Fighting challenges at a global scale

29 November 2020
Expo Live is supporting global innovators in their bid to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges

As humanity fights the Covid-19 pandemic at a global scale, the need for innovative solutions has come under the spotlight.

And this innovation is not restricted to just healthcare. Challenges that persisted even before the pandemic – unemployment, climate change, food and water security, waste – have been exacerbated by the crisis, especially in the poorest parts of the world. There is a call for greater innovation in all aspects of living.

Expo 2020’s Expo Live initiative first launched its Innovation Impact Grant Programme (IIGP) in 2016, with the aim of supporting organisations that tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges.

Expo’s legacy will extend far beyond District 2020

With an allocation of $100m, Expo Live provides not just grants, but also a platform for knowledge-sharing, technical support and partnerships.

Grantees, which include small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), social entrepreneurs, not-for-profit organisations and government-related entities, can utilise up to $100,000 of funds, to scale their solutions beyond an ideation stage.

The aim of the programme is to find sustainable solutions that align with Expo’s key themes of Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability. The all-encompassing nature of these themes has meant that the criteria for selection has been kept as broad as possible.

Since its launch, IIGP has attracted more than 11,000 applications from 184 countries over five application cycles, providing support to more than 140 grantees.

With an allocation of $100m, Expo Live provides not just grants, but also a platform for knowledge-sharing, technical support and partnerships.

And following the advent of Covid-19 and the resulting health crisis, the role of innovators such as those under the Expo Live umbrella has become ever so critical.

“The world has never seen a greater need for collaborative solutions to address some of greatest challenges of our time,” says Yousuf Caires, senior vice president, Expo Live, Expo 2020 Dubai. “Expo Live is supporting social entrepreneurs that are looking for solutions to fight those challenges and already having a tangible, positive impact on the communities in which they operate – as they continue to contribute to a better future."

Bidding adieu to single-use plastics

In August 2020, Expo Live announced a collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support innovators finding solutions to situations have been exacerbated by the current global health crisis, highlighting a need to work together and collaborate across borders to create a better future.

Three innovative projects that are supported by the collaboration are already having a positive impact: myAgro, Seenaryo and PichaEats are improving the lives of people and benefitting the wider community in West Africa, Lebanon, Jordan and Malaysia.

“PichaEats is an innovative, catering and meal-box service from Malaysia that has transformed the lives of displaced people by providing income and employment, and has had far-reaching benefits across the community,” Caires highlights.

The project’s founders began volunteering as teachers in 2013, with the aim of helping more families afford a proper education for their children. In 2015, they noticed that many of their students were dropping out from school to work odd jobs in night markets and convenience stores because their parents were struggling financially. Seeing this, they wanted to find a solution where parents can be financially stable and their children can stay in school.

A mother of one student was encouraged to cook, and the team started to explore a business model after selling her meals to friends. After testing this model for four months, they decided to scale up the business full-time in May 2016.

Since its launch, IIGP has attracted more than 11,000 applications from 184 countries over five application cycles, providing support to more than 140 grantees.

“Its first chef’s youngest son was called Picha and was always helping his mother cook,” describes Caires. “Seeing his spirit, the team decided to name the business ‘The Picha Project’ to remind them why they started. It was rebranded to PichaEats in April 2019.”

PichaEats was granted a licence to deliver during lockdown, providing food for frontline medical workers, police officers and those in the community who have lost their jobs. PichaEats is virtually implementing health and hygiene standards for chefs, inspecting their home kitchens and procedures to ensure food is prepared and packaged safely.

Supporting innovators

Many of the Expo Live early cohorts are SMEs and startups, with limited access to capital and have faced the brunt of Covid-19’s economic challenges.

“Like many start-ups around the world, many of the Global Innovators have been affected by current challenges, and we are very much conscious of this,” says Caires. “That’s why, in March 2020, Expo Live launched an emergency relief fund, inviting existing Global Innovators to apply for additional grant funding of between AED184,000 and AED367,000 ($50,000 to $100,000).

“As an outcome of this initiative, we managed to fund 15 organisations from 13 countries that were facing immediate financial hardship, allowing them continue making positive change in their communities,” he adds.

A dedicated pavilion

Expo Live will have its own spot during the six-month event. Known as ‘The Good Place’, the pavilion has been designed by Emirati architect Ahmad Abdulrahman Bukhash, founder of Dubai architecture practice Archidentity, and will be located in the Opportunity district.

“Our exhibits aim to touch the heart, then the mind, then the hands – leading to concrete action,” says Caires. “The stories of Global Innovators will trigger a personal transformation, where the reserved become the bold, the indifferent find compassion, the sceptic starts to believe, and the seeker finds their purpose. The pavilion will also offer active opportunities for visitors seeking support for their own projects, giving their journey a real sense of possibility.”

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