Africa’s homegrown heroes

Press Office: Zayed Sustainability Prize

Africa is steadily making progress in promoting technological advancement and innovation by finding creative ways to solve local problems. Creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship are vital elements for socio-economic transformation. New businesses are springing up across the continent, providing unique solutions to pressing challenges, strengthening the continent’s competitive capabilities and its efforts to diversify its economy.

Innovation in Africa is often hindered by a lack of access to funds, strong governance and regulatory structures, business support, mentorship, skills and adequate infrastructure. Despite these challenges, which were exacerbated by the harsh impact of the global pandemic, notable innovations continue to arise from Africa. Innovators defy the odds to prove that technology is Africa’s ‘diamond in the rough’ and is worthy of the world’s attention.

Some organisations, including the Zayed Sustainability Prize, are supporting the sustainable solutions being developed within the continent and beyond.

About the Zayed Sustainability Prize

The Zayed Sustainability Prize is the UAE’s pioneering global award for rewarding impact, innovation, and inspiration. It recognises innovators and visionaries who are committed to accelerating impactful sustainable solutions across five distinct categories: Health, Food, Energy, Water and Global High Schools.

Inspired by the sustainable development and humanitarian legacy of the UAE’s founding father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the Prize has awarded 96 winners whose solutions or school projects have directly and indirectly positively transformed the lives of more than 370 million people to date.

The Prize’s US$3 million fund offers winners US$600,000 to develop their solutions across Health, Food, Water and Energy. The Global High Schools category is split into six world region winners, with each school being able to claim up to US$100,000 to implement their sustainability project. While the submission forms vary per category, core elements of each entry lie in the innovative ways in which technology, applications and solutions are driving positive changes in people’s lives.

For the Health, Food, Energy, and Water categories, organisations should demonstrate that they are providing access to essential products or services and have a long-term vision for improved living and working conditions. The Global High Schools category projects should be student-led, with emphasis placed on the students being actively involved in the planning, implementation, and monitoring processes.

Meet the African winners

Since its inception in 2008, the Prize has recognised a number of African businesses, non-profits and high schools. One striking trait among these winners is their burning drive to impact their communities, countries and ultimately the continent.

The Prize continues to highlight the tremendous contributions of non-profit organisations (NPOs) and small and medium sized enterprises (SME’s), many of which became winners in the categories of Health, Food, Water and Energy, including:

  • Okuafo Foundation: The 2020 winner in the Food category is an agriculture technology solutions service provider based in Ghana. They developed a smartphone application that uses AI and does not rely on internet connection to determine and diagnose diseases in crops at an early stage. This has helped over 30,000 farmers reduce their crop losses and improve their harvest by 50% in Ghana, Nigeria, Togo, and Burkina Faso.
  • We Care Solar: The 2019 winner in the Health category invented an innovative Solar Suitcase, a crucial intervention that is transforming maternal and neonatal outcomes in health facilities throughout Africa having to-date served close to 10 million mothers and new-borns. The robust Solar Suitcase is an easy-to-use solar electric system that provides last-mile health facilities with highly efficient medical lighting and power for mobile communication and small medical devices.
  • Sanku: The 2019 winner in the Food category is fighting micronutrient deficiencies by fortifying flour through its dosifiers. The non-profit organisation reaches out to communities vulnerable to malnutrition by equipping and incentivising small-scale local millers to fortify their flour with innovative technology, as well as adding lifesaving micronutrients that are scientifically proven to improve health and vitality in staple foods. To-date they have improved nutrition for over 3 million beneficiaries.
  • Bboxx Ltd: The 2019 winner in the Energy category developed a plug-and-play solar device which offers users an on-grid experience in an off-grid setting. They provide electricity to over 675,000 under-served people in developing countries, including Africa. Bboxx solar devices reduce electricity bills, increase household income, and provide light at night, extending people’s working and studying hours.
  • Zola Electric: The 2016 winner is the leading renewable energy technology company in Africa.Zola provides power to more than 1 million people each day and more than 200,000 homes and businesses across Sub-Saharan Africa. By providing affordable and accessible distributed smart storage + solar technology, Zola helps the average home or business leapfrog the grid.
  • M-Kopa: The 2015 winner is the market leader in ‘pay-as-you-go’ energy services for off-grid customers, combining mobile payments with GSM sensor technology to enable the leasing of solar power systems. Since its inception, M-Kopa Solar has connected more than 100,000 homes in East Africa to solar power and is adding over 10,000 new ones each month.

