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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

Andrew Almack

Andrew Almack

Initiative: Plastics for Change

Country of impact: India

A social enterprise that leverages mobile technology to create dignified income opportunities for waste pickers while helping brands meet their extended producer responsibility.

It was while backpacking through South Asia in 2011 that Andrew found inspiration for setting up his business, Plastics For Change. “The place had severe poverty and audacious levels of plastic pollution,” he says. He found it hard to believe that people couldn’t make a living by collecting all of the discarded plastics. He set out to prove the point. 

Fast forward four years and he has created an ethical sourcing platform to help the 1.5 million waste pickers in India get paid fairly for the plastic they collect. 

A transparent process to protect informal waste workers

Informal waste workers, responsible for 90 per cent of recycling that happens in developing countries, struggle to make ends meet. When and how they get paid remains unpredictable and they are at the mercy of price volatility in the recycled plastics markets. 

Andrew’s mobile app is currently being used by waste pickers and segregation centres in Bengaluru, India. This creates a more transparent and fair process for those handing over the plastic waste. “We stabilise the price of the plastic by hedging the raw material costs with brands,” he says. This helps to reduce price volatility by securing longer-term relationships with buyers who guarantee a minimum rate in advance. 

Improving the quality of recycled plastic through transparency 

Plastics For Change, which currently has a core team of seven staff, has created several breakthroughs for India’s recycling economy by improving the quality assurance process in the recycling supply chain. The transparency in the scrap plastic supply chain enables Andrew’s enterprise to implement a robust quality control process. This ensures a consistent supply of high-quality material for industry partners and the platform data helps brands comply with India’s extended producer responsibility legislation.


Waliullah BhuiyanWaliullah Bhuiyan

Initiative: Light of Hope Ltd 

Country of impact: Bangladesh

A business that can fit a solar panel-powered classroom into a backpack, bringing education to thousands of Bangladeshi children with no electricity.

Around 30,000 primary schools in remote areas of Bangladesh find it hard to deliver quality classes using interactive multimedia content. It is a problem the Bangladesh government is addressing by investing in 26,000 multimedia classrooms in schools. But it has struggled to help those which are off grid. 

Small enough to fit in a backpack

 “Children learn best when the learning content and method are interesting, engaging and fun,” says Waliullah. His business, Light of Hope, has developed a solar-powered classroom – complete with computing stick, projector, pop-up screen and internet connectivity – small enough to fit in a backpack.

Known as Sputnique, the whole package is run off a flexible, fold-up solar panel and it weighs just 6kg so can be transported just about anywhere. Plus, teachers can take ‘live’ classes from a central location to multiple locations using the low-bandwidth video-calling software developed for Sputnique. 

The idea came to Waliullah while he was working for an NGO in the wake of a massive cyclone that hit the coast of Bangladesh. In organising training sessions for farmers who had lost their crops and health awareness programmes, he was struggling to transport his bulky kit from place to place. Two years of R&D later and Sputnique was born. 

Better education for 75,000 children 

So far, the business – run by Waliullah, his three other co-founders and a team of 30 full-time employees – has helped provide better, more stimulating education to 75,000 children in Bangladesh.  

It is also working in partnership with organisations such as Save the Children, the Sesame Workshop, UNICEF and UNESCO to deliver interactive materials to people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to access them.


Diana ChaoDiana Chao

Initiative: Letters to Strangers

Country of impact: US

A business seeking to de-stigmatise mental illness and increase access to affordable treatment through the intimate and human power of anonymous letter writing.

When Diana was 13 years old, she found out she had bipolar disorder. Not long after, she attempted suicide. 

She’s not alone. In fact, 1 in 5 young people aged 13–18 have a mental health condition. And suicide is the second biggest cause of death among 15–34 year olds in the US; worldwide, the rate has jumped 60 per cent in the last 45 years. Yet 80 per cent of young people in the US suffering from severe depression receive little to no treatment.

To ease the pain, Diana turned to writing. She wrote letters to nobody in particular, getting her feelings out into the ether. She was still in sophomore year at high school when she started her non-profit business, Letters to Strangers, an initiative that took the writing that worked for her and showed others how it could also work for them.

An intimate and human approach 

During the last five years, it has evolved into a global youth-run organisation, supporting more than 30,000 people on five continents. At its heart is a letter-writing exchange programme, a simple, human and intimate way to encourage people to have a conversation that they might never have had, with somebody perhaps going through a similarly tough time. 

