Unilever and the University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership (CPSL) announced the seven finalists for the inaugural Unilever Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneurs Awards this week. The international awards program is designed to inspire young people around the world to tackle environmental, social and health issues.
Unilever received 510 entries from entrants 30 years and under, who hailed from an impressive 90 countries. The chosen finalists submitted scalable and sustainable solutions that enable changes in practices or behaviors in sanitation and hygiene; water scarcity; greenhouse gases; waste; sustainable agriculture; and helping smallholder farmers, according to Unilever.
“We are delighted to have had such a great number of entries, and of such high calibre from all corners of world. The entries provide proof – if it were needed – of a young generation of leaders eager to develop their fledgling businesses into ones that could genuinely make a big difference,” Unilever CEO Paul Polman said in a press release. “Using our energy, innovation and resourcefulness to support them will, I believe, accelerate the development, multiply the difference and help create a brighter future for all.”
Judges were looking for inspiring practical, tangible solutions to help make sustainable living commonplace. All in their 20s, the finalists hail from all corners of the globe, with the notable exception of winners from Europe or the U.S. – underscoring the uptick of sustainable education in the developing world. The seven finalists are:
- Garbage Clinical Insurance, submitted by Gamal Albinsaid, 24, of Indonesia: A concept that explores waste recycling as a currency for primary health care.
- Ilumexico, submitted by Manuel Wichers, 26, of Mexico: A system of attaining carbon-free renewable energy from a solar lamp network and micro-loans.
- Maya Universe Academy, submitted by Surya Karki, 23, of Nepal: A sustainable farming collective for rural Nepalese communities, with farm profits used to fund free schools.
- NextDrop, submitted by Anu Sridharan, 26, of India: A real-time data and messaging system used for water use optimization and leakage tracking.
- Pigeonpea, submitted by Curt Bowen, 26, of Guatemala: A smallholder farm crop solution for natural, sustainable enrichment and greater income.
- Unfire, submitted by Blessing Mene, 26, of Nigeria: Low-cost chicken feed made from waste mango seeds for smallholder farmers.
- x-runner, submitted by Isabel Medem, 28, of Peru: Waterless toilets for impoverished regions that turn waste into salable compost.
The finalists will take part in a four-week development program followed by an accelerator workshop in Cambridge, where expert guidance will be provided to help them develop their ideas. The workshop will be followed by a pitch to a panel of judges in London, comprising entrepreneurs and leaders from business and sustainability.
“We have been immensely impressed by the strength and diversity of the applicants in this first year of the awards,” Polly Courtice, CPSL director, said in a press release. “We look forward to welcoming the finalists to Cambridge and starting to support a vibrant new network of young leaders for change.”
The winner and finalists will attend a dinner in London on Jan. 30 to receive their prizes. The grand prize winner will receive €50,000 ($68,025) in financial support and individually tailored mentoring, and the six finalists will each receive €10,000 in financial support and mentoring. Four runners-up will also receive an online development program to help them further develop their ideas.
The 2014 program launches next summer, and young entrepreneurs willing to participate can register on the Ashoka Changemakers platform.
Image credit: Students at Maya Universe Academy in Nepal, courtesy of Ashoka Changemakers
Based in Philadelphia, Mary Mazzoni is a freelance journalist who frequently writes about sustainability, corporate social responsibility and clean tech. Mary also contributes to Earth911; her work has appeared on the Huffington Post, Sustainable Brands and The Daily Meal. You can follow her on Twitter @mary_mazzoni.