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MITRA Global Challenges

Circular Economy

Every year, the world creates more than 2 billion tons of solid waste—roughly five times the total weight of all people on the planet. The linear supply chains used to extract and process material into goods produce a significant amount of carbon emissions while exposing people and ecosystems to disruption and chemical risks, whether through mining, dyes, leaking landfills, or microplastics.

Linear models of designing and producing clothing, plastics, electronics, and other goods have been led by high-income countries: the supply chains for goods consumed by the richest 10 percent of the world’s population are associated with 50 percent of carbon emissions. Yet, the resulting climate change will drive more intense droughts, floods, and heatwaves everywhere, particularly in countries with the fewest resources to adapt. For everyone’s benefit, the world’s supply chains and the hundreds of millions of people employed by them need to shift towards a circular approach that targets zero waste and minimal impacts.

A smartphone designed for repair and recycling decreases mining for minerals in conflict-prone areas. Clothes made with renewable fabrics that can biodegrade will not require petroleum or landfill space. Shifting business models from frequent purchases to goods for local repair, rental, or reuse reduces the number of products that need to be manufactured or transported in the first place. Finally, choosing materials produced and recycled with zero-carbon energy lowers the carbon footprint for all products or later uses. Building a circular economy will require changes in product design and business approaches that have ripple effects throughout supply chains and economic systems.

To shift towards circular supply chains where the goods we use are zero waste with minimal impacts, we is seeking solutions that enable:

  • Increased and equitable production of renewable and recyclable raw materials for products and packaging;
  • Design and production of mass-market clothing and apparel that are recycled and recyclable or biodegradable at end of life;
  • New business models that encourage extending the lifetime of products rather than frequent purchases; and
  • Recycling of complex products like electronics.

Sustainable Urban Communities

Over half the world’s people now live in cities, and 90 percent of population growth going forward will be urban, whether through migration from rural areas or natural growth. Cities put communities and ideas near each other, generating a large portion of a country’s GDP and innovation. Cities also enable efficiency in both buildings and transportation, and increasing the number of residents with low-carbon lives is a key part of responding to climate change. Cities currently account for 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, a number currently expected to grow and one associated with the impacts of supplying resources to urban residents—energy, food, water, and materials.

Sustainable food and water use is a key factor in ensuring the sustainability and long-term resiliency of urban communities. One third of urban residents, however, still lack access to key infrastructure. Many residents live in informal settlements—slums, favelas, zopadpattis, etc.—which lack land tenure along with water, sanitation, food, or permanent housing. Other communities in more developed countries face unmaintained infrastructure and a history of racial, economic, or other biases in access to fresh food. In addition to promoting lower carbon lives and avoiding droughts and stress, access to high-quality food water is, thus, key to community health and economic prosperity, whether in Flint, Michigan, or in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. 

For cities to support large populations without overtaxing resources in the long term, they must develop stronger supply chains for water and food. In some areas, localizing food production and water treatment may also be feasible, but it will require consideration of land use and other factors. In addition, new technologies or innovative applications can enable broader access to high-quality water and food for urban communities, but they should not replace the responsibility of governments to address these challenges. Throughout all of these factors, the long-term impacts of climate change must inform design choices and planning to adapt to hotter summers, more floods and droughts, and ongoing sea-level rise. 

Our aim IS to unearth innovative solutions to support marginalized urban communities accessing sustainable and resilient food and water sources. To do so, Solve welcomes solutions from innovators around the world that:

  • Produce drinkable water or healthy food near the point of consumption in resource- and cost-efficient manners
  • Extend, monitor, and maintain infrastructure for supplying water to urban neighborhoods
  • Improve urban supply chains and equitable market access for nutritious low-carbon food

Youth, Skills & Workforce of the Future

The beginning of the 21st century has been marked by rapid advances in technological innovation—from smartphones and big data to artificial intelligence and machine learning. While new technology can generate jobs and increase labor productivity, it also creates job displacement and widens the skills gap. Today’s generation of young people now face a world in which nearly half of today’s jobs globally—around 2 billion—are at risk of becoming obsolete due to automation and technological advancement in the coming decades.

A job for life is now a thing of the past. The World Bank estimates that 4 out of 5 children entering primary school today will eventually hold jobs that do not currently exist. These fast-changing realities leave ripple effects on communities worldwide, but the world’s poorest are likely to be the most adversely affected by these market shifts.

The ability to acquire new skills throughout life, to adapt, and to work flexibly will be of particular importance. So too will be technical, social, and critical thinking skills. Quality learning opportunities must be deployed by governments, cross-sector industry leaders, and local communities alike to encourage learning experiences that adapt to today’s world, drive income generation, prevent worsening inequality, and provide a prosperous future for all. Building on Sustainable Development Goal 4 to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all, how can disadvantaged children and young people develop the skills they need to participate in the workforce of the future and thrive in the 21st century?

The Solve community aims to unearth and support innovative solutions to guarantee disadvantaged young people under 24 from low socio-economic (income, wealth, and education) backgrounds are equipped with 21st century skills and prepared for the workforce of the future. To do so, the Solve community can:

  • Suggest innovative learning technologies to help increase skills development for disadvantaged youth around the world
  • Present new educational models and concepts to improve quality of learning for young people in the 21st century
  • Propose tools and strategies to teach skills that will drive entrepreneurship, critical thinking, and adaptability
  • Identify innovative solutions to ensure equal access and inclusion of all genders and people with disabilities to quality education and skills development
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