Exactly a year ago I attended Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week to report on the week’s events for CleanTechnica, and enjoyed one of the most wonderful adventures of my life. On January 14, 2019, together with hundreds of others, I witnessed a spectacular ceremony to award the Zayed Sustainability Prize winners pioneering solutions in Health, Food, Energy, and Water. Much has been written on CleanTechnica about the prize and its winners over the years. This time, I thought I would go back to the winners from last year to check what has changed and how the prize has impacted their operations.
Since I had a chance to interview the winners right after the ceremony, I got in touch with them again a month ago to ask three simple questions:
- How did the prize boost your operations and/or help in your endeavours?
- How has your company changed since January 2019, not only in relation to the prize?
- How would you encourage other pioneers to apply for the Zayed Sustainability Award?
Health Winner — We Care Solar
“Successfully having already helped 1.8 million people, Solar Suitcases are tailored for childbirth and related medical services by delivering around-the-clock medical lighting in 3,325 medical facilities in 27 developing countries in Africa. The Solar Suitcase assists midwives and medical professionals in fetal monitoring while also acting as a communication device.” (Zayed Sustainability Prize description)
The person behind this amazing project is Laura E. Stachel. I had a chance to talk to her briefly right after the ceremony and could see the pure passion when she explained to me the reasons and origins of the Solar Suitcase — and these are quite simple: saving lives, especially of mothers at childbirth. Solar Suitcase does it in dozens of developing countries around the world with a major focus on Africa.
Today, Laura reflects on the impact ZSP made on the organization:
“The Zayed Sustainability Prize allowed us to promote our Light Every Birth initiative in multiple countries, and create a Regional Center in East Africa. We now have an office in Kampala led by Ambrose Katungi Muhwezi, our Africa Regional Director.
“The Regional Center in Uganda brings a different face to the organization through improved staffing, increased visibility at national, district and community levels in our next program countries (Uganda, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and Tanzania). The Zayed Prize provided direct support for Solar Suitcase programs in Nepal and Uganda, impacting hundreds of thousands of families.”
And the organization keeps developing and providing new solutions all the time.
“We Care Solar has launched a new iteration of the Solar Suitcase — version 3.0. This Solar Suitcase has greater battery capacity, additional lights, a simpler user interface, and greater ease of use.
“We have celebrated the success of our Light Every Birth initiative in Liberia. We reached all 430 health centers in need of clean energy for safe childbirth — 430 health facilities, which is 78% of all the health facilities in the country!
“We have expanded our staff, primarily by bringing on team members in each of our Light Every Birth countries. We now have staff in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
“And we are continuing to advocate for renewable energy in health care — we believe that every mother has the right to safe childbirth and every health center should be equipped with reliable electricity. We want to ensure that no woman dies giving life.
“Our student education program is flourishing; our We Share Solar curriculum gives youth in United States and Africa the opportunity to learn about solar energy and to build Solar Suitcases for schools, refugee centers, and community institutions.”
The final question of encouraging others to apply calls for no more words — the success and impact the organization is making are the best testimony to the value of the prize. Laura says it simply — apply and join a wonderful community of “Sustainability Solutionaries.”
FOOD — Sanku
“Sanku is a non-profit organization that reaches out to communities vulnerable to malnutrition by equipping and incentivizing small-scale, local millers to fortify their flour with innovative technology, as well as adding micronutrients that are scientifically proven to improve health and vitality in the food Africans eat the most. With 150 of their fortification machines currently installed in flourmills across five East African countries, Sanku is now impacting the lives of almost one million people by providing them with a safer and healthier source of food.” (Zayed Sustainability Prize description)
Similarly, I had a chance to speak to Felix Brooks-Church, co-founder of Sanku. I learnt his personal story of developing his own project of helping children in poor neighborhoods get off the streets and get engaged in learning and socializing activities. It was then that he realized the kids had learning disabilities, low IQ, weak immune systems, and other deficiencies caused in general by malnutrition. This way Sanku was conceived in response to these nutritional challenges.
Today, Felix lists what has changed over the last 12 months and how ZSP has contributed.
“There has been a lot of growth because of the prize. We have invested half into ops and growing out our staff, also adding 50 more machines earlier this year which increased our reach by about 250k people. The rest of the prize was invested in 100 more machines that just arrived and were installed across September, increasing our reach by an additional 500,000 people.”
With the goal of ending malnutrition in Africa, and that problem is intensifying due to climate change–related weather anomalies, the organization must grow:
“We have focused on building out our staffing, doubling in size to 30 members now. We were also selected to Fast Company’s most innovative list.”
