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Product, Service & Design Innovation
Young Innovators Compete on Ideas to Build Back Better in Latin America

UNEP’s Innovation for Sustainable Lifestyles Competition sees college-level entrepreneurs developing solutions in the areas of transportation, building and food to help the region rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dozens of young entrepreneurs from across Colombia, Costa Rica and Mexico have entered a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) contest designed to help them develop and scale their ideas for helping Latin America recover sustainably from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The budding founders, all university students, are part of UNEP’s Innovation for Sustainable Lifestyles competition. 25 short-listed candidates will develop their sustainable business ideas over the next two months; in September, judges will select three winners — one from each country — to enter a startup bootcamp and meet potential investors.

The competition aims to foster the growth of young, sustainability-minded startups that specialize in areas such as clean transportation and urban mobility solutions, green and smart buildings, and food systems to develop business models that will help support the region’s economic recovery from COVID-19.

About 160 million people between the ages of 15 and 29 live in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). And in a context of already gaping inequalities, high levels of informal labor and fragmented health services, the most vulnerable populations and individuals in the region are once again being hit the hardest.

As in the rest of the world, COVID-19 has exposed the weaknesses of the region's economies, deepening existing inequalities, according to a UN policy brief on the pandemic’s impact on LAC. And like most of the rest of the world, the pandemic is encouraging policy-makers and citizens to rethink how to make the region’s economy more sustainable.

The initiative seeks to spur the same type of sustainable innovations being sought in other areas around the world, as all major economies look for effective, holistic strategies to rebound from the pandemic. In May, both Canada and the European Union unveiled plans to rebuild their post-pandemic recovery plans that put sustainability front and center; and at the USLEAD on Climate 2020 summit, over 300 business leaders urged Congress to tackle the COVID-19 and crises simultaneously.

Winners of the UNEP contest will attend a virtual bootcamp, organized by the Entrepreneurship Center of Colombia’s Universidad de los Andes, in October. Each winner will also receive US$3,000 in technical assistance and the opportunity to present their projects to funders and business leaders, who could become investors and partners.

The contest is part of the European Commission-financed Promoting Sustainable Consumption in Latin America and the Caribbean (ICSAL) project, which works with governments, companies and stakeholders to implement policies that increase sustainability in product design and consumer information. It also supports the Environmental Alliance of America, an initiative across Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, México and Paraguay to develop a common eco-labeling program in Latin America and the Caribbean.