Expo 2020 Dubai legacy: Meet the innovators changing lives across the world

From nets that turn fog into water to a cooling backpack carrying vaccines to rural areas, these projects are building a better future



Photo by Neeraj Murali
Photo by Neeraj Murali
by

Sherouk Zakaria

Published: Fri 1 Apr 2022, 1:21 PM

Expo 2020 came to a close on Thursday, leaving behind innovations and technologies that will redefine the way we live.

As part of the mega event’s legacy, a $100 million (Dh367 million) grant will continue to support and fund social entrepreneurs with creative projects that are making a difference across the world.

Under Expo Live, a social innovation programme, 140 mission-oriented individuals from 76 countries received between $100,000 (Dh367,000) to $500,000 (Dh1.8 million) to expand their life-changing projects and maximise their outreach in vulnerable communities.

From nets turning fog into water in dry regions, a cooling backpack carrying vaccines to remote areas, and an app that connects the visually impaired to sighted volunteers, the social start-ups are providing innovative solutions to real-world problems.

“Before Expo 2020 started, we embarked on a search for purpose-driven entrepreneurs who are making the world a better place. The aim was to find them, fund them, and show them to the world,” said Yousuf Caires, Senior Vice-President at Expo Live.

Selected from 11,000 applications from 184 countries in a quest that started in June 2016, the winning entrepreneurs showcased their projects in a multi-sensory interactive experience inside ‘The Good Place’ pavilion at the world’s greatest show.

With Expo 2020 coming to an end, the programme, Caires noted, will create a community of innovators from all over the world who are working towards building a better future.

“As part of the legacy project, we will continue investing the $100 million to find more changemakers and grow their positive influence in the community.”

Besides using the convening power of Expo to inspire visitors with the impactful innovations, Caires said the grant aims to redefine the concept of entrepreneurship.

“Instead of generating large sums of money with a little corporate social responsibility (CSR) on the side, making money and doing good should go hand in hand,” noted Caires.

“We wanted to make sure Expo 2020 was full of innovations, but also of people who are creating a positive impact on society.”

Here are some innovators receiving support to carry on their mission of improving lives:

Be My Eyes

Hans Jorgen from Denmark developed ‘Be My Eyes’ app that connects the visually impaired with sighted volunteers to make everyday tasks easier.

Dubbed “Crowdsourcing eyes to those in need,” the app empowers the visually impaired to see through the eyes of sighted individuals and boost their independence on the long run.

Transporting vaccines to rural areas

Kitty Liao, founder of Ideabatic in the UK, developed a low-cost ‘SMILE’ carrier that has a cooler to keep vaccines and life-saving medicines alive during long journeys to remote rural areas. Here is a 3D simulation of a woman carrying a backpack:

“Around 85 per cent of vaccines are ruined by heat during transportation, often in the last mile,” said Liao. Through the smart cooling system, Liao aims to deliver vaccinations to 20 million children worldwide.

Smart communication platform for special needs

When their grandmother was unable to speak after late-stage Alzheimer’s, Carlos and Hector Costa from Argentina created Ottaa, an artificial intelligence communication platform, to help individuals with mental disabilities communicate through images.

The smart technology is empowering 50,000 people with Alzheimer’s, Down syndrome and autism in 11 countries to express themselves in real-time through pictures. In the photo below, a visitor is seen in front of the platform:

The brothers combined their professional skills in biomedical engineering and communications to develop the digital tool that builds vocabulary and forms sentences through images and verbalizes them aloud.

“The predictive algorithms understand the user’s preferences and agenda, and builds up images they may need to communicate at this moment, depending on the surrounding context,” said Carlos

“When you give people the ability to communicate, you are opening up the world for them,” said Carlos.

Harvesting water from fog

Over 100 families living in dry regions of the Morocco’s Anti-Atlas Mountains now have direct access to clean water, thanks to the technology-powered cloud nets that turns fog into water developed by Dr Jamila Bargach.

With the smart technology that harnesses nature, young local girls no longer have to trek long distances in search for clean water, and can invest their time instead in studying, developing their vocational skills and enhancing their community life.

Empowering women in Africa

Inspired by his mother’s experience, Martin Sanago from Tanzania is empowering women to monetise their families’ cow milk in a culture where the cattle are owned by men.

The Institute for Orkonerei Pastoralists Advancement is providing improved transport to dairy processing plants and teaching women to make yogurt and cheese to maximize their income and become financially independent.

Cultivating the desert

From Norway, Atle Idland, founder of Desert Control startup, established a new technology called ‘Liquid NanoClay’ (LNC) to boost agriculture in the desert. The agri-technology converts unusable soil into arable land using less water to grow plants in dry regions and increase food security among poor communities.

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