Across the world, young people are being disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in the world of work. The educational systems are struggling to provide students with the skills required in the modern economy.

Led by the Think Tank AlterContacts and its Academy for Sustainable Development, the UN-recognized initiative working towards innovation in education and a better future, this Competition aims to prepare students for their professional life, providing them an opportunity to learn by doing.

In this Competition, students will actively address the current economic crisis and come up with sustainable, innovative and entrepreneurial ideas on how we can help small businesses around the world.

Lockdown Economy Challenge hosted with the Anahuac Mayab University, Mexico, August 2020

By equipping students with the skills and network necessary to start a professional life, this project set out to facilitate successful school-to-work transition, promote active citizenship and sustainability education.

Lockdown Economy Challenge is part of the AlterContacts Academy for Sustainable Development. The United Nations has registered it as a Partnership towards Sustainable Development Goals #SDGAction38182 and a member of the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative.

Supporting Youth

According to Eurostat, in Dec 2020, 3.138 mln people under 25 were unemployed in the EU. Compared to 2019, the rate grew by 14%. In some European countries, the graduate employment rate is as low as 56%. There are currently over 16 mln students in the EU that need more dynamic ways to get ready for the new economy.

The Lockdown Economy Challenge tackles three key societal issues:

  1. School-to-work transition;

  2. Youth development and employment;

  3. Social inclusion.

The project responds to the call and contributes to the key European programs: Next Generation EU, The Digital Agenda for Europe, The strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training 2020 (ET2020), the European Skills Agenda.

In an engaging form of a competition, our project will enable students to create social innovation initiatives, rather than just participate in one. They will acquire the skills necessary for the modern labour market

The project has many effective ways to plug into society and have a real impact on current issues. It becomes their vehicle for school-to-work transition.

Impact on Sustainable Development Goals

SDG 4: Quality Education

Target 4.4: Increase the number of youth who have relevant skills for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship.

Target 4.5: Eliminate all discrimination in education

Target 4.7: Education for sustainable development and global citizenship

SDG 8: Sustainable Economic Growth

Target 8.3: Promote entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation

Target 8.6: Promote youth employment, education and training

Making University Education More Dynamic

The project enables Educational Institutions to

  • Engage students remotely into international social action;

  • Practice active citizenship and sustainability mindset;

  • Expose and prepare students for the reality of both entrepreneurial and work-life;

  • Ensure smooth school-to-work transition;

  • Partake in the United Nations registered initiative, contribute to SDGs and receive measurable proof of that contribution.

  • It improves the Index of the university ranking, (especially Impact Ranking connected to SDGs), increases its reputation and possibility for receiving financial support and various types of certifications.


  • The Competition has a step-by-step guide on how to set it up in any educational institution. It takes from 1 to 2 weeks to launch it.

  • The set of 330+ small-business case studies for students represents 41 countries and 17 languages. That accounts for the local conditions in different parts of Europe.

  • Everything is fully digital which allows it to be remote, safe for health, and green.

Lockdown Economy initiative was chosen by the European Parliament as the national finalist from the Netherlands for the European Charlemagne Youth Prize 2021.

For its contribution to promoting European and international understanding and providing role models for young people living in Europe and offer practical examples of Europeans living together as one community.

Lockdown Economy Challenge was nominated for the Social Innovation Tournament of the European Investment Bank Institute. For its innovation in scaling social impact initiatives.

Pilot projects hosted with



  1. University registers with the Think Tank AlterContacts to host the Lockdown Economy Challenge.

  2. Students (and teachers) of the university form interdisciplinary teams.

  3. Choose a case they want to work on from Lockdown Economy Database or host their own interview with a small business owner.

  4. Prepare a Business analysis and a proposal “What would you do if you were the owner?”

  5. Describe its contribution to Sustainable Development Goals.

  6. Describe how you would work with the owner if you win.

  7. Submit

Depending on the availability, there might be volunteer mentors involved in guiding students on how to write a proposal.


  1. Follows the S.M.A.R.T. logic

  2. Relevant to the size of the chosen business and takes into account the lack of resource

  3. Shows how it contributes to the Sustainable Development Goals

  4. Designs a way how the team will collaborate with the business.

Proposals are evaluated by University representatives, the Think Tank volunteer-coordinator assigned to the university, and one of the experts of the Think Tank AlterContacts. If it receives a high score it is sent to the business itself to identify the opportunity for internship and collaboration with students.


  • Five teams get to present their proposal at a University Online Event

  • Three teams have a chance to implement their proposal with the business chosen

  • Ten best proposals get featured in the channels of Think Tank AlterContacts

  • Participants with receive a certificate of their contribution to SDGs

  • Chosen few will have an opportunity to become a fellow at the Think Tank and publish their article in an ISBN publication.

For Most Innovative Teams only

The teams/individuals from each university that proposed the most innovative solution will be invited to a bi-yearly international Think Tank event where students can share their proposal and their views on how it fits with building the future of Europe. They will also get a chance to interact with the chosen few like-minded young people from other countries.

This event/conversation will be hosted and facilitated by the Think Tank AlterContacts. The insights will be shared both in video and written form.

