Building Africa into a sustainability hub

BBOXX, a 2019 Prize winner, has deployed its plug-and-play solar device across several African nations.

BBOXX, a 2019 Prize winner, has deployed its plug-and-play solar device across several African nations.

Press Office: Zayed Sustainability Prize

How the Zayed Sustainability Prize is Catalysing Sustainable Development Across the Continent in the Face of Rapid Climate Change

The world is faced with a climate change challenge due to rapidly rising greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. These gases absorb heat from the sun, causing global warming. The effects of global warming can be seen in many ways, such as rising sea levels, increasing temperatures, and more frequent natural disasters.

Business leader, climate and equalities campaigner Paul Polman believes that “the biggest risk to African growth is climate change.” Many will agree with him because of Africa’s dependency on climate-sensitive sectors like agriculture, energy, and forestry. Farmers depend largely on rainfall, and the various crops produced are sensitive to hot temperatures. Maize and wheat in particular suffer from low crop yield when exposed to high temperatures.

Millions of livelihoods are affected negatively by climate change. In a time of growing food demand, Africa is fighting arable land loss and is on the verge of facing a lack of food supplies. UNDRR reports that extreme weather events have killed at least 4,000 people and further affected 19 million lives since 2022 in Africa.

At the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27), UN Secretary-General António Guterres reminded the world of the urgent need for all countries to work towards mitigating climate change.

He said, “We can and must win this battle for our lives.” UNICEF echoed the risk of climate change in its report on humanitarian appeal and exposed the inequality in the impact of climate change: “These crises will not affect everyone equally,” the report said. Children will suffer more than adults, and populations in the poorest communities will bear the biggest burden.

It is in this same spirit of collaboration that the UAE is preparing to host COP28 later this year, with the aim of bringing together countries from around the world to work towards an inclusive sustainable future.

It is this principle that has guided initiatives such as the Zayed Sustainability Prize, which has, over the past 15 years, provided support to nonprofit organisations (NPO), small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), and high schools creating sustainable solutions to the myriad of challenges facing the world today. Since the inception of the Zayed Sustainability Prize, over 378 million people have been impacted globally – particularly those in developing countries – through the implementation of sustainable solutions across five distinct categories: Health, Food, Energy, Water, and Global High Schools. African-based innovators and changemakers have a great track record with the Prize, with many quality entries and winners already recognised.

African Winners of the Zayed Sustainability Prize

On the shores of the Gold Coast in West Africa, an SME called the Okuafo Foundation won the Prize in 2020 for a smartphone app that uses artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and data analytics to predict and detect crop diseases and infestations with a 93.3% accuracy. 30,000 farmers in Ghana, Nigeria, Togo and Burkina Faso are currently benefiting from the app which has increased their agri-productivity and harvest revenues by 50%.

The African Leadership Academy in South Africa won the Prize in 2019 and developed the “Living Machine”, a wastewater treatment system that converts greywater to clean water. The machine treats 300,000 litres of greywater a year, providing water for crops and the campus’ sprinkler system. The project is expected to positively impact 5,000 people over the next 10 years, enabling community members to grow crops and gain improved access to quality food.

Sanku, a Tanzania-based NPO that won the Prize in 2019, has built a model that incentivises small-scale flour millers to fortify their flour with micronutrients. Through the installation of over 150 fortification machines in flour mills throughout five East African countries, 4.5 million people now have access to a safer and healthier food. As they pursue their goal of ending malnutrition in Africa, Sanku plans to scale up and reach 100 million people by 2030.

In Kenya, the Starehe Girls’ Centre and School won the Prize in 2017 for a project aimed at reducing the school’s high annual electricity bill of US$35,000 by 20%. Starehe is a charitable institution dependent upon donor support to offer full high school sponsorships to bright but financially underprivileged girls from across Kenya. They are using the money saved from the implemented energy efficiency measures to support at least 10 girls per year attain a high school education.

2015 Global High Schools winner Waterford Kamhlaba United World College of Southern Africa in Mbabane, Swaziland, used the Prize fund to become carbon neutral. They installed an 800-watt wind turbine, a 22-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system, a biogas digester to supply cooking gas for the school cafeteria, new solar thermal geysers for water heating, and energy monitoring hardware to measure, monitor and manage the school’s electricity consumption.

Another winner from Kenya, M-KOPA Solar, which won the Prize in 2015, has emerged as the industry leader in “pay-as-you-go” energy services for consumers who live off the grid. The SME was founded on the conviction that mobile technology could answer a critical market need and generate a leapfrog opportunity in the energy sector. US$50 billion are spent annually on fuel alternatives by one billion off-grid residences in Africa and South Asia. Since its launch in October 2012, M-KOPA Solar has installed solar energy systems in more than 100,000 houses in East Africa, and it continues to add over 10,000 new ones each month.

Africans as Beneficiaries of the Zayed Sustainability Prize

A number of international organisations that have won the Zayed Sustainability Prize are directly impacting African livelihoods through their innovative solutions.

For example, BBOXX, a 2019 Prize winner, has deployed its plug-and-play solar device across several African nations, providing its clients with an on-grid experience in an off-grid environment. The BBOXX concept has already made clean, cheap electricity available to over 675,000 underserved people in developing countries, including Africa. To date, BBOXX has positively impacted 3.5 million lives and helped make progress on a host of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Another 2019 Prize winner, We Care Solar, has deployed more than 7,600 solar suitcases to rural health centres in 27 African nations, serving more than 12 million mothers and newborns. The Solar Suitcase is a robust, waterproof and easy-to-use solar electric system that provides ‘last-mile’ health facilities with highly efficient medical grade (bright) lighting and power for mobile communication and small medical devices. To improve maternal newborn care across the continent, We Care Solar launched its 2017 “Light Every Birth” campaign with the cooperation of 45 organisations, such as UNICEF and WHO, as well as ministries.

Sunna Design, a 2018 winner and France-based SME that designs and produces smart solar street lighting particularly adapted for rural areas in developing countries, has executed a number of high-impact projects in Cameroon and Gabon in West Africa, including installing autonomous solar streetlights in two villages and the Gado refugee camp, which is home to 25,000 people. They are also installing 50,000 of its solar streetlights in several thousand non-electrified rural villages in Tongo.

The legacy of the UAE’s Founding Father, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, continues to serve as a guide and inspiration for businesspeople and social change agents working to save and preserve lives and the environment throughout the world. In our quest to build Africa into the world’s sustainability hub, may we take inspiration from Sheikh Zayed’s vision and the words of Nelson Mandela: “Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great, you can be that generation.”

Call for submissions!

The Zayed Sustainability Prize is now accepting submissions from SMEs, NPOs and high schools across Africa with sustainable solutions that meet the criteria of impact, innovation, and inspiration. We highly encourage you to apply to the US$3 million Prize with each organisational winner in the Health, Food, Energy, and Water categories eligible to receive US$600,000 to expand the scope and scale of their sustainability solution, while the Global High Schools category has six winners, representing six world regions, with each winner receiving up to US$100,000.

Apply today by visiting The deadline is 23 May 2023. Organisations must enter an existing sustainability solution with demonstrable local or global impact. The Global High Schools category invites student-led projects or proposals based on one or more of the four sustainability sectors.