Letters from UNLEASH 2017 – Erb Student, Jim Gawron

By January 16, 2018Blog

About the Author

Hello from Ann Arbor!

It is hard to believe that two weeks ago, we were just beginning our UNLEASH adventures. I had the opportunity to reflect on my experience, and I have come to realize how big of an impact UNLEASH has had on me. It was inspiring to see 1,000 sustainability talents from 129 countries come together with such energy and excitement to co-create solutions to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The extremely diverse experiences and skill sets within the group of talents provided us with the unique opportunity to take a truly global perspective on sustainability. And while our differences gave us the toolkit to succeed, I believe it was our common passion for making the world a better place that had the biggest impact.

My specific experience was within the Accessibility, Transportation, and Mobility sub-theme of Urban Sustainability. This was my first choice due to my previous research on sustainable transportation. I was excited to meet so many other professionals with similar interests to mine, including an entrepreneur who recently started a ride-share business in India and an engineer who had just started a new job hybridizing freight trucks after working for 3 years at Tesla. My sub-theme group of about 25 dove headfirst into the five-step innovation process provided by UNLEASH. As you know, the process included problem framing, ideation, prototyping, testing, and implementation. At first we were a bit confused, since we thought we would be working on the ideas we submitted with our application. However, after a few hours of working on new problem framings, we realized the value in following the process, since it allowed us to start at a high level and then drill down to the root cause of the problem.

I was lucky enough to have been placed on an amazing team to tackle problems associated with public transportation (team pictures below). In the problem-framing phase, we started at a high level and then expanded our problem tree to lower-level problems that cause the underutilization of public transit. We ultimately decided to focus on the lack of communication and data transfer between the public transit agencies and transit users. Our solution was “Opus: Conducting a Symphony of Voices for Public Transit.” Opus is a plug-in digital platform that enhances existing public transit apps. It creates an online user network so that public transit agencies and users can better engage with each other. It also provides a feedback platform that collects user insights and complaints and combines them with real-time contextual data. More information on the solution can be found on our website: www.opustransit.com. Our idea was well received by our peers during the pitch competition, and it was voted into the semi-finals. Overall, Opus was one of the best team experiences I have ever had.

The co-creation portion of UNLEASH wasn’t the only great learning experience for me. The travel, speakers, and sponsor events also were eye-opening. I found being in Copenhagen to be very refreshing due to their culture of sustainability and their commitment to commuting by bicycle. The design of the city is masterful, with special infrastructure dedicated to making biking safe and convenient. Having the chance to stay at the Ostersoen Folk High School (about 30 minutes from the Germany border) was also very special. The staff was so warm and welcoming, and the seaside location was beautiful. I appreciated that we started every morning by singing a few songs (both in English and Danish) to energize and center ourselves.

We always began at 8:30 a.m. sharp due to the Danish emphasis on punctuality. There was also an interesting symbolism on the nearby landscape. A large retired coal plant loomed about 3 miles down the shore from Ostersoen. It was retired 2 years ago, and now the deep-water port is used to ship wind turbines out for offshore deployment. I thought this was a perfect metaphor for the type of change we were seeking to achieve with UNLEASH. In addition to the travel, I was impressed with the speakers throughout the conference. It was encouraging to have the mayor of Copenhagen, the prime minister of Denmark, and the crown princess of Denmark all put their support behind us. Finally, the sponsorship and involvement by Dalberg and Deloitte was very visible and impressive.

Overall, I believe we accomplished a lot as the inaugural class of UNLEASHERs. We thoroughly tested the UNLEASH innovation process and provided insights into how it could be modified to be more effective. We developed almost 200 new ideas for how to achieve the SDGs, many of which I believe will go on to be implemented with the support of investors. And we set a very people-centric tone for the conference, emphasizing the importance of building relationships and fully engaging with each other, both now and in the future.

The momentum we created will carry UNLEASH forward for years to come, until we reach the finale in NYC in 2030. Let us carry forward what we’ve learned to Erb and into our own lives as well!

Cheers,

Jim

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