International Development Intern, Andrew Senese participated in UNITE 2030, a global, virtual social innovation hackathon.

72 people, 57 countries, and some of the world’s most pressing issues – that was the formula for UNITE 2030. The event, a 48-hour virtual “hackathon” centered around the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, brought young world-changers from around the globe together with the purpose of creating innovative solutions to a number of high-priority problems outlined in the 2030 Agenda. The participants, who were separated into 17 different teams, were presented with an issue and allotted two days to collaboratively develop a business or product that would serve as a successful remedy. To assist their efforts, short workshops were held throughout the event, designed to reinforce key skills and concepts relevant to the project at hand. Towards the close of the event, finalists were selected and given an opportunity to pitch their ideas, with the winning team receiving an invitation to put their plan into action during the year-long, virtually-facilitated Youth Delegate Programme.

Comprised of representatives from India, Russia, Gambia, and the United States (well, technically South Africa), our four-person team spent the two days addressing the globally-relevant topic of child undernourishment, primarily during the first 1,000 days of life. Inadequate access to proper nutrition during this time span can produce life-long health consequences and drastically inhibit a child’s cognitive development. In other words, children who are subject to malnutrition that early in life are stripped of the possibility of living up to their full potential. Seeing as 50% of the world’s undernourished children are located in India, our team decided to focus our efforts in Eastern Uttar Pradesh, one of India’s most severely impoverished areas.

To summarize our business plan, which was developed in full over the 48 hours, our organization – 1,000 Days of Life – provided a multi-faceted solution to this epidemic by confronting the primary contributing factors. For example, women in India are often deprived of any social or economic empowerment, which makes it difficult for them to obtain the knowledge and resources necessary for sustaining a healthy lifestyle for themselves and their children. Thus, in order to truly resolve the issue of child undernourishment in India, we knew we had to address the many culturally-specific factors that influence it.

Andrew’s proposed social enterprise to combat youth malnutrition made it to the final pitch round in UNITE 2030

In essence, our solution was to empower the women of Uttar Pradesh by equipping them with the information, land, and tools they need to form farming cooperatives through which they could first-handedly grow the food products they and their children require to flourish. These vitamin-rich products, be it produce, nuts, or grains, would then be packaged into “Baby Boxes” and “Mother Boxes” and distributed monthly amongst the women involved in the cooperative, while those not involved would be able to purchase them at an affordable price. Furthermore, the contents of the boxes would change according to the child’s age in order to best accommodate the developmental process. To increase the capabilities of our social enterprise, we also decided to allow individuals from across the globe to “sponsor” the production of a baby/mother box via a small monthly contribution. This additional source of revenue would permit us to regularly expand production, facilities, and resources, while also helping to keep the cost of the boxes low.

Our business idea landed us in the final round, where we ended up rounding out the top 5 teams. However, I think I speak for everyone when I say that I left feeling like a winner. Though the two days were a bit (extremely) chaotic, I was amazed with what my team and I were able to accomplish. In just 48 hours, we went from a blank page to a full-blown business plan, from being familiar with a topic to knowing its every facet, from total strangers to a tightknit group of friends, and from leaders in our communities to leaders in a global fight for change and justice.

Author: International Development Intern, Andrew Senese