Alabama black belt
UNLEASH Hacks accepting applications now from a variety of experts.

If you’ve ever wanted to find a way to make a difference, the UNLEASH Hacks could be your way to do so.

UNLEASH is a global platform dedicated to completing projects that address the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These 17 goals and 169 targets were agreed upon by the UN member states in 2015 and include items such as clean water and sanitation, quality education, affordable and clean energy, sustainable cities and communities and more.

What UNLEASH does is gather top talent—that’s where you come in—to come up with solutions for creating a better and more sustainable world. These talents and ideas are fueled by individuals, companies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), government agencies, investors and foundations who work together as partners.

When and where do these talents come together to address these issues? This is where the Hacks enter, bringing together these talents during a two-day event to tackle one community’s needs. Each Hack focuses on one region and one sustainability challenge—this year those challenges include:

  • Solutions and economic opportunities for women in Ghana
  • Reducing economic strain and decongesting cities in India
  • Access to efficient, clean energy in Brazil
  • Using technology to prevent and reduce food waste in China
  • Bringing down drop-out rates with mental and physical health solutions in Zambia
  • And many more

Pumps & Systems spoke with Anniestacia Miskel, an UNLEASH Hack alumni, about the Hack she’s organizing as the team lead for the Black Belt region in Alabama, where wastewater and sanitation challenges have resulted in the failure of approximately 90% of the on-site sewage systems.

In Lowndes County, Alabama, many on-site sewage systems are failing or nonexistent, leaving pools of raw sewage in yards and exposure to infections like hookworm. According to UNLEASH, “Lack of sanitation perpetuates cycles of poverty and marginalization.”

Miskel, who participated in a Hack in Liberia, is hopeful that bringing together talent with local community leaders will help solve this problem in this financially strained area.

“I think it’s incredibly inspiring, if nothing else, I think it’s inspiring to see who all cares,” said Miskel, a water engineer with Arcadis in Mobile, Alabama. “It’s about us as an organization seeing how can this be made into something that’s actionable that makes positive and long-lasting change.”

The talent that the UNLEASH Hack brings together includes young professionals, ages 20 to 35 (though Miskel points out this age range isn’t a hard and fast rule) from different backgrounds—water and wastewater experts, engineers, professionals in public health and community building—all would be welcome to apply to be a part of this Hack.

As one of 18 Hacks, the Alabama Hack is the only one in the United States. Applications will be accepted May 10 to 23, and subject matter experts in technology, government policy, community organization, finances and social should apply.

The Hack itself will occur on two successive Saturdays—June 5 and June 12—and will be lead by UNLEASH Hack alumni who have been through the innovation process. The leaders will walk the team through the problem they are facing and help them form the ideation process. They’ll have the week in between to verify assumptions, talk to community experts and then the ideas will be taken into prototype and business plan stages before it’s pitched to a panel of judges—Shark Tank-style—and the most promising solution will receive funding.

Miskel said many nonprofits are formed out of these UNLEASH Hack solutions.

“Hopefully working with community organizations so it’s sustainable by the people in the community, [then]…they can work with teams…[and] apply for grants,” she said.

For more information about this year’s UNLEASH Hacks, and to apply, visit