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An estimated 90% of the on-site sewage systems in Lowndes County in Alabama's Black Belt are failing or non-existent, resulting in the pooling of raw sewage in yards. Exposure results in negative health impacts, such as hookworm infections. Lack of sanitation perpetuates cycles of poverty and marginalization.

The UNLEASH Hacks are localized hackathons aimed at solving challenges related to United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This Hack focuses on addressing wastewater and sanitation challenges in Alabama's Black Belt, and focuses on SDG 3 and SDG 6.


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What is UNLEASH?

UNLEASH is a global initiative committed to bringing the world’s top talents together to share ideas, build networks, and create solutions to help reach the Sustainable Development Goals. UNLEASH brings together young people from across the world for an annual innovation lab, organizes local hacks, and supports ongoing capacity building and solution implementation. 


Since 2017, UNLEASH has run three annual Innovation Labs in Denmark, Singapore and China. UNLEASH has been recognized as one of the world’s most influential sustainability brands, having engaged 3,000 talents from 160 countries and facilitated the development of 580 SDG solutions with +300 partners.


In the USA UNLEASH HACK 2021, we will be focusing on SDG 3 and SDG 6.

Existing Challenges

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Wastewater treatment is limited by poor soil percolation and costs of treatment, making disposal of treated effluent difficult in most areas.


Throughout the US, many onsite systems are failing due to lack of proper maintenance and management. In the Black Belt, this failure is driven by a lack of organized wastewater management entities. As new systems are installed or old systems are replaced, management of the systems will be needed. Lack of organization and management has also restricted funding opportunities for infrastructure improvement.


Homeowners may not have property ownership documentation and substandard septic systems have been criminalized. 


Racial injustices in the Black Belt can be traced to land tenure by way of the heir property system, housing availability, and public health enforcement. These systems of oppression perpetuate sanitation inequality through lack of organizational capacity support, financial disparity, inadequate access to healthcare and governance that overwhelmingly impacts marginalized communities.

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The costs of planning, installing, maintaining, and repairing septic systems are unaffordable for many Black and low-income households in the Black Belt, and can far exceed the cost of residences. Nationwide, inadequate government funding is inadequate to meet the sanitation needs of rural communities. Community access to funding is further limited by financial and capacity constraints to qualify for strict eligibility requirements.




Do I apply as a team or an individual?

Participants must apply individually. Teams will be formed prior to the hack based on the skills and backgrounds provided in the applications at the time of submission. Participants will work as part of the assigned team for the duration of the Hack.

The age range for Talents is advertised as "20-35" and I fall outside those boundaries, can I still apply? 

Yes! We are looking for applicants who are passionate about propelling the Sustainable Development Goals, have an understanding of the water and sanitation challenges in the Black Belt, and a desire to help develop solutions. 

Do I need to have prior experience in the specific hack topic or with the innovation process?

While familiarity and experience with the topic is a plus, it is not required in order to apply. Prior knowledge of the UNLEASH structured innovation process is not required. 


Does it cost anything to apply or attend the UNLEASH USA Hack?

No, it costs nothing to apply or attend the UNLEASH USA Hack. If selected, participants will only need access to a computer and internet for the weekend.


Do I need to be a current or former Alabama resident to order apply for the UNLEASH USA Hack?

No, you do not need to be a current or former Alabama resident to apply. Participants from across North America are welcome to apply.

Partnerships & Opportunities


Are there partnership and/or sponsorship opportunities for this event? 

Absolutely! We are interested in partnering with organizations that share our hope of providing tangible and meaningful solutions to our community. Please email with “Partnership” in the subject line. We would love to schedule a time to speak with you. 

During the Hack


Will I meet my team prior to the actual hack? 

Participants will be provided the opportunity to meet their team members prior to the hack. 

What tools do I need to participate in the Hack?

Given software and platform limitations, we recommend you use your PC or laptop during the 2 days of the Hack. Dialing in from your phone will take away from the visual content and your ability to partake in the event. 

You should also have relatively stable internet connectivity in order to ensure that your participation with your team members is as frictionless as possible.

How much time should I expect to dedicate to the Hack on June 5 and June 12?

The formal program will run approximately 8:30 am PDT to 7:00 pm PDT on the 5th and the 12th. After the scheduled programming, online collaboration tools will be kept available if participants would like to continue working. More information on the exact times will be released to accepted participants closer to the event.

What does a “Problem-Solving” hack mean? 

Problem-Solving is arguably the most important part of the structured innovation process. Participants will investigate by framing and researching the issues surrounding the community. Participants will dive deep to develop solutions anchored in their well-rounded understanding of the problem. 

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More Questions? 

Please email

About the issue

Catherine Coleman Flowers is an American environmental health researcher, writer and the founder of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice. She was selected as a MacArthur Fellow in 2020 and explores the environmental justice movement in rural American in her book, "Waste: One Woman's Fight Against America's Dirty Secret."

"Alabama Department of Public Health estimates that the number of households in Lowndes County with inadequate or no septic systems range from 40 to 90 per cent; it has reported that 50 per cent of the conventional, on-site septic systems are currently failing or are expected to fail in the future."

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