• Announced one year ago and launched at Davos 2020, UpLink is a digital platform to crowdsource innovations that will accelerate the delivery of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  • UpLink is open to anyone and gives visibility to innovators from around the world and sub-sections of society that are often overlooked and under-resourced.
  • The Oceans Solution Sprint, COVID Challenges and the Trillion Trees Challenge have supercharged efforts to find solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges

As nations around the globe struggle to cope with the manifold disruptions of the COVID-19 crisis, a digital crowd-engagement platform has been helping to source entrepreneurial solutions to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and to build a greener, fairer and more resilient world as we emerge from the pandemic.

UpLink, created by the World Economic Forum in partnership with Salesforce and Deloitte, responds to the consensus that innovation is not a nice-to-have, but essential to the achievement of the 2030 Global Goals. UpLink connects the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs to networks of contacts that have the resources, expertise and experience to help bring about change.

The platform gives visibility to geographies, sectors and communities that have thus far been overlooked and under-represented and unites key stakeholders who are championing and impacting the SDGs: young change-makers, social innovators, thematic experts, investors and technology titans.

Innovation, innovation, innovation

Announced during the 2019 Sustainable Development Impact Summit, UpLink was launched in early 2020 at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos and is now live with nearly 4,000 users.

With support from the Marc and Lynn Benioff Foundation, and collaborations with the Forum initiatives Friends of Ocean Action and 1t.org, UpLink’s early focus honed in on two major issues that will support a more sustainable environment for our planet: the ocean and reforestation.

The inaugural Ocean Solutions Sprint brought together solutions from six continents to tackle a range of challenges, from illegal fishing and plastic pollution to the degradation of precious underwater reef habitats. A final cohort of 12 UpLink Ocean Innovators is now being supported through a 6-month programme designed to accelerate their impact.

One of these is Cubex Global, a digital marketplace which sells unused space in shipping containers. Every year, 100 million containers cross the ocean almost empty, producing 280 million tons of carbon emissions and costing $25 billion a year in lost revenue. This ocean-friendly model for shipping was founded by a young group of Pakistani Global Shapers, and was one of three winners of the Ocean Solutions Sprint.

Since then, the Trillion Trees Challenge has been leveraging momentum from the launch of 1t.org – the campaign to conserve, restore and grow one trillion trees around the world before the end of the decade.

The nature-based solution sprint, which ran during the month of July, attracted over 200 solutions and began building a community of innovators at a scale that allowed UpLink to demonstrate the power of digital collaboration across time-zones and continents.

Over the summer, a COVID-19 innovation sprint was also championed in partnership with the World Health Organization, 500 Startups and other Impact Partners to support the global response and focus on social justice amidst the pandemic.

Together, all of these challenges and sprints have sourced over 800 entrepreneurial solutions to respond to the biggest issues of our generation.

Fighting the pandemic

The range of innovations and solutions brought to the fore by UpLink are as diverse as they are inspiring.

Here are three from the COVID Challenge that address the immediate impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and its long-term consequences:

Medixus is a secure, specialist peer-to-peer African medical community that uses an app to centralize medical knowledge to improve clinical decision making and capacity building.

Covoucher is Turkey’s first digital voucher platform to support small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. It provides businesses with cash liquidity and financial sustainability, bringing together small business owners and their regular customers via one online platform.

Desolenator helps remote communities in critical need to build sustainable water resilience in the face of climate change and the pandemic by using solar panels to purify water.

Engaging new audiences

UpLink has made a concerted effort to surface innovators from under-represented communities and those who may not have a traditional impact investing network to support them.

Take Myanmar-based company Recyglo, which offers its customers a data-analytics platform to manage waste while also tackling plastic pollution across South East Asia.

Its involvement with the Ocean Solution Sprint and UpLink programme has opened doors to expand into the Indonesian market and has seen their CEO, Shwe Yamin Oo, join the Global Plastic Action Partnership Advisory Committee.

Engaging a new audience via videos and articles has also been important for the visibility and growth of UpLink, driving our call-to-action to the public to engage with the SDGs, seek their support for innovations and raise awareness of key global issues.

Real impact for real entrepreneurs

UpLink was not conceived as an innovation-sourcing platform offering cash prizes to entrepreneurs. Rather, it looks to build a digital ecosystem that allows anyone with an innovative idea to seek the support they need to scale. The most successful UpLink innovators have been invited to showcase their work during World Economic Forum virtual events, connect with partners and experts, and take part in investor workshops.

The celebration of innovators’ work through the Forum’s digital media channels has also proven to be an important avenue for accelerating their impact, as the video below shows.

What comes next?

At the Forum’s Sustainable Development Impact Summit, UpLink will launch its second Ocean Solution Sprint with a focus on ocean-led solutions, growing food in water, coral-reef solutions and technology for supporting marine-protected areas. Co-designed with a series of influential impact partners (International Union for Conservation of Nature, The Nature Conservancy, International Coral Reef Initiative and Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust) and investors committed to a flourishing ocean for our planet (Blue Natural Capital Financing Facility, Hatch Blue, Aqua Spark and Blue Oceans Partners), this is just one way in which UpLink and the Forum’s Friends of Ocean Action coalition is working to accelerate ocean innovation.

The early success of the platform has created the momentum for UpLink to explore which further SDG areas are prime for developing innovation ecosystems that encourage a fresh wave of entrepreneurs from around the world to get involved.

Will you join us?