Three transformational solutions to tackle climate change

Introducing the winners of the second edition of the Green Shark Challenge, a joint UNDP and UNICEF competition to respond to global challenges

UNICEF Innovation
Green Shark Challenge 2021
UNICEF Innovation
21 July 2022

UNDP and UNICEF have joined forces to launch the Green Shark Challenge, a global competition designed to unleash the creativity and skills of UN staff working together with national counterparts, including youth groups and marginalized communities, to co-create, co-design and collaboratively scale solutions that respond to global climate challenges.

After a tough competitive process in which more than 120 contributions from around the world were carefully evaluated, have a look at the three winning solutions and their transformational power:

Children participating in one of the experiments on environment and climate change in “Vera Jocic” elementary school in Skopje, North Macedonia.

Bio-hack My World (North Macedonia)

Driving community participation, especially from vulnerable and disadvantaged communities, in creating durable solutions for sustainable biowaste management in North Macedonia.   

Biowaste in North Macedonia accounts for 45.6% of all waste produced in the country. Most of that waste, almost 95%, ends up in open landfills and dumpsites, emitting greenhouse gases, and contributing to a range of environmental challenges.  

In partnership with the City of Skopje, Bio-hack My World is establishing a biohacking laboratory to engage communities in creating durable solutions to the biowaste management challenges in North Macedonia. The lab will use biowaste as an entry point to foster innovation, education, and meaningful engagement of communities in finding solutions to the rising environmental challenges in the country. The biohacking laboratory will provide innovators, entrepreneurs, students, and teachers with the necessary equipment to tap into the potential of biowaste by experimenting, learning, and testing ideas and social innovations.  

"With this intervention, we are looking to create interest and skills around biowaste transformation technologies in the ecosystem of Skopje, which today is nascent and has very limited local talent of applied biowaste transformation knowledge”, says Armen Grigoryan, UNDP Resident Representative in North Macedonia. 

“Biohacking is a way to create a movement and interest in the local ecosystem that is driven from the bottom up, rather than by top-down educational design. We provide easy and open access to amateur equipment, knowledge and skills for learning. Along with that, using biotechnologies in waste treatment and valorisation has the added value of potentially turning into income-generating opportunities for young people”, adds Grigoryan. 

Children participating in one of the experiments on environment and climate change in “Vera Jocic” elementary school in Skopje, North Macedonia.

The newly equipped biohacking laboratory will be located in the State High School for Chemistry, in the City of Skopje and will serve as an acceleration hub to spark curiosity and inspire a community of entrepreneurs, young people, educators, and civil society enthusiasts to pursue activities and innovations in the realm of repurposing biowaste and circular economy models. Furthermore, mobile equipment will be used to support the learning and experimentation of young entrepreneurs, teachers, and students in other municipalities.  

“Research shows that students in North Macedonia have difficulties in applying the knowledge learned in schools in their everyday lives, and that teachers lack skills and capacities to provide experiential learning. The Biohacking projects will provide the much needed tools and competencies for teachers and schools to be able to deliver a practical, hands-on experimental learning experience for students on subjects related to chemistry and biology, with a special focus on repurposing biowaste and circularity”, says UNICEF’s Representative in North Macedonia.  


Volunteer youth mappers from the State University of Zanzibar piloting a mobile survey tool preparing for crowd mapping of Solid waste infrastructures in Zanzibar.

WasteX Lab (Zanzibar)

Leveraging the use of digital and non-digital technologies and expertise to craft and deploy solutions for improved solid waste management in Zanzibar. 

Recent data shows that 663 tons of municipal solid are produced every day in the main Unguja island in Zanzibar. The Urban Municipal Council, and the West A and B municipal councils produce 216 tons of waste every day, almost half of the island's total waste. However, only 120 tons are collected and disposed of. Massive amounts of uncollected garbage are discharged into the natural environment, damaging natural resources, harming the tourism industry, and creating an excellent breeding ground for flies and rats, which are carriers for numerous diseases, including cholera, especially in slum areas. The dumping of solid trash leads to obstructing storm drains, creating urban flooding, and inspiring reckless conduct about garbage littering. 

The WasteX lab concept was conceived in response to this challenge. Deeply rooted in the understanding of the inherent value of trash in the manufacturing of goods through recycling and upcycling, the WasteX lab aims to 1), encourage collaboration among businesses, start-ups, academia, and government in order to transform waste management ideas into products and low-cost technology;  2), provide workshops to educate and instruct those already involved in recycling and upcycling, as well as those seeking employment in the industry; and 3) Provide business development services to solid waste based enterprises. Drawing from the premise that waste can be effectively managed and minimized by supporting innovative enterprises with a transactional model, the lab will function as a catalyst in promoting alternative technologies led by young people, particularly women, for improved waste management in Zanzibar. 

