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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 October 2018

Start-ups from across the globe seek Expo funding to improve lives

Successful pitches will receive $100,000 to make their project a reality

Abu Muadh's app helps blue-collar workers to improve their English. Victor Besa / The National
Abu Muadh's app helps blue-collar workers to improve their English. Victor Besa / The National

Social enterprise companies that seek to improve the lives of people around the world have been invited to pitch for the latest round of funding from an Expo 2020 project.

Submissions for the fourth round from the Expo Live programme opened on Tuesday and will be accepted until December 2.

Winners will receive a grant of $100,000 (Dh367,300) to make their pitch a reality, under the expo’s Innovation Impact Grant Programme.

Among the previous recipients is a start-up that helps blue-collar workers to improve their spoken English and a company behind an Arabic speech synthesiser, which helps people with speech difficulties to communicate.

The launch coincided with the first ever Expo Live Global Innovators Summit, which was attended by former winners.

During the three-day summit, which ended on Tuesday, social entrepreneurs from around the world participated in workshops, training sessions and in-depth discussions.

“Expo Live is proud to support passionate visionaries who are having a positive social and environmental impact all over the world,” said Yousuf Caires, vice president of Expo Live at Expo 2020 Dubai.

“We know there are more innovators impacting their communities in all corners of the globe and we encourage them to apply for funding, assistance and exposure as part of the fourth cycle of the programme."

Two projects that previously received funding are based in the UAE.

The International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture, a not-for-profit company that seeks to help regions where the ground is high in saline, has been operating in the region since 1999.

“We work towards achieving food, nutrition and water security in saline and marginal environments around the world by improving sustainable agricultural production,” said scientist Dionysia Lyra.

“ICBA is one of only a few international research organisations in the world that works on natural resources management systems that address agricultural challenges in marginal environments.”

She said the organisation’s work in the Middle East was crucial to the future of farming in the region.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - OCTOBER 02, 2018. Dr. Dionysia Angeliki Lyra, a halophyte agronomist at ICBA. Ingenious innovators from around the world have an opportunity to take their solutions to the next level while building partnerships with other problem-solvers, thanks to Expo 2020 Dubai’s global social impact programme Expo Live. Applicants with creative solutions that could help improve people’s lives, preserve the planet or both, have the chance to secure funding, support and exposure for their projects by applying to Expo Live’s flagship Innovation Impact Grant Programme (IIGP). (Photo by Reem Mohammed/The National) Reporter: Section: NA
Dr Dionysia Angeliki Lyra. Reem Mohammed / The National

“Almost 15 per cent of the farmers in the region have installed desalination equipment because the ground water is high in saline,” she said.

“Without the desalination units they cannot irrigate the crops.”

The centre has implemented programmes in more than 30 countries from Gambia in West Africa, to Tajikistan in Central Asia, as well as in the Mena region.

She said the mandate of the ICBA is to develop and implement sustainable and resilient agricultural systems, using “marginal saline water”.

Another project that secured funding is the Smart Labour app, which is aimed at improving the lives of blue-collar workers, who make up 51 per cent of the workforce in the UAE.

“There are more than two million blue-collar workers in the UAE with access to smartphones, and 16.5 million in the wider Middle East. However, in most cases these devices are primarily being used to keep in touch with family members or for entertainment,” said founder Abu Muadh.

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“Due to a lack of education, many blue-collar workers in the Middle East are unable to express themselves as clearly as they would like to, which directly affects their productivity, happiness and overall contribution to the economy.”

He said the Smart Labour learning app can help to improve this situation, to the benefit of people across the UAE.

Another company that featured prominently at the event was F123. The firm is responsible for the world’s very first free Arabic speech synthesiser, which is compatible with low-cost computers, according to Brazilian founder Fernando Botelho.

Mr Botelho said there were particular challenges in educating disabled people in developing nations.

“The statistics can be quite discouraging at times as 90 per cent of blind children in developing countries have next to no access to education,” he said.

“In wealthy nations, the level of unemployment among people with disabilities is 70 per cent.”

He said there were also difficulties in perfecting the talking computer, which will help improve the quality of life for blind people when it is launched on the market in 2019.

“In Arabic there are words that have many different meanings, so it presented a challenge to make sure we got those words in the right context,” he said.