Depending on what comes up during the conversation, the Think Tank would provide resources to facilitate further interaction for these students to co-create a new social innovation initiative. In that case, the Think Tank together with the partner universities will do the guidance from ideation to MVP.


  • Opportunity for “hands-on” collaboration with international virtual teams using new digital methods.

  • Chance to kickstart their professional career by adding practical experience to their academic curriculum.

  • Stronger foundation and practical skills required in the modern world, such as innovation, creativity, collaboration and entrepreneurship.

  • Access to networks that provide opportunities for internships, further development and employment worldwide.

  • Being an active global citizen and contributing to SDGs.


Participating universities contribute one-time registration fee to run the competition, receive the toolkit and continuous guidance from the Think Tank AlterContacts.

After signing the collaboration agreement with the Think Tank, the university announces the competition and the deadline to its students.

It is open to apply for any student of the participating universities.

What students say after completing the Challenge?

“When it comes to the future since I am a business student, I think that this experience has helped me a lot to understand how a business takes these difficulties and turns them into opportunities.”

“After finishing this assignment, I feel that now I have a better understanding of how the lockdown has affected multiple small businesses not only in my country but also globally.“

“It made me conscious that I am able to make some change and help these small businesses overcome this difficult situation.“

“This initiative helped me understand in a great extent the impact COVID-19 had in the operating life of a small business and also deepen my understanding in their everyday operations.“

“It was very helpful in my academic studies to concentrate on the important parts and fundamentals of how managers of small businesses actually manage the everyday challenges that these kinds of problems bring.“

“It gave me an opportunity to see the practical side of the operations of a business and get a glimpse of the challenges and opportunities they have to expand.“

“It was very rewarding seeing that with this initiative they can get as much help as possible by getting more noticed and showing the work that they do and trying to keep the business going.“

“It would definitely affect me in the future when I open my own small business and be more careful in taking further steps of expanding and dealing with the challenges.“

“We really gathered valuable information from different fields of businesses such as operations management, consumer behavior, social media marketing, etc.“

“This was a great experience which will be a plus in my future life.“

“From the conversation, we had with the owner of the businesses we understood that at first things might seem difficult, but if you work hard and adapt to changes in order to fulfil the needs then you are on the right path to success.“

“I learned to improve my leadership and teamwork skills.“

“The project that gave me inner happiness, also a good experience to mention in my CV.“

“I found this project very valuable for my education now and the future career I plan on choosing.“

“The interview with the business representative helped me understand from a business owner’s point of view, the impact that the pandemic had on the business and the economy overall.“

“It was different from what we are taught in school, we saw real-world cases and learned how to implement the theory in practice, recognize the difficulties SMEs face in such situations and what they should do to overcome them.“

“During this project, I was able to understand how small businesses fight every day for securing their minimal profits in order to survive.“

“It has helped me realize what being an entrepreneur really means, given the few resources available they have and the crucial decisions they have to take.“

“I really hope to do such activities again in the future, as they would improve me professionally and also help me improve as a person.“

“I learnt thoroughly about the pros and cons that this Lockdown brought to our small businesses here in Albania.“

“This initiative helped me realize that even during the lockdown, hard work pays off.“

“I am extremely glad that I got the chance to be part of this amazing idea, which I believe will affect our lives for the better.“

“Without any doubt, I would do this once again, mainly for the reason that we never stop learning and I think that everything changes really quickly, which enhances the idea of learning and adapting to unknown situations.“

“I am very grateful for this opportunity which was handed to me. I want to thank everyone for bringing their expertise and experience around the table and engaging in such fruitful, constructive and open exchanges throughout this initiative.“

“The initiative has been valuable to me because I aspire to start my own business sometime in the future.“

“It was interesting to listen to all the struggles and challenges that the business had gone through during this difficult time, especially when the lockdown was not lifted yet. It was even more impressive to listen to the business owners to explain the amazing solutions that they came up with, which basically saved their businesses.“

“This project made me realize a lot of things, and most importantly working with these entrepreneurs and my team felt very good at the time when we are finding it difficult to even get off the bed and socialize.“

“This project helped me understand that you have to be humble and work hard even when things are challenging you a lot.“

“This initiative makes me look at challenges that come in my life as there is nothing that can stop me from accomplishing my goals.“

Watch the classes based on the Lockdown Economy

The recording was done during the introductory lecture for 150 Bachelor students of Epoka University (Albania) to onboard them for the Lockdown Economy project.

This recording was done during the live class for the MBA students of the Anahuac Mayab University in Mexico. It was the launch of the pilot of the Lockdown Economy Academy by the Think Tank AlterContacts.

You can continue being active in business, even if the majority of the work is being postponed to “better times”. By partnering with various organizations and clients both on pro-bono and business bases you can reimagine and rebuild the future together. Learn from Poom Narudee Kristhanin, the CEO and Founder of Eureka Global, a transformation consultancy based in Thailand that has been active in the Asian market since 2006.

Most companies are focusing on business as usual, and very few are preparing for new uncertainties, scenarios and making the most of the opportunities that come up from the crisis. How can you understand your business better and how to spot unique opportunities in instability? Learn from Fabrizio Faraco, the founder of In Sprint, an Italian based facilitation business, that helps companies achieve success and autonomy.

Follow us and Connect!