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With the world off track in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, we need action, and we need everyone — scientists, policymakers, the public and private sectors, and, of course, youth. Where can the next generation of globally-minded and community-focused leaders find a nurturing local ecosystem that empowers them to be active players in what comes next?

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SDG Challenge Grand Finale at Kaseya Center & Miami Heat game | Photo by Evens St. Louis

“One of the goals we had was to keep growing the SDG ecosystem in South Florida,” says Scarlett Lanzas, founder and CEO of Accountable Impact and dedicated advocate for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


In October 2023, South Florida became the first U.S. host to the SDG Challenge Miami. Accountable Impact assembled the Challenge as an incubator event where students from South Florida universities teamed up with major companies to develop actionable ideas to accelerate the SDGs.


Scarlett has been championing and accelerating the UN Global Goals in Miami for years by educating and emboldening our local leaders to build this framework into their practices and make sustainable choices. This SDG Challenge is just the latest example of how Scarlett leads and nurtures a collaborative community focused on the SDGs in Miami.


“When I say ecosystem, it's everyone in the different sectors: private, public, public-private partnerships, academia, students, nonprofit community leaders coming together, and I can feel it in the air now that the SDGs are becoming part of our language in South Florida,” Scarlett adds.


The Challenge serves as a platform to encourage students to think critically about present-day sustainability choices and empower these young innovators to collaborate with leading companies, local governments, universities, and nonprofit organizations.


A collaboration of this scale was backed by the Miami-Dade Beacon Council. During his remarks at the kick-off event, Rodrick Miller, the Council’s President and CEO, asked the participating teams to consider these questions as part of the Challenge: “How do we build a company that’s sustainable? How do we build one that's inclusive…ensuring that no matter what part of the region someone lives in, whether they're black, white, purple, man, woman, veteran, retired, that everybody can participate in the economy?”


For Ilona Vega Jaramillo, the Vice President of International Economic Development at the Beacon Council, hosting the SDG Challenge was a “no-brainer.”

Photos by Evens St. Louis (swipe <>)

“In order for Miami-Dade to continue evolving into this big, great global city center that we believe ourselves to be, we need to offer opportunities to everybody; it can't just be for a select group of people who are benefiting from all of this growth that we are experiencing. And so I believe that is…our number one goal.”


Lisette den Breems, the Consulate General of the Netherlands, is among the supporters of the Miami SDG Challenge and attended its kick-off to address the inaugural participants:


“It's all about walking the talk, as we say, and making a difference. I hope you will seize this opportunity, this challenge, to learn, to think out of the box, to experiment, and not to be afraid to share your ideas from your different backgrounds.”


She speaks from experience. In the Netherlands, SDG Challenges occur multiple times a year with participation from top organizations – such as Johnson & Johnson, DHL and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – and see widespread adoption of the innovations from those collaborations. 


The intention and interest were more localized for the SDG Challenge Miami, with four Miami-based businesses signing on: Carbon BioCapture, The Miami Herald, Emergent Global Investments, and Impact Hub South Florida.


Photo by Evens St. Louis

Scarlett partnered with four local universities – Florida International University School of Architecture, Communication + The Arts , Lynn University Social Impact Lab & College of Business and Management, Miami Dade College Changemaker Education and Social Innovation, and the University of Miami Herbert Business School Division of Development and Alumni Relations. Student interest was tremendous, and additional universities are already clamoring to participate in next year’s competition.

"As a judge, it was a great opportunity to support students getting to share their visions for impact, and give them both advice and a push to take the leap into making those visions a reality," adds Daniel Kleinman, the Founder and CEO of Seaworthy Collective.

"Accountable Impact is one of the critical catalysts in Miami developing the talent that will drive the scale of impact needed to take on the exponential problems we face regionally and globally in building a more sustainable and equitable future."

For Natalie Martinez, a junior at The Honors College at FIU, the SDG Challenge offered an opportunity to learn while improving her hometown. 


“The work that me and my four teammates are doing is likely to have an impact on the Miami Herald operations in the long term,” Natalie says.


Natalie was one of five students on the winning team. Their proposal is to expand the Herald’s climate coverage by refocusing locals on practical actions that can positively impact our environment. They also proposed that the Herald integrate

the Goals into routine coverage and use the SDG icons to help familiarize Miamians with this global language.


“I could hope that after the sprint day, not just my team, but all the teams, their designated company sponsors, decide to take into account what they're presenting for pitch day… and become inspired to go back to their shareholders as well as their superiors and say, look at what the students have done. This is amazing. This is mutually beneficial,Natalie says.  


Scarlett was impressed with all of the projects presented during the competition. The Carbon BioCapture team’s proposal emphasized the company’s competitive standing as an emerging ESG investment. The Impact Hub South Florida team positioned the Hub’s potential as an idea incubator and driving force in the region for SDG 13, Climate Action. The Emergent Global Investments team placed second with a proposal to create an SDG-aligned portfolio and consistently check that companies within the firm’s ESG investing portfolios are actually living up to their promises of societal good.

“Through the SDG Challenge, we're developing the next generation of sustainability leaders. If we had invested in more sustainable development and education at a younger age, for example, if I had learned this in high school, maybe people in my generation would have made better choices, would have invested more responsibly, and would have understood that subsidizing fossil fuel was only going to create the crisis that we have now. Investing in education is key so that future leaders do not repeat the mistakes that our generation did,” Scarlett states.  


“Building compassionate leaders is also important. As we grow and technology advances, including AI and other techy things that supposedly help advance humanity, we need to do it in a responsible, ethical, and compassionate way. So maybe we're not at the level that we can still influence legislation. But maybe we can develop  those young leaders that are going to do the right things for generations to come.”

Photos by Evens St. Louis (swipe <>)




Bo-Joe Brans - Deputy Consul-General / Head of Economic Affairs, Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Miami

Ilona Vega Jaramillo - VP, International Economic Development, Miami-Dade Beacon Council

Daniel Kleinman - Founder & CEO, Seaworthy Collective


Company: Miami Herald

Company Lead: Raymond Dueñas

Students: Alexandre Alquier, Rose Llanos, Natalie Martinez, & Kevin Larson Mohr


Company: Emergent Global Investments

Company Lead: Cesar Murillo

Students: Olga Roussos, Ian Sinclair, Caitlin Slattery


Company: Carbon BioCapture

Company Lead: Andrea Irrarazaval

Students: Estefania Olaiz, Yailyne Lopez, Filipo Bora, & Juan Olivares Enei


Company: Impact Hub South Florida

Company Lead: Claudia Akel

Students:  Jorden Demerritte,  Alexandra Escobar, Valeria Tolkacheva, & Paige Falerne



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