Unleashed at UNLEASH: The story of a transformative idea in SDG6


by Yolwin Perales

It was last May 29 when I flew to Singapore to attend the UNLEASH Innovation Lab 2018 held from May 30-June 6. I was lucky enough to be one of the 1000 champions, leaders, and innovators from 106 countries across the globe to create projects and innovations in pursuit of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 2030.

I worked with SDG 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation track together with 83 other talents. We were then distributed to different teams depending on our focus and interest. I decided to focus on women’s sanitation and teamed up with Annie Strand from Sweden, Utkarsha Bhardwaj from India and Natasha Neeve from New Zealand. We formed the team WeKanDo, inspired by the movie Black Panther and its fictional setting, Wakanda. The process was composed of four difficult stages: First was Problem Framing, followed by Ideation, Prototyping, and finally Testing.

After two days of problem framing, which we considered as the most difficult task, we came up with the following problem statement; “Female students ages 9-18 in the rural Philippines have lower school attendance rates than males due to poor menstrual hygiene management, compromising their health and well-being”. After consulting the different stakeholders in the community, we identified that the lack of affordable sanitary products is one of the main problems that needs to be addressed.

In the ideation stage, we were guided by our core principle to create a solution that is inclusive and empowering. We decided to develop biodegradable and affordable sanitary napkins out of water hyacinth fibres and corncobs, materials that are readily available and abundant in the community. The pads also have multiple layers, which can be peeled off after 1-2 hours so that the students can avoid bringing several pads in school. We also planned to set-up a production hub in the community to produce jobs, empower women, and create awareness on this issue that will hopefully break the taboos associated with it. After rapid prototyping, we launched our project as “EmpowHer”.

After the first stage of the competition, we were privileged enough to be one of the two teams chosen from SDG6 to advance to the Dragon’s Den. The Dragon’s Den was nerve-wracking as we were now presenting our project to our co-talents from other tracks, investors and the judges also known as the “Dragons”. Finally, we were awarded 2nd place after the mind-blowing night on the final stage.

In a nutshell, my UNLEASH experience was extraordinary. I was able to meet brilliant people from all over the world. I heard very inspiring stories from the speakers, our facilitators, and from my co-talents. It was definitely a week that I would never forget for the rest of my life. My team won, but for me, no gold or any award can beat the experiences made, lessons learned, networks built, and friendships formed thanks to UNLEASH. I am now more inspired to make an impact and change the world for the better, where one is left behind.