Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 28 September 2020

The Zayed Sustainability Prize: its impact a decade on

The prize recognises social initiatives that positively impact millions of people around the world

We Care Solar provides solar energy packs to healthcare facilities without access to reliable electricity. Courtesy: Laura Stachel
We Care Solar provides solar energy packs to healthcare facilities without access to reliable electricity. Courtesy: Laura Stachel

The urgent need to address the effects of global warming is arguably already an existential issue for millions around the world.

Recent headlines continue to highlight the devastation of natural disasters, from raging bushfires in Australia to catastrophic flooding in Indonesia.

Assessing the full impact of such tragedies can be arduous work. Any single event often acts as a catalyst to a series of further crises, particularly in public health.

Since 2008, however, the UAE’s Zayed Sustainability Prize has been at the centre of a global call to help mitigate such global emergencies.

I was helping to take children off the streets and reintegrate them into school. So many of the kids were sick, had stunted growth and a few even died from things like malaria

Felix Brooks-church, Sanku

Through direct funding, it encourages entrepreneurs and start-ups to harness new technologies to change lives for the better.

Today, the prize has grown to become one of the most significant and renown awards worldwide for affecting positive change.

Launched by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, it was earlier referred to as the Zayed Future Energy Prize, a tribute to his late father Sheikh Zayed.

In 2018, its name was changed to the Zayed Sustainability Prize to reflect its broader scope and encourage more applicants from wider fields to apply.

It now boasts five major award categories including health, food, energy and water. Education is addressed through its 'global high schools' category.

To date, the prize has helped provide clean and affordable drinking water to 10 million people, powered 50 million homes and created 430,000 jobs. In total, some 335 million people are believed to have benefited.

This year, innovations presented by the prize's 30 finalists represent technological strides in nutrition, healthcare, energy and disaster relief.

On Monday, 10 candidates across the five categories will be announced as the winners of the 2020 edition of the prize.

Here, The National catches up with three previous winners to find out how crucial their funding was in enabling them to help further their goals.

The 2019 winners

Sanku

Category: Food

What we do: Enable flour millers to augment maize with vitamins and minerals to fight malnutrition

Where: East Africa

Ending what is often referred to as 'hidden hunger' for 100 million people is the vision that drives Felix Brooks-church to fight malnutrition in Africa.

It is defined as occurring when the quality of food available to any given population lacks sufficient nutrition to ensure healthy growth and development.

Co-founder of Sanku, Mr Brooks-church’s social initiative in Tanzania, adds vitamins and minerals including iron, zinc, folic Acid and B12 to basic food stuffs such as maize.

Established in 2013, the project developed from an initiative he was initially working on in Cambodia.

“I was helping to take children off the streets and reintegrate them into school and society through rehabilitation programmes,” Mr Brooks-church told The National.

“So many of the kids were sick, had stunted growth and a few even died from things like malaria.

Sanku enables flour millers in East Africa to add vital vitamins and minerals to maize to fight malnutrition. Courtesy: Felix Brooks-church
Sanku enables flour millers in East Africa to add vital vitamins and minerals to maize to fight malnutrition. Courtesy: Felix Brooks-church

“I just felt like I was putting a band aid over a larger issue, so I wanted to reach more people at an earlier stage.”

According to the United Nations, micro-nutrient deficiency is known to compromise the immune system of more than 40 per cent of children in the developing world.

It also increases their chances of dying from curable diseases like measles, malaria, and diarrhoea.

With a population of close to 60 million people, Mr Brooks-church said Tanzania had one of the highest malnutrition rates in the region.

“About 130 children die daily because of lack of nutrition in Tanzania, so the problem was very clear to us," he said.

“About 95 per cent of the population eat maize daily, so we knew if we could add nutrients to this food source we would be guaranteed to reach the majority of the population.”

Sanku enables flour millers in East Africa to add vital vitamins and minerals to maize to fight malnutrion. Courtesy: Felix Brooks-church
Sanku enables flour millers in East Africa to add vital vitamins and minerals to maize to fight malnutrion. Courtesy: Felix Brooks-church

Using a dosifier - a machine designed by Mr Brooks-church to add precise amounts of vitamins and minerals to maize - small flour millers can now boost the nutritional value of food stuffs.

Prior to receiving the Zayed Sustainability Award, Sanku supported about 200 mills, providing food to more than 900,000 people.

But after receiving a $600,000 (Dh2.2 million) cash prize in 2019, it has managed to scale-up the initiative.

“The prize helped to double our programme reach and we have spread across the country in more than 20 key regions,” Mr Brooks-church said.

“We now have 368 millers feeding over two million people in five countries.”

By 2022, Sanku aims to partner with 1,500 mills to reach 10 million people. And that number could rise to 100 million people by 2025.