This is combined with education and workshop tours that use Diana’s own method for getting young people to talk about their issues. This includes teaching them how to tackle problems often forgotten, such as how to open up to parents about mental illness or self-diagnosis. 

Power in simplicity 

With clearly delineated starter kits, guidelines, graphics, scripts, FAQs and examples, Diana now hopes to scale up the business using a network of passionate people to facilitate discussions and share reflections. “The power of Letters to Strangers lies in the simplicity of our idea,” she says. “All that one needs to get started is a pen and piece of paper.”


Adepeju JaiyeobaAdepeju Jaiyeoba

Initiative: Mother’s Delivery Kit

Country of impact: Nigeria

A business aiming to give women in rural communities the life-saving supplies they need at childbirth. 

In 2011 Adepeju lost a close friend who died while giving birth. Her friend had money, was well educated and sought the best healthcare. Yet she died because of a lack of medical skills and knowledge among traditional ‘birth attendants’. In fact, 60 per cent of babies in Nigeria are delivered by people who have no skills, knowledge or education, mainly in rural areas.   

No more rusty blades and dirty floors 

At the age of 31, Adepeju founded Mother’s Delivery Kit to help support the 1 in 13 women in Nigeria who are at risk of dying during childbirth. 

Her company offers expectant mothers a bundle of supplies for the price of US$5 (4.25). Rather than have to use a rusty blade to cut the umbilical cord, they now have access to a scalpel blade. Midwives get a mucus extractor to prevent birth asphyxia. And no longer will a woman give birth on a dirty, bare floor; the packs come with a sterilised absorbent delivery mat. 

Empowering women as sales agents 

So far, the business has sold around 500,000 delivery kits in rural communities, helping more than 1 million mothers and babies. As well as Adepeju and her core team of seven based in Lagos, who include trained doctors and microbiologists, there is also a network of 179 women sales agents responsible for getting the kits to those who need them most. It is work that helps the women gain financial independence. 

Meanwhile, more than 4,000 birth attendants have received training to help keep mothers healthy and safe. 

Currently selling kits in six of Nigeria’s 36 states, Adepeju is now looking to reach out further into the country, to help the other 50 million women approaching childbearing age.


Samir Lakhani

Samir Lakhani

Initiative: Eco-Soap Bank

Countries of impact: Cambodia, Laos, Nepal, Rwanda, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Lebanon, Bangladesh and Fiji 

A non-profit collecting barely used bars of soap in hotel rooms, recycling them and turning them into new products for the poorest people in developing countries. 

It was during his time working on an aquaculture enterprise in Cambodia that Samir was inspired to start his organisation. Watching a mother bath her newborn son using laundry powder instead of soap is a vision that still haunts him today.  

“Many of the families told me they could not afford soap,” he says. When he returned to his hotel that evening, he noticed the housekeeper had replaced a bar of soap he had barely used. “I knew if we could begin saving hotel soap, we could start saving lives.” 

Cutting waste and boosting hygiene 

Today, his non-profit organisation, Eco-Soap Bank is working in ten countries, employing more than 150 women who collect leftover hotel soap, recycle it, sterilise it, and distribute it in their communities. It also employs a number of hygiene ambassadors who give education on handwashing and hygiene. 

In the last three years, more than 720,000 people were able to buy soap thanks to the company’s efforts. Last year, more than 1,900 schools were able to get soap at an affordable price too. 

The enterprise, headquartered in the US, has partnered with 960 hotels which donate the soap, enabling it to be resold at half the market rate. Of course, Samir, who has travelled extensively throughout the developing world, is helping the hotel industry to drastically reduce its soap waste too. Current partner hotels are reducing their waste by almost 90,000 pounds (around 40,000kg) a year. 

Empowering women 

Creating opportunities for women is at the heart of Samir’s business model. As well as jobs, the business also provides free literacy, numeracy and business classes, encouraging women to start their own Eco-Soap-selling businesses in remote villages. 


Mayank Midha

Mayank Midha

Initiative: GARV Toilets

Countries of impact: India, Bhutan, Ghana and Nigeria 

A business using smart technology to give low-income families in rural areas access to clean and well-maintained toilets. 

Not being able to access clean and functional toilets in many parts of the developing world is a big problem that affects 2.4 billion people. Poor maintenance, vandalism and improper waste disposal deter people from using toilets that do exist, with open defecation increasing the chances of diarrhoeal diseases, particularly among children. 