Likewise, the Global High School category has also witnessed sustainable solutions across Health, Food, Energy and Water such as:

  • Sayidina Abubakar Secondary School: The 2022 Global High School winner developed an impactful solution to curb the tremendous challenge of lack of access to sanitary products faced by the female students at this rural school. The project, which is expected to benefit 12,000 people within the school and broader community for the next 15 years, aims to harvest raw plant materials from local farms to produce sanitary products to improve girls’ health and boost school attendance, enabling underprivileged girls to complete school cycles.
  • Hakimi Aliyu Secondary School Mokwa: The 2020 Global High School winner is impacting the agriculture and energy sectors through its two main student-led projects. These include a yearround production of different spices and fresh vegetables through sustainable agriculture, in addition to designing and constructing energy efficient cooking stoves that will simultaneously be used to replace fuel, wood and charcoal, and provide a means of cooking for the community. The project is benefitting 375 students, and 45 teachers along with 525 people from the surrounding community.
  • Al Amal Junior High School: The 2020 Global High School winner is generating water using clean energy. This is achieved through traditional water harvesting techniques that incorporate rainfall management as well as effective groundwater storage. In addition, the school dug two wells and installed solar panels to supply energy to pump the water from the wells to all the facilities in the school where the water was treated so it is safe to drink. 550 students have benefitted from the project interventions.
  • The African Leadership Academy: The 2019 Global High School winner located in South Africa developed ‘The Living Machine’ project; a device they designed that has treated 300K litres of greywater for use in greenhouses. Their proposal also included the use of solar power to cut electricity costs; savings that are being used to fund additional renewable energy projects, waste management and best agriculture practices, across the continent of Africa.
  • Aouda Saadia School: The 2018 Global High School winner based in Morocco developed an ecologic drive and green project encouraging use of renewables. The project focused on adding solar water heaters, photovoltaic panels, and LED light bulbs to reduce the use of energy in the school and provide hot showers to benefit 1,500 students.
  • Starehe Girls Centre & School: The 2017 Global High School winner won for its rooftop photovoltaic (PV) system that supplements the school’s electricity supply. The PV system reduces the school’s annual utilities bill by 20 percent, benefitting 750 students.
  • Waterford Kamhlaba: The 2015 Global High School winner designed projects to enable the school to become carbon neutral by 2025 by producing energy of its own. This includes installing a wind turbine to harvest energy, a bio-digester which produces methane gas to heat water in the school’s cafeteria, and the installation of a 26 KW solar PV to harvest power for use in the schools’ laboratories.
  • Nkhata Bay School Authority: The 2014 Global High School winner created a solar demonstration and the Zayed Solar Academy to promote the use of solar power, as well as train and educate the entire community on sustainable sources of power. 450 students and a total of 20,000 people have benefitted from the project.
  • Kirya Secondary School, Kileo Day Secondary School and Makomu Secondary School: In 2013 these three secondary schools won the Global High School category when they proposed to model three renewable energy options to raise awareness and reduce the school’s ecological footprints: wind power at Kirya, solar power at Kileo, and biogas Makomu. This project included environmental learning centres for outreach and co-production of knowledge with local farmers, fishers and herders, impacting 6,000 people in total.

Where are they now

We Care Solar, the US-based provider of efficient solar energy systems to health facilities in off-grid regions, is transforming maternal and neonatal outcomes in health facilities throughout Africa with its portable maternity and medical “Solar Suitcase”. The obstetric Solar Suitcase has made an impact on the health and safety outcomes of millions of women and children. Over 7,100 health facilities in more than 20 countries have been equipped with these solar suitcases that offer medical quality lighting, fetal monitors, solar panels to charge an LFP battery for mobile phones and small devices, mounting hardware, and headlamps with rechargeable batteries. Their programs have also empowered more than 30,000 health workers and improved their capacity to manage deliveries. As the 2019 winner in the Health category, We Care Solar is using solar and sustainable energy technologies to provide safe, reliable, and affordable solutions to the global challenge of maternal and new-born mortality.

Sanku has built a model that incentivises small-scale flour millers to fortify their flour with micronutrients. Sanku provides fortification technology to these millers, enabling them to fortify flour, helping to improve the health of consumers and boosting sales for the millers. They are currently working with over 650 millers and aim to reach 3,000 within the next few years, while they have reached a total of 3 million people through their solution to-date. Most of their operations are in Tanzania, but they do have partner projects in Kenya, Rwanda and Malawi. Sanku is the 2019 winner of the Zayed Sustainability Prize in the Food category.

Call for submissions

The 2023 edition is now open to innovators across Africa, spanning small to medium enterprises (SMEs), non-profit organisations, and high schools, with sustainable solutions in the categories of Health, Food, Energy, Water and Global High Schools.

Apply today by visiting – deadline 6 July 2022. SME’s and non-profits must enter an existing sustainability solution in one of the Health, Food, Energy, or Water categories.

The Global High Schools category invites student-led projects or proposals, based on one or more of the four aforementioned sustainability sectors.