UNECE: Solving Global Problems Through Innovation

Global collaboration through innovation can connect partners from disparate parts of the world and multiple ecosystems. An example of this collaboration catapulted Israeli innovation onto a world stage at a Start-Up competition hosted by the UN in Geneva a few weeks ago.

The host of the competition was the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), a UN body that was created in 1947 to facilitate greater economic cooperation among its member countries.

Calling All Innovators

Following a call for innovative ideas from start-ups that can change the world, the UNECE received proposals from over one hundred entrepreneurs in 22 countries. A panel of judges chose five of these start-ups to make it to the final round. That final round of judging took place in Geneva at the Palais des Nations during the UNECE Regional Forum on Sustainable Development, a high-level intergovernmental gathering where delegates from 56 UNECE member states committed to acting around the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development agenda.

And the Winner is…

Start-Up Nation Central’s Executive Director, Wendy Singer, was among the panel of judges who heard presentations from the five finalists. The winner was Catalytic Innovations, a Start-Up that develops electrolysis technology to clean the air and environment.

MassChallenge 2017

As a result of collaboration between Start-Up Nation Central and MassChallenge’s global accelerator, the winning team secured a place in MassChallenge’s 2017 Jerusalem cohort. MassChallenge is one of the world’s most renowned accelerators. Through a global network of accelerators in Boston, the UK, Switzerland, and Mexico, and now Israel — their graduating start-ups have raised $1.8 billion, generated $700 million in revenue, and created over 60,000 jobs. The runner-up was a team of high school students from Uzbekistan who created recyclable, homegrown paper plates that they have sold in large quantities to the Uzbek tourism industry. They too were offered an opportunity to be entrepreneurs-in-residence at MassChallenge Jerusalem.

Solving Global Problems Through Innovation

The opportunity to bring together such a wide range of innovative solutions to global problems, all under the UN umbrella, was remarkable. Moreover, through the UNECE Competition, Start-Up Nation Central is further elevating its goal of connecting global problems to solutions in Israeli innovation. In this case, an internationally recognized start-up will be able to take its technology to the next level by being part of the Jerusalem tech ecosystem at MassChallenge.

Sharon Kedmi, the Chair of the UNECE, was especially pleased to bring together these two organizations in a partnership around the Ideas4Change Competition: “This competition catapulted global innovation to an international audience, and gave entrepreneurs from around the world an opportunity to compete for a much sought after opportunity to be at MassChallenge in Jerusalem.”


The adoption of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, has marked a key milestone for the world.  It’s now time to take action and to find concrete solutions that can help countries achieve their commitments under this ambitious plan. The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) is on the front line to give its contribution. At the same time, there is a “startup revolution” going on, producing innovation with an impact on our day-to-day life, and changing the way we do business. We, at UNECE, want to bring such powerful engine of transformation into our work for sustainable development and the green economy to improve people’s wellbeing. After the success of the 1st event, on 26 April 2017 UNECE hosted the second startups’ event at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. The event showcased how innovative entrepreneurial talent can contribute to address today’s social and environmental challenges, through new groundbreaking ideas that can become successful business. It took place in the context of the UNECE Regional Forum on Sustainable Development (25 April) and Commission Session 2017 in Geneva (26-27 April). Photo: UNECE/Antoine Tardy

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