Real-time usage data makes maintenance smart 

This is why Mayank Midha, along with his wife, founded GARV Toilets. The business manufactures indestructible stainless steel toilets, powered by solar panels and equipped with bio-digester tanks so they can be positioned where there is no wastewater infrastructure. 

Ingeniously, the toilets can be maintained thanks to automation. By tracking their usage in real-time, knowing when to clean them or fix broken taps becomes much easier. The business can offer hygiene-related data too, such as how many people washed their hands after using the toilets. This information can be used to inform health education campaigns.  

5 million urban households in India have no access to toilets 

Mayank and his core team of big data experts have already installed 422 toilets across India, Bhutan, Ghana and Nigeria. In this financial year, he expects this number to rise to 900. 

In India, his innovation could help the 5 million households living in urban slum areas without access to toilets. There are 300,000 government-aided schools that need them too. In Ghana, 75 per cent of people rely on public toilet infrastructure, which is mostly defunct.  

“Nobody has ever tried to maintain toilets in this way, using smart technology which can also be integrated into traditional and existing toilets,” says Mayank.


Priya Prakash

Priya Prakash

Initiative: HealthSetGo

Country of impact: India 

A business building India’s largest network of sustainable health-promoting schools with the vision to empower children to adopt healthy habits at a young age. 

Priya Prakash was bullied at school for the way she looked. She had been overweight since she was a baby and, like many kids in India, grew up eating too many sweets and not doing enough exercise. 

Being called names at school affected her self-esteem and her ability to study. “I would eat, starve myself, then binge-eat again. I fell into a cycle that never seemed to end,” she says.  

Fast forward a few years and at the age of 26, Priya is healthy and confident. In fact, she’s a state-level weight-lifting champion.  

Her journey inspired her to launch a business to help empower young people so they don’t go through what she did. 

On a mission to prevent child obesity 

With 14.4 million Indian children obese, thousands of them with type 2 diabetes, Priya is on a mission to help kids across the country. Her business HealthSetGo, which now employs 25 staff, offers schools a structured health benchmark programme.  

First, it educates children on being healthy and offers guidance on good nutrition and mental health, as part of an activity-based school curriculum. Secondly, it monitors and records their health, giving parents and local health officers the digitised health data that enables them to better understand what changes are required to prevent the onset of problems. 

‘It’s about lifestyle, not genetics’ 

So far, Priya’s programme is being used in schools across 77 Indian cities, helping more than 200,000 students and their parents in around 200 schools. More than 300 doctors and 200 teachers have been trained to use the programme too. 

Non-communicable diseases are the No.1 cause of mortality in the world today, with India ranked at the top. “That’s about lifestyle, not genetics,” says Priya. “Prevention is achievable and it starts with the kids.” 


Abi Ramanan

Abi Ramanan

Initiative: ImpactVision

Country of impact: US 

A business that uses advanced imaging technology to assess food quality in supply chains, reducing waste and boosting yields. 

A third of the food produced by farmers all over the world is wasted. 

A lot of this waste occurs in product quality control centres where samples of food are taken by breaking apart meat, fruit and vegetables. Food that doesn’t pass quality control is either discarded or sold at a lower price. 

Making the food system digital 

After winning a scholarship to Singularity University, California in 2015, Abi started looking at the potential of sensors, data and software to make food supply chains more digital and efficient. Shortly after, she set up ImpactVision along with her co-founder Gustav Nipe. 

The company’s imaging technology can show the quality of foods, such as the freshness of fish, the ripeness of avocados or the presence of foreign objects. It is non-invasive, meaning no food is wasted in the testing process, and it is quick. 

Cutting waste, improving returns 

One of the biggest food retailers in the US has used the software to better understand the shelf-life of its beef, cutting waste by 25%.  

Similarly, the technology can help customers sort avocados based on similar ripeness levels, enabling them to command a 30% price premium for delivering consistent products. 

The technology can also detect non-magnetic contaminants, such as plastic and paper that might have found its way into foods. This means that food won’t have to be taken off supermarket shelves and thrown away, something that costs the US food industry US$5 billion a year. 

Next up, Abi will launch a smartphone app for assessing fish freshness. And in two years’ time, she hopes to make her API available for third-party developers to build their own solutions using ImpactVision’s data.