Throughout my internship, my company has been so supportive in my personal and professional development.
So whenever opportunities came up and I wanted to take them on, the directors were more than happy to allow me time to pursue my interests.
As many of you will see, one of the biggest benefits of interning in Thailand is that there are limitless opportunities in the region where you can participate and learn from experts in all types of sectors.
A couple of months ago, a friend told me about a non-profit organization called UNLEASH.
UNLEASH is an innovation lab that happens every year. After its inaugural year in Copenhagen in 2017, Singapore received the honor for 2018.
Up to 1,000 entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs from all over the world come together to help reach the targets set by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
There is an application process that all potential 'talents' have to fill out.
It helps the committee gauge how creative, passionate, excited, innovative, and committed the applicant is to generating and implementing solutions that will help reach the SDGs.
Beyond the basic personal and demographic information, there were two main questions that all applicants had to answer.
First, why are you passionate about the selected SDG? Second, what is an insight you have had about your selected SDG?
Taking Part in UNLEASH
I was one of 1,000 young talents selected from a pool of over 7,000 applicants to fly to Singapore on a virtually all-expenses-paid trip to participate on UNLEASH.
Throughout the nine-day event, all of us lived together at the National University of Singapore (NUS) campus where we ate and worked together.
In the welcoming ceremony, numerous CEOs and directors came to speak to us about how important our work is to the world.
For this year, there were participants from 108 countries represented who work in a wide array of fields coming together to share their stories and expertise.
After that event, we were split up into our respective SDG group and then again into sub-groups where we would be tasked with more specific targets to develop our solutions around.
The days flew by fast, despite our packed schedules. Every day we woke up at 6:45 am and started at 8:00 am.
We would sleep around 11:00 pm or midnight every night. We had a ton of resources to guide us including cards with specific activities on it to complete, expert mentors, and facilitators who were already familiar with the innovation process.
The UNLEASH team created these checkpoints where teams would have to defend their idea and have all of the requirements to be able to pass onto the next stage. It helped us stay on task and have a target to work towards with our projects.
Unleashing Affordable and Clean Energy
There are a total of 17 SDGs, so UNLEASH selected eight particular ones to focus on for 2018. With my current work at my internship in energy, I decided to select SDG7: Affordable and Clean Energy.
My research at work and past experience have made it very clear that there is a stark energy demand and supply gap in many nations.
There is a lack of access to affordable, reliable, and clean energy for a large percentage of the world, hindering their development.
Without electricity, 1.2 billion people in the world are losing hours of productivity due to lack of light and the ability to work.
Children cannot do homework, women feel unsafe traveling after sunset, and businesses are not able to operate.
I wanted to explore current and developing technology to increase the investment, production, and usage of renewable energy.
To start, all of us proposed our ideas in front of the group, then we voted for our favorite ones.
We then chose out of those ideas which one we wanted to work on and the facilitators formed groups of 4 to 5 people around each idea.
One of the unique things that occurred at the beginning of this process was that they had us choose our personality type and field of expertise.
So when the facilitators were grouping us together they used this information to build the most diverse team possible.
This is one of the many ideas I learned that I will implement in the future for organizing people and creating a dynamic team.
At the end of the week, all of the teams will all have a 3-minute pitch in front of their respective SDG and judges.
Everyone, including judges, will get to decide the two best teams that will be chosen to pitch in front of the entire audience of 1,000 talents, investors, sponsors, and judges to compete for the highly-coveted first place.
SDG7 had 17 teams with a range of ideas including providing people in rural parts of Africa a portable charging station, creating micro-jobs for refugees, an application to help teach kids about energy conservation, and training local engineers to maintain renewable energy equipment.
My team's idea was about creating a solution to help people track and choose their electricity by source. All five of us went up there with energy and we felt really good about the results.
All but one of us were engineers and were renewable energy specialists, and so we fielded lots of tough questions from the judges.
After listening to everyone's pitch and rating them on their potential impact and innovativeness, we went to an expo in another part of Singapore where we all created poster boards of our ideas and solutions for everyone to see.
As our time at the exposition was almost finished, we were ready to pack up and leave for the final event.
This was when a lady stealthily walked up to us with a white envelope, handing it to one of my team members and left.
When we gathered to see what it wrote, we found out that we were one of two teams from our SDG to be selected to present in the final rounds!
Being absolutely ecstatic, we all congratulated each other and started to come up with a game plan for the final pitch.
The pressure was high with all 1,000 UNLEASH talents present, sponsors, investors, judges, and facilitators.
We had about three hours until the event started, and so we refined our pitch and asked for more advice from our mentors.
When the moment came, there was upbeat music and lights brightened the stage with our MC announcing the evening's events.
The finalist teams sat on the right side of the auditorium, and we all waited to come up to present our idea.
I remember sitting there being inspired by the ideas being presented on stage.
One came on to speak about how there are so many children in the world who cannot walk without assistance due to a disability.
So they designed a strap that attached to the hip and legs of the parent and child to simulate the walking experience.
Another idea aimed to help farmers sundry their tomatoes in a way that will increase their harvest by creating anti-pest tomato hammocks.
It was during this event that made me realize that there can be so much passion within us.
When we are put together in groups and taught the innovation process, we can collectively generate ideas that can change lives for people all over the world.
Pitching Our Idea
When it was our turn to come up, we walked onto the stage and started our presentation. The auditorium was silent and all eyes were on us.
It was the first time I've ever presented in front of an audience that size, and it was an experience that I will never forget.
The judges asked us questions, trying to poke holes in our ideas, and I am proud of my team members who didn't skip a beat to answer with confidence and sincerity.
After the judges made up their decision for SDG7, both my team and the competing team walked onto the stage.
They suspended us in excitement as they revealed their comments about our ideas, and with their last sentence, they called out--ElecTrack.
We had done it. Yet this was just one of the many steps towards the realization of our idea.
Soon we had meetings set up with sponsors and phone calls with mentors who were going to help us plan the prototyping and implementation.
For those interns who are interested in innovation and UN's Sustainable Development Goals, I highly recommend you apply for UNLEASH 2019.