As part of the strategy, WasteX will employ a center of excellence to provide leadership, best practices, research, support, and training. In this instance, UNDP, UNICEF, and their local partners will collaborate with a select group of enterprises to leverage the use of digital and non-digital technologies and expertise to craft and deploy solutions to address systemic challenges related to solid waste management in Zanzibar. Moreover, the program will leverage Human-Centered Design, Behavioral Science and digital technologies to provide a platform for peer-to-peer leadership, best practices sharing, experimentation and business development. 

Volunteer youth mappers from the State University of Zanzibar piloting a mobile survey tool preparing for crowd mapping of Solid waste infrastructures in Zanzibar.

Furthermore, it will employ novel Social Behavior Change Communication strategies involving community education regarding waste management best practices. The behavioral component will be deployed directly to the community through appropriate channels, as well as through the selected entrepreneurs who will serve as community education ambassadors. In addition, an innovation challenge approach will be employed to solicit existing solid waste innovation ecosystem solutions and serve as a catalyst for future innovation and scalability. 

WasteX Lab is in line with the Zanzibar government's ambition to elevate Zanzibar economically and socially to Upper-Middle income Status by 2050. Since tourism is a major foreign exchange earner, a clean Zanzibar is sure to attract more visitors and eventually contribute to making Zanzibar a Blue economy hub in the western Indian Ocean region.  

“We believe that this collaboration will help fast track the achievement of the Zero waste vision in both islands of Unguja and Pemba”, says Soudi Ali Said, Director at SMIDA, the Micro, Small and Medium Industrial Development Agency.


YELL (Malaysia)

Reimagining youth participation in climate and environmental action in Malaysia. 

Sometimes, climate change feels like it’s just too big and too distant. When thinking about climate change, we often think of polar bears and melting ice caps. The dangers of our warming planet seem to impact people in faraway places. The stories we read of climate change are led by examples that may not be relevant to our own local context. We associate climate change with a sense of helplessness. How can our individual actions make a difference, when the challenge is so big?  

The best tool at our disposal is a simple one. Local narratives and stories have the power to transform a complex topic like climate change into something that is personal, understandable, relatable, and by extension, solvable. 

In a time of global climate change, the Youth Environment Living Labs (YELL) will champion local narratives and context-based climate action among young people.  

In 2020, the Change for Climate report by UNDP and UNICEF, supported by EcoKnights, polled 1,393 Malaysian young people and found that youth are eager to act on climate and environmental issues. However, young people often face barriers, such as the lack of local narratives and local entry points to help them take their first steps in environmental action. 

In conversations with young people and youth-led organizations in Malaysia, the YELL team learned that youth face several challenges when it comes to championing climate action. Youth-oriented environmental programmes are largely focused on doing, without much space for documentation, learning, and reflection. Green careers remain unpopular due to perceived low viability. Youth-led environmental organizations also struggle with issues of funding and planning.  

Developed by UNDP and UNICEF in consultation with young people, YELL is a joint effort to respond to these barriers. YELL aims to strengthen the ecosystem of youth environmental leaders through the localizing of climate and environmental narratives and futures; capacity building for evidence-based advocacy; and work exposure and skill-building opportunities. YELL is reimagining youth participation in climate and environmental action, rooted in the values, cultural norms and local ecological knowledge of the region. 

Achievements so far:

YELL Network

Establishing a YELL Network of over 200 entities across diverse sectors. YELL has produced directories and maps of environmental organizations, youth leaders and local solutions to find, connect and learn from various actors. YELL has also produced a database of local champions and opportunities.  

YELL Resource Hub

Developing an online resource hub with a wealth of content. Featuring entries from the #BumiBelia Stories Competition and other local stories, a downloadable Starter Kit for youth environmental action, and an interactive map of local heroes built on Google Earth, the resource hub provides youth with relevant and practical tools, knowledge and opportunities to take climate action. 

YELL Campaign

Filling in the gap of learning and reflection through the World Water Day Campaign. In conjunction with World Water Day 2022, partners in the YELL network put together a series of reflections and provocations about how we might change people’s relationships with water. Societal-level norms and values are at the root of many water and environmental challenges, so we need societal-level change in awareness, attitudes and actions.  

“Climate change and action is something most young people are aware and passionate about, but the issue is systemic and most of us don’t know where to start. I love that YELL is making climate change sexy, vibrant, approachable, actionable, and above all—puts youth as the main agents of change for climate action! It is about time climate action be inclusive to all stakeholders, particularly youths and communities” says Mastura M. Rashid, Vice President at Impact Malaysia, a government agency under the Ministry of Youth and Sports in Malaysia. 

YELL Phase 2 is expected to launch in August 2022. Stay tuned!