We Care Solar

Category: Health

What we do: Provide solar energy systems to health facilities in areas without reliable electricity

Where: Africa and Asia

The World Health Organisation estimates 300,000 women and more than one million newborns die each year around the world from pregnancy and childbirth complications.

In 2008, the We Care Solar social initiative set out to promote safe motherhood and reduce maternal mortality.

“We work to provide healthcare workers in developing regions with reliable lighting, mobile communication, and medical devices using solar electricity,” said Laura Stachel, executive director of the project.

“No woman should die giving life. As a mother and an obstetrician, I am committed to a world where mothers and newborns survive childbirth and thrive."

Together with her husband Hal Aronson, a solar innovator, the duo set out to provide a more reliable source of lighting and electricity for hospitals in the developing world. Their initial research took them to Nigeria.

“[During my initial visit] I witnessed sporadic electricity in a state hospital,” Ms Stachel said.

“I watched my Nigerian colleagues struggling to provide life-saving care and realised that women and newborns were dying from a lack of something as basic as electricity.”

However, after her husband designed and distributed four solar electric systems for the hospital, the number of maternal deaths dropped markedly the following year.

And soon after, other health centres in the area started to ask for solar electricity.

“That’s when we knew we needed to create something that could scale to other centres,” Ms Stachel said.

“Without electricity, midwives and doctors struggled in near-darkness. Critical procedures were delayed or cancelled and lives were being lost.”

We Care Solar provides solar energy packs to healthcare facilities without reliable electricity. Courtesy: Laura Stachel
We Care Solar provides solar energy packs to healthcare facilities without reliable electricity. Courtesy: Laura Stachel

More than a decade on, We Care Solar has been committed to making solar energy accessible, affordable, and sustainable for global healthcare.

Since 2011, the team has been distributing its Solar Suitcases, comprising solar panels, batteries, a charger, medical lighting and fetal monitoring equipment, to health workers in countries including Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Uganda.

Announced as the winners of the 2019 Zayed Sustainability Prize in the health category, the team has reached more than 4,000 healthcare facilities around the world, serving more than 3.9m mothers and babies.

“Winning the Zayed Sustainability Prize has amplified our messaging about the need for reliable electricity in health facilities," Ms Stachel said.

“We aim to reach every health centre in need in five countries in five years. We have already reached success in Liberia and have made significant headway in Uganda, Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone.”

Ecosoftt

Category: Water

What we do: Provide local access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene

Where: South East Asia

For years, lengthy treks to and from a stream near her village in India was the only way 12-year-old Niyati could collect water for cooking, cleaning and drinking at home.

In her small community of just 200 people, few girls attended school due to the absence of toilet facilities on site. The lack of sanitation threatened their dignity, so most stayed away.

But today, Niyati, 17, is a high school student. Through a community-led project by Ecosoftt, a water solutions provider, her village has been transformed.

“Water is something very basic but very often taken for granted,” Marcus Lim, co-founder of Ecosoftt told The National.

“Fifty to 70 per cent of the global population does not have access to good quality water or a sustainable supply of water.

“Growing up in Singapore I did not feel the effects of this, but when I visited India I experienced the issue first-hand.

“People were forced to walk for hours to get water and many didn’t have access to toilets.”

Seeing the impact this had on peoples’ dignity and livelihood, Mr Lim and his business partner, Stanley Samuel, vowed to make a change.

Ecosoftt, a water solutions start-up, provides local access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in South East Asia. Courtesy: Marcus Lim
Ecosoftt, a water solutions start-up, provides local access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in South East Asia. Courtesy: Marcus Lim

In 2013 they stepped in to help villages in India and other South East Asian countries. Using innovative technologies to disrupt the water sector, Ecosoftt has since completed around 50 projects over the past seven years, directly impacting more than 300,000 people.

In Niyati’s village, one project spearheaded by the duo helped to build a complete water, sanitation and sewerage system.

Through the initiative, each villager was given access to 75 litres of treated water per day to carry out basic tasks like showering, cooking and cleaning, without the need to walk for miles.

New toilets and bathrooms were also constructed. All waste water is treated and reused for landscaping or irrigation.

“We prefer to use technologies inspired by nature,” Mr Lim said. “In the case of Niyati’s village, we collect waste water in a tank and pass it through a bioreactor. We grow bacteria and earth worms, which act as natural filters.

“Some water is then pumped back into the community and some infiltrated into the ground, so the groundwater gets replenished.”

In 2019, Mr Lim and Mr Samuel were announced as winners of the Zayed Sustainability Prize in the water category. And the duo have since pumped the majority of the $600,000 winnings into expanding Ecosoftt's human capital.

“We won the award about 12 months ago and have scaled our projects to reach an additional 50,000 people,” Mr Lim said.

“But the biggest impact has been on organisational capacity and the addition of additional expertise within the company to help widen our reach to communities that need our help.”

Updated: January 12, 2020 04:40 PM

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