By: Tarek Shehab, Consulting, Deloitte Middle East

When the 193 member states of the United Nations General Assembly ratified Resolution 70/1 and formally adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, they set the agenda for the greatest concerted development effort ever undertaken by mankind. The SDGs themselves are broad and cross-cutting, and aim to eliminate the inequities and social issues that continue to plague generations. Their breadth and depth are indicative of the gargantuan work that remains to be done in order to bring about a more hopeful future. Hinged on this core belief in tomorrow, the nations of the world shifted their focus to the unlocking of the potential borne by the youth in bringing forth a developed world.

A direct result of that focus on the future generations was the founding of UNLEASH, an initiative and global innovation lab that brings together young talents from around the globe for an annual residential program that will run until 2030 and is designed to foster the creation of the solutions that will achieve the SDGs. The first edition of UNLEASH in 2017 was hosted in Denmark, and the second edition, which I was privileged enough to attend, took place in balmy Singapore, granting me the opportunity of a lifetime and a learning experience to match.

Having focused my academics around macroeconomic development and my career at Deloitte around making an impact in the public sector, UNLEASH presented a perfect marriage of both: the chance to work with a thousand like-minded individuals from across the world to propose solutions that would fix the endemic issues that threatened that very world. With that lofty aspiration in mind, I boarded my flight to Singapore ready and willing to meet the bright minds I would work alongside with for the next week.

Now, picture the fish-out-of-water sensation I experienced when I met the other 999 or so global talents who all possessed experiences and expertise so diverse and divergent that I couldn’t help but feel like the odd one out. That overwhelming sensation was extinguished as soon as I interacted with any of the talents, because that’s all it took for us to realize that in spite of the vast distances that separate us, we were all aligned around specific interests and a drive to impact the world that surrounded us, no matter the regional lens we looked through.

It was that drive that I took into the first meeting with my team, and all of a sudden we went from being strangers to melding into a unit, focused and moving forward. I cannot overstate the diversity of opinions and backgrounds we had, with members hailing from Australia, India, Spain, Scotland, Denmark and Lebanon and coming from the industries of finance, development, energy, and management consulting. In spite of that, we were dead-set on unanimously developing a solution that would enable energy-poor communities to access affordable and clean energy (SDG 7), and we did.

My experience working alongside our project teams at Deloitte to deliver value to public sector clients in the Middle East was pivotal in enabling me to lead my team, structure our approach to solution development, and eventually present our solution to the hundreds of gathered talents. The lessons I learned at Deloitte around coming together as a team, empowering teammates, structuring one’s thinking, and driving towards value-creation all came into play, as I recognized myself interacting with my team as I’d seen many a mentor of mine do with me. Essentially, our work at UNLEASH was focused primarily on making an impact that mattered, much like our work day-in and day-out at Deloitte and with the clients we serve.

Finally, once I’d spent a week forging friendships that would stand the trying tests of time, my team and I pitched our energy-access solution to judges, colleagues, and corporates and we did so with a sense of pride at having come together with a shared goal to better the world and leaving having done so. However, the best part of UNLEASH is that it’s never over. My team and I are still in touch, we’ve met up in Dubai and Paris and New York, and we continue to put in time and thinking into how we can best leverage our experiences, exposure, and expertise to develop the world we inhabit in an impactful and sustainable fashion.

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