Is that enough to encourage others to apply? I bet it is, and Felix adds to it:
“I would encourage other pioneers to apply, not just for the chance to win a large prize, but also to gain great global exposure and have your name attached to the impressive legacy of Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.”
ENERGY — BBOXX
“A fast-growing company that has successfully deployed a plug and play solar device – the BBOXX – across a number of African countries, offering their customers an on-grid experience in an off-grid setting. The BBOXX model has already connected over 675,000 people with clean, affordable electricity for the first time, and enabled US$2.4 million in energy cost savings.” (Zayed Sustainability Prize description)
Talking to Mansoor Hamayun in Abu Dhabi, I learn how the project started and developed through join efforts of three college students to grow to employ more than 600 people globally. Successful as they were, the Zayed Sustainability Prize offered another boost in the development:
“The prize funds have allowed us to further invest in innovations in our product range, scale our operations and accelerate the provision of reliable energy to underserved communities across the globe. We have provided clean, affordable energy access to nearly one million people to date through close to 300,000 solar home systems (SHS). Over 500,000 people using BBOXX’s SHS are supporting an enterprise, demonstrating how BBOXX’s technology transforming lives and unlocking potential.
“We recently introduced BBOXX Cook in Rwanda as a pilot market, using the same technology that underpins our SHS to deliver clean cooking solutions for both urban and rural areas. BBOXX is the first company to combine pay-as-you-go solar energy services with pay-as-you-go cooking solutions which marks a major stride towards tackling the global clean cooking crisis and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. To date, BBOXX has cut more than 346,127 metric tons of carbon dioxide and black carbon emissions.”
The company has had a busy year raising more funds to make a difference. It successfully closed its $50 million Series D funding round and attracted numerous investors globally.
“BBOXX has continued to scale rapidly into new markets and geographies by forging strategic partnerships with global companies, investors and governments. A partnership model has been central to powering our growth which has in turn enabled us to move the dial on several of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Access to affordable and clean energy (SDG 7) is the entry point to solving a host of global goals. The transition to clean energy is crucial if we are to tackle climate change (SDG 13), thanks to the offset of thousands of tonnes of carbon emissions. Electricity enables local businesses to take off and acts as a trigger for economic growth and poverty alleviation, SDG 1. It is equally the entry point to other basic needs, such as clean water and cooking, SDG 6.”
Mansoor adds a word of encouragement at the end:
“We are honoured to have been recognised by the Zayed Sustainability Prize. It is a testament to the way we are making a meaningful difference to people’s lives around the world. The recognition is also practical and the prize funds have helped us to further accelerate the provision of reliable energy to communities worldwide. We strongly encourage other pioneers around the world to apply for the Zayed Sustainability Award to help them continue their positive social and environmental impact.”
“ECOSOFTT is an award-winning, decentralised, community water management standard that outlines a set of solutions for source management, water use, water recycling and discharge. Water SMART Blue Building solutions enable water sustainability through total management of the water cycle for living communities, including townships, homes, commercial buildings and villages. ECOSOFTT has implemented over 50 projects in five countries, allowing more than 500,000 people access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene” (Zayed Sustainability Prize description)
I had a wonderful time talking to Marcus Lim, co-founder at ECOSOFTT, about how the idea was developed from the start as integrated solutions rather than a set of separate services. Knowing that they operate in many underprivileged areas, I was amazed to learn how much they promote gender equality and how they involve communities in governing the projects.
Today, Marcus is busy travelling, but he was happy to answer my questions about what the prize meant to them:
“The Prize was a huge endorsement that we were on the right track because we had a business model that was unique in the water industry. Internally, winning this prize reaffirmed our strategy and encouraged us to expand what we did in order to scale up our impact. Externally, the Prize gave potential partners, customers and employees confidence in our capabilities and value.”
And they are moving forward at ECOSOFTT:
“The financial resources and network provided by the Prize have given us a boost. We are in the process of realizing the plan we drafted as part of the Prize application. Over the last 6 months, we have recruited several highly-qualified people to strengthen our capabilities. We are in discussions for several major projects in our target markets. The past few months since receiving the Prize have been the busiest time in our journey.”
Interestingly, Marcus highlights the added value of applying for ZSP:
“I would encourage all innovators of sustainability to apply for the Prize. Winning would of course do wonders for the organization. The application process in itself is highly valuable. Being extremely rigorous, the process would help the applicant think through its strategy, impact, strengths, and weaknesses in order to improve its performance.”
Great lessons for us all on how to make a difference, how to connect profit and values, and also how to build a sustainable business. The Zayed Sustainability Prize has a separate category to award high schools and their sustainability projects. I will further attempt to reach out to them as well. As for today, let’s wait a few days to see 2020’s winners and more inspiring stories to cover on CleanTechnica.