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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

Emmanuel ChapChapEmmanuel Emodek

Initiative: ChapChap

Country of impact: Uganda

The smartphone-powered platform that’s helping small businesses stay afloat

Half of all small and medium businesses in Africa fail because of poor book-keeping, a lack of inventory management, and bad business practices.

With SMEs accounting for 90% of the continent’s businesses, and contributing to 80% of Africa’s employment, it’s a big problem. But Emmanuel Ebodek and the team behind ChapChap are aiming to help fix it.

“As an aspiring young entrepreneur, I launched and ran three businesses which all failed due to cash-flow problems and a lack of visibility about our performance,” Emmanuel explains.

“It was only when my brother joined me as a book-keeper that I realised the importance of proper records to track how we were doing. When commerce means food and shelter for our family, it’s vital we get these things right.”

Bringing small businesses into the digital age

ChapChap is a digital platform that helps small businesses balance the books and keep track of transactions all from their very own smartphone.

Business owners can use ChapChap to track their inventory, evaluate sales performance, and ultimately optimise their profits.

Better still, having reliable, digital business records opens the door to financial inclusion. That’s a lifeline for many businesses, giving them access for the first time to affordable credit. 

So far, ChapChap has helped more than 5,000 businesses in Uganda to improve their performance management and increase their revenues. The company now aims to extend its reach beyond Uganda into Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Nigeria.

Prince ColibaPrince Kwame Agbata

Initiative: Coliba

Country of Impact: Ghana

How tragedy inspired one young entrepreneur to tackle Ghana’s plastic waste crisis 

When heavy rain hit Accra in June 2015, the Ghanaian capital’s infrastructure couldn’t cope. Drainage systems choked with waste collapsed, causing devastating floods which claimed more than 150 lives.

One of the victims was Coliba founder Prince Kwame Agbata’s best friend.

“The realisation that poor waste management was to blame for my friend’s death was almost too hard to bear,” Prince recalls.

“I spent months trying to find meaning in my life and I decided that I had to address the plastic waste problem using technology. As a software engineer it felt like the only skill I had.”

Turning waste into a living wage

Ghana generates more than 1.7 million tonnes of plastic waste every year, but due to a lack of infrastructure, just 2% is currently recycled.

Recognising that in Accra waste collection is often done by marginalised women for unpredictable pay, Prince devised Coliba – a mobile platform that formalises waste-pickers’ work and promotes plastic recycling.

Through the mobile platform, collectors can find out when and where to collect plastic waste, which Coliba then recycles and sells on. 

Increasing recycling and improving lives

Everyone benefits. Households can arrange for their waste to be collected easily and efficiently. Waste-pickers are paid a fair living wage. Coliba earns money from selling recycled plastic pellets. And manufacturers get access to recycled materials, which would otherwise be difficult to source.

Abdul GenecisAbdul Khogali

Initiative: Genecis Bioindustries

Country of Impact: Canada

Could reprogrammed bacteria be the answer to tackling food waste and plastic pollution? 

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, around 30% of all food produced is wasted. Worse still, the decomposition of this food contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. 

Meanwhile the Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that if we don’t take serious action, the amount of plastic in our oceans will outweigh the fish by 2050.

Could bacteria be the answer? The scientists at Genecis believe it has enormous potential.

Bioplastics that biodegrade fast

Using a blend of synthetic biology and advanced engineering, Genecis teams developed a way to reprogramme bacteria.

They’ve come up with a process that uses bacteria to cleverly convert organic material – in this case food waste – into high-quality, environmentally friendly bioplastics.

In very simple terms it means scraps of food can be completely transformed into plant-based plastic containers for packaging all sorts of products.

“By utilising food waste, we increase diversion rates from landfill and prevent methane emissions, which are 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide,” says Genecis Chief Operating Officer Abdul Khogali.

“The polymer we produce is created in a cost-effective way, competitively priced compared with other bioplastics. It can also be recycled or composted, and it naturally biodegrades into non-toxic components in both terrestrial and aquatic environments in very short timeframes.”

In landfill it takes a year for Genecis-made bioplastic to degrade. In the ocean, it’s gone in eight months. And in an industrial compost facility, the bioplastic is gone in as little as eight weeks.

Francis Kaaro HealthFrancis Xavier Asiimwe

Initiative: Kaaro Health

Country of impact: Uganda

The solar-powered clinics connecting doctors with remote rural communities 

Uganda suffers from a desperate lack of medical professionals. With fewer than 0.01 doctors per 1,000 people, the World Health Organization estimates that physician shortages in the country lead to more than 120,000 deaths every year.

But Francis Xavier Aslimwe and the team behind Kaaro Health believe they have a solution which could bring affordable, accessible healthcare to millions.

Kaaro Health provides Uganda’s rural communities with remote access to doctors – specialists that small, local medical centres would otherwise be unable to reach.

Through a network of solar-powered container clinics, which are connected to a medical consultation system, staff can deliver potentially life-saving diagnoses and prescriptions to patients, and nurses on the front line can receive training and education.

Bringing healthcare within reach for rural communities

Since the business was established in 2016, Kaaro Health has set up 71 solar-powered mobile clinics and so far these have reached patients in 28,000 rural villages. The priority has been getting to communities which lack a health facility within a 10km radius.

The clinics serve at least 750 patients a day, and have handled more than 110,000 patient visits in the past three years.

Of these patients, 16,000 were pregnant women living with HIV. In the majority of those cases, Kaaro Health’s intervention was able to prevent transmission to infants, or enable the diagnosis and early treatment of newborns. 

“Knowing that our work actually saves lives and shields families from health-related expenditure which would plunge them further into poverty is what I find most fulfilling and inspiring,” says Francis.

