their Mentors and the support from different Experts, they refined their solutions and worked hard to win a spot at the UNLEASH Dragons’ Den, the pitching competition where 4 Teams received more than 35.000 USD in awards.

My overall experience was a catalyst for personal and professional growth. I was fortunate enough to establish connections and gain insights that transcend borders. It emphasized the importance of skills and capacities in addressing global challenges, urging a shift from mere inclusion to recognizing and valuing skills for mutual development,” says Jessica Uiras, Talent from Windhoek, Namibia, who was part of the Reliable and Renewable Energy SDG Track, about her experience. Her team tackled the electricity deficit in Namibia’s rural Ohangwena region by providing solar-powered electricity as a community kiosk centre.


UNLEASH at the Hanga Pitchfest ’23


The Pitching Finals of UNLEASH Rwanda took place at Hanga Pitchfest ’23, the largest technology event in Rwanda where leading entrepreneurs gathered to hear the pitches of the country’s top 10 emerging innovators and support them financially to scale their businesses. The finalists of each of the Innovation Lab’s SDG Tracks had the opportunity to pitch their solutions as part of the event, which was attended by H.E. the President of the Republic of Rwanda, Mr. Paul Kagame; Honorable Minister of ICT and Innovation, Ms. Paula Ingabire; UNDP Administrator, Achim Steiner; and Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation’s Director of Global Programs, Prof. Senait Fisseha, among others.

The seven finalists (one for each SDG Track) will be fast-tracked to UNLEASH’s Incubation Program, UNLEASH Plus. Four teams were recognized as winners based on different aspects of the solutions they developed:

  • Jabana, from the ICT and Youth in Work Track, was awarded the Most Innovative Solution by BESTSELLER Foundation for carefully understanding the local context and cultural norms of Sudan and looking to connect with those in need in an innovative way.
  • TEXCYCLO, a project from the Circular Economy Track that involves HTL (Hydrothermal liquefaction) technology to process waste, was chosen as the Most Scalable Solution, awarded by Chemonics International. This solution adapts an existing technology in a new way that surprised our Judges and can be replicated in many environments.
  • Sun Saver, a solar drying project from the Financial Inclusion Track, was awarded the Most Inclusive Solution by Mastercard Foundation for their unique approach to creating value in their business while ensuring there is profit shared with the people that are often excluded.
  • Green Roots, a solution from the Reliable and Renewable Energy Track, provides cost-effective access to essential services with a tried and tested business model. That is why the Judges could see this idea easily adapted into many other contexts and recognized it as the Most Viable Solution by the UNLEASH Community.


UNLEASH Rwanda is not only the first Innovation Lab we have hosted on the African continent, but has also become a symbol of inclusive innovation, collaboration, and positive change. The program’s journey, from partnering with UNHCR, to engaging local partners, and culminating in the grand Hanga Pitchfest ’23, proves our ambition to engage global youth in sustainable development initiatives. Stay tuned to hear more about the ripple effect of the program, which will hopefully shape the future of collaborative problem-solving on a global scale!

UNLEASH Rwanda was possible thanks to the contributions of our partners. Our core partners this year were BESTSELLER Foundation, Chemonics International, and Mastercard Foundation. Our host partner, the Ministry of ICT and Innovation of The Republic of Rwanda. Hempel Foundation, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, Novo Nordisk Fonden, RSSB, Tuborg Fondet, and World Diabetes Foundation supported UNLEASH Rwanda as Program Partners. Our SDGs, Talent, and Knowledge Partners helped us in making the Innovation Lab a success. We also collaborated very closely with the UNLEASH Community, whose members – amongst which, the 2023-24 cohort of UNLEASH Ambassadors, supported the execution of the event in several meaningful ways.