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Desmond Nji Atanga: Innovating at UNLEASH

Desmond Nji Atanga: Innovating at UNLEASH

Image above: Desmond Nji Atanga and fellow winners, Adebisi Adenipekun from Nigeria, Ashkey Navaladi from India, receiving their awards at UNLEASH in August 2017

Queen’s Young Leader, Desmond Nji Atanga was selected to join 1,000 young innovators at the UNLEASH Innovation Lab in August. He tells Leading Change how this opportunity enabled him to work in a small team and innovate a life-saving technology.

One thousand young talents from 129 countries converged on Aarhus, Denmark from 13 to 21 August 2017 to innovate solutions to global issues and further progress towards sustainable development goals (SDGs).

This pioneering innovation lab looked at seven themes in the sustainable development agenda – health, education and ICT, energy, food, water, sustainable production and consumption, and urban sustainability.

Given my experience working with my project, Deserve, I expected to join the education team. But at the welcome desk in Denmark, I was assigned to innovate under the health theme.

After meeting at for the grand opening on the 14 August 2017, innovators travelled to various towns across Denmark, according to their theme. The health team went to the Grundtvig Folk High School, in the calm and cordial city of Hillerød about 25 kilometres from Copenhagen.

We were further divided into sub-themes and I worked on supply chain. Teams met to analyse the problems facing health around the globe from their different sub-theme perspectives, and come up with possible solutions.

The problem

Three of us – Adebisi Adenipekun from Nigeria, Ashkey Navaladi from India and myself, from Cameroon – came together to ponder why there is so much counterfeit medication in Africa and the world.

Over 70% – that is most – of the medication in Nigeria is counterfeit.

We found out that over 120,000 infant deaths are recorded in Africa per annum due to the consumption of fake anti-malarial drugs. Many girls, women and youth have died from preventable diseases even when they took treatment.

The solution

As I worked with my fellows, I drew on the Leading Change courses I took as a Queen’s Young Leader. My five mentorship and follow-up sessions – and the modules on team work and critical thinking – were all freshly resonating in my mind.

With the help of consultants from Deloitte Danmark, we passed though the problem-framing stage which resulted in approvals from the jury. We then analysed previous solutions to the problem. The use of photo detectors, chemical tests and general awareness have not so far yielded satisfactory results.

We came up with the idea of using blockchain technology to track the sale of pharmaceuticals. The end-user can then, simply and cost-effectively, ascertain the quality of his or her medication with a simple, user-friendly scan. This innovation cannot be hacked. It is immutable.

Our innovation passed through several juries in Hillerød and was judged worthy to be pitched. After arriving in the University of Aarhus on the 19 August 2017, we finalised the idea framework and created a prototype.

We were looking forward to telling the story in a convincing three-minute pitch!

Three young men on stage with audience crowding round

The "three-man team" pitching their health innovation at UNLEASH


Pitching? Oh yes, pitching!

I was glad because of the insights I acquired about pitching and networking as a Queens Young Leader, a Women Deliver Young Leader, and as a participant in the Young Leaders Programme by Miracle Corners Worldwide in Burlington, Vermont. 

One of my mentors on the Queen’s Young Leaders Programme, Marnie Threapleton, had provided me with a formula for using in my pitch and networking when promoting women's health. This goes: 

"We work to promote awareness of X through the education of Y and creating changes in behaviour. It's important for the health and growth of our economy that Z."

This formula succinctly presents the mission statement of the idea or organisation, announces the action on the ground and also has room for the ethos of an idea.

When we – the three-man team  pitched our idea in Aarhus University on the 20 August, we came out in the top two. This put us in a “Dragon’s Den” style competition, where we pitched again. We answered questions on stage from experts about our idea. Like seriously!


Our three-man team won first prize for creating an impactful solution to drive the sustainable development goals. Each of us received a symbolic oak trophy from Denmark and a gold certificate.

While we were in Denmark, the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria – through its president – committed to work with us to make sure drugs in Nigeria are all quality drugs. With the support of UNLEASH, we are now working to expand this initiative across the globe.

The certificate and oak tree award on the table in Desmond's hotel room

"Our three-man team won first prize for creating an impactful solution to drive the sustainable development goals. Each of us received a symbolic oak trophy from Denmark and a gold certificate."

Desmond Nji Atanga

Symbolic oak trophy from UNLEASH

"The gestalt of the award is a cube placed on a tip. It consists of eight smaller cubes in slightly different sizes. This  as well as the UNLEASH logo on top of the cube  may be associated with 'thinking out of the box' and the cubes represent the seven SDG themes of UNLEASH 2017 and SDG#17, partnerships for the goals which binds them all together."