Sebastian Me SOLshareSebastian Groh

Initiative: Me SOLshare

Countries of Impact: Bangladesh and India

An organisation connecting households and mirco-businesses in Bangladesh through solar home systems, allowing off-grid rural communities to use and trade energy

Peer-to-peer solar technology that’s bringing income and electricity to isolated communities in Bangladesh and India

Inspired by the idea of combining renewable energy with the chance for remote rural communities to earn money from the sun, Dr Sebastian Groh came up with SOLshare – a business that now benefits more than 3,000 people.

SOLshare’s unique technology connects households and micro-businesses through solar home systems, creating a peer-to-peer network that allows off-grid rural communities to use and trade energy.

So far, Sebastian and his team have installed 25 solar peer-to-peer micro-grids, known as SOLgrids in Bangladesh, and two pilot grids are now also in place in Assam, India.

It means that rather than relying on polluting fuels such as kerosene and diesel for heat and light, thousands of people can now access safe, clean, reliable solar power and, in turn, electricity.

At the same time, they can earn an income from the solar energy they harness. Users are empowered to be solar power producers or consumers, or both.

Innovation and economic empowerment

“Access to electricity is critical for a remote village, but it is the flexibility and profitability of energy use that provide the key ingredient for innovation and for the change that will lead to sustainable development,” says Sebastian.

“Our technology has helped improve livelihoods by increasing economic returns, building community resilience and creating alternative income-generating activities, all while reducing global carbon emissions.”

SOLshare’s next step is to scale up its reach within Bangladesh, India and further afield – ultimately bringing affordable energy and a stable income to millions. 

Sonal ProtsahanSonal Kapoor

Initiative: Protsahan India Foundation

Country of impact: India

A non-profit supporting girls who have been victims of violence and abuse to break the cycle and get back into school.

How a moment of compassion created a lifeline for some of India’s most vulnerable girls

Sonal Kapoor used to work in communications and advertising. Until one day in 2010, a chance encounter on a film shoot in the slums of New Delhi changed her life completely.

“I happened to meet a young woman who had six daughters and was heavily pregnant with her seventh child,” Sonal recalls.

“She told me, in a matter-of-fact way, that she regularly sent her eight-year-old to work at a brothel. She believed it was the only way she could make enough money to feed her family.”

Shocked, Sonal vowed to make a difference. Within an hour, her idea to help save the girl and thousands like her was taking shape. Within three weeks, after a small feasibility study in the area, her enterprise was up and running.

Encouragement and empowerment

Sonal used her experience in film-making, art and photography to open a one-room creative arts and design school in the Uttam Nagar slums. Named Protsahan – a Hindi word for encouragement – the facility provides girls at risk of abuse, neglect and forced marriage with a path back into mainstream education.

Nine years on, 828 girls have been rescued from a cycle of violence and abuse and supported in getting back to school.

Sonal has grown her team to launch a schools partnership programme too, working with teachers to reach more than 28,000 adolescent girls every year.

They deliver Protsahan’s programme, which offers counselling, personal safety education, training in film-making, performing arts and photography and, through art and technology, raises awareness about preventing sexual violence.

Families are also provided with counselling and assistance to report sexual abuse following guidelines from India’s Ministry of Women and Child Development. Sonal’s vision is to holistically transform 1 million childhoods by 2030.

Nidhi Science for SocietyNidhi Pant

Initiative: Science for Society

Country of impact: India

An Indian organisation which has developed a solar conduction dryer to dehydrate food - reducing post-harvest losses and improving nutrition

The solar-powered device helping India’s most vulnerable farmers make more from their land

India loses 60 million tonnes of agricultural produce due to post-harvest losses every year.

Born in Uttarakhand to a family of farmers, Nidhi Pant experienced the difficulties of making a living from the land at a young age.

Faced with unpredictable weather and unstable land, food was scarce for her family. Pressure to provide was immense, and tragically one of Nidhi’s relatives took their own life, unable to cope with the constant struggle.

Nidhi enrolled to study engineering, determined to find a way to create technology that would help improve conditions for farmers – reducing waste and preventing malnutrition. Science for Society (S4S) is the brilliant result.

A solar-powered solution to post-harvest waste

The company has developed a solar conduction dryer that allows farmers to dehydrate food produce such as fruit, spices, vegetables, fish or meat quickly and easily. It means the food they harvest can be stored for longer, minimising waste and providing nutrition for farming families and their customers.

Farmers – primarily women smallholders – using the device have already reported an increase in profit of more than 50% by selling dried goods. And not only does the dryer pay for itself within 100 days, each device can also save 50 tonnes of carbon dioxide in ten years, compared with electrical dryers.  

“We’re listening to the voices unheard and seeing opportunity where others see distress,” says Nidhi. “My mother taught me that we rise by lifting others. That’s what we want to do.”

S4S dryers are now available in 22 cities across India and are also being used by smallholder farmers in Kenya and Nepal.

Virtue OboroVirtue Oboro

Initiative: Tiny Hearts Technology

Country of impact: Nigeria

An organisation creating solar powered, lightweight phototherapy cots to treat babies with jaundice across rural Africa.

How her newborn son’s fight for life inspired one woman to save thousands of babies

When Virtue Oboro realised her two-day-old son was lethargic with a worrying yellow hue to his eyes and skin, she took him straight to the closest hospital.

There, Tonbra was diagnosed with severe jaundice. Neonatal jaundice can be treated painlessly, with babies spending time in phototherapy cots, bathed in a special type of light.

But due to a lack of available units, Virtue’s tiny baby had to wait. His condition deteriorated