Martin Zelinka 2
Martin Zelinka at work camp on volunteer management in intercultural environment. Předkláštěří, Czechia.

The Biomimicry Challenge in Ukraine: Green empowerment accelerated by volunteers

Martin Zelinka is a UN Youth Volunteer fully funded by the Czech Republic serving with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Ukraine. He has been engaged in a cool green project introducing biomimicry principles to Ukrainian audience. Biomimicry is another word for nature-inspired innovation to solve human design challenges.

Martin and a team of Online Volunteers working on the project are excited to help Ukrainian pioneers uncover biomimetic solutions to their problems. They are part of the national Biomimicry Challenge* organized by UNDP's Accelerator Lab project, with the assistance of the Biomimicry Institute. This all-Ukrainian competition seeks to find ideas inspired by natural systems.

The All-Ukrainian National Challenge consists of an online course and a competition. Our Online Volunteers helped to translate global materials and co-created an innovative and inspiring course. Thanks to them, participants had a chance to learn more about biomimicry before applying for the Challenge. ---Martin Zelinka, UN Youth Volunteer

The motto of this year's challenge was #DesignOutWaste! On average, over 15 million tonnes of waste are produced in Ukraine each year, with an average rate of 0.93 kg per person and day. The challenge engaged interested innovators to explore the most sustainable and nature-inspired solutions together.  

The organizers received many cool biomimetic ideas and had to select the best three of them. “During the Pitch Day, ten teams presented their solutions to the selection panel and a broad public audience consisting of people interested in green innovations. We also hired a sign language interpreter to make the event as inclusive as possible,” Martin says. 

Which futuristic ideas won? Generating alternative energy from tree branch oscillations, a project inspired by Greater wax moth, caterpillars which have demonstrated the ability to digest polyethylene plastic, and a project on supporting greenhouse crops with new biodegradable cords


It is very exciting experience also in terms of international volunteerism – people of different ages, located in different parts of the world, come together online and create a meaningful initiative. --Martin Zelinka

The whole project, from start to finish, was completed in only four months! This would not have been possible without the tremendous work of the Online Volunteers. 

We always knew that we have a team of volunteers who covered our backs. They were very independent and professional, and we could fully rely on them. Knowing this was incredibly helpful for managing the project! --Oksana Udovyk, Head of the project

Martin also appreciates that the Online Volunteers were mostly Ukrainians. He never made to the country, due to COVID-19 restrictions, but was happy to explore Ukrainian culture through informal chatting with them. One of them,Olena Chyzhova, says: "I was happy to join the Biomimicry project because it was perfect for my personal and professional interests, I specialize in learning management and am keen to promote and support sustainability. Besides, the project concerned Ukraine, my homeland."

With all his enthusiasm, Martin was able to build meaningful relations with his team and actively participate in teambuilding online activities. "Apart from the professional activities organized via Trello and Telegram, we held regular chats via Zoom and organized a Pecha Kucha event to present our interests. I talked about my passion for postcards."

Work camp on learning how to work with volunteers and young people in an intercultural environment that Martin visited. Předkláštěří, Czechia. NGO "Nesehnutí", 2021
Work camp on learning how to work with volunteers and young people in an intercultural environment that Martin visited. Předkláštěří, Czechia. ©Nesehnutí NGO, 2021

Though Martin never made it to the country, he has already been able to contribute to several other initiatives with UNDP Ukraine. He assisted with communications within the regional development portfolio´s HOUSES project – supported by the European commission. While creating a legal body of house owners, the team was building the very basic structures for civic society. Martin helped this unique initiative to have a personal flavour through human interest stories.

Together with my colleagues, we showed the value of this project in its soft part – how communities develop when their owners build inclusion, a caring environment and deal with pandemic through social activism. --Martin Zelinka

To support Czech-Ukrainian bonds, Martin also connected UNDP Ukraine and Ms Markéta Gregorová, a Member of the European parliament, who delivered a speech about her experience in politics and encouraged upcoming Ukrainian female politicians in their political career. He thinks that Czechia and Ukraine share the trajectory of a post-communist country that had to go through social, political and economic transformation. "Therefore, we can benefit from exchange of experience," Martin concludes his story.

*The National Biomimicry Challenge is the national selection round of the Global Biomimicry Challenge. It is co-organized by the UNDP Accelerator Labs in partnership with the Biomimicry Institute in the United States, Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine, Ukrainian Future Business Incubator of the National Centre of Junior Academy of Science of Ukraine, the Biodiversity Foundation, NGO Plato, NGO Tarilka, Change Agency Responsible Future, as well as businesses, local authorities and universities.Read more.