Prime Minister Dr. Édouard Ngirente on Saturday, December 2, officially opened the first youth innovation lab in Africa, ‘Unleash Rwanda’ which is designed to enable young people to align technology to create solutions in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
UNLEASH is a global platform for innovation committed to bringing the world’s top talents together to share ideas, build networks and create solutions to help reach the SGDs.
Each year, UNLEASH brings together 1,000 young people (talents) from across the world in a new destination, organizes local hackathons, and supports ongoing capacity building and solutions implementation.
The Unleash Rwanda chapter was launched this December 2, 2023 as the first in Africa and the sixth of its kind globally following similar events initiated in Denmark, Singapore, China, Greenland and India since the inception of the Unleash concept in 2017.
Currently SGDs have been achieved only by 16% globally yet the timeline to attaining the goals is already half way to 2030.
Dr. Ngirente said that this is a good opportunity and a milestone in the journey that brings together young change makers to collaborate and innovate to solve current and emerging pressing challenges and challenge them to take lead.
The challenges, he said, were in the more than 1 billion people living in urban slums, climate change, poverty, inequalities in different societies, youth unemployment and most recently, the impact of COVID-19.
“To address these challenges, there is a need for a shift from our way of doing things, if we are to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) within the set deadlines. This is where all of you – the young talents here today come in,” Ngirente said.
How to do it?
Ngirente said that over 16% of the global population today are young people aged 15-24 years and this represents the most innovative and creative global demographic.
“Therefore, you understand the exceptional asset that you are to the world,” he said.
For this to happen, for youth to play their critical role in attaining sustainable growth, Ngirente said they must be equipped with the necessary skills to reach their full potential to drive global transformation but also collaboration is essential.
The PM stated that the Government of Rwanda acknowledges innovation as one of its key drivers of growth for not only solving our socio-economic challenges but also for creating jobs and the country has been blessed to recently host two similar events (the Kigali Economic Forum and the Innovation Africa 2023 Summit) which focused on youth.
Ngirente said the meetings reflected Rwanda’s collective commitment for youth entrepreneurship and promote innovative problem solving approaches amongst the youth from across the globe and while government partnership with different players have established multiple accelerator and innovation hubs for youth entrepreneurs and innovators, the ball remains in the hands of the youth.
“The future rests in your hands, take charge of your destiny and use today to dream and shape the future you want. You are a powerful force for change and development, so take on that mantle with honor and zeal, you have all our trust and support,” he said.
Since 2017, UNLEASH has grown into one of the world’s leading platforms for youth-led innovations and has engaged 7,000 talents, facilitated the development of 800 SDG solutions, incubated more than 200 teams, and been recognized as one of the world’s leading sustainability brands.
Minister of Youth and ICT (MYICT), Paula Ingabire said that with Rwanda increasingly becoming Africa’s foremost hub for entrepreneurship and events, there is a unique opportunity to bring UNLEASH to Rwanda to unearth sustainable solutions and position Rwanda as the go to hub for start-ups in Africa.
Prof. Flemming Besenbacher, Chairperson of UNLEASH said the event will benefit Rwanda bring it into the community of UNLEASH partners.
“UNLEASH is well-suited to boost Rwanda’s existing ecosystem for sustainability-minded entrepreneurs, and Rwanda constitutes an ideal proof of-concept market, in which early-stage innovations with scaling potential can be tested,” Besenbacher said.
This year, the event gathered youth from 166 countries and out of the 1000 youth talents that will compete, 200 of them (20%) are selected from Rwanda with 100 of them being already in business.
Only five talents will be selected as the winners of the 2023 Kigali edition.
However, UNLEASH and MYICT said the 2023 talents will be helped to find innovation space in Rwanda and also get the support they need to materialize their ideas into local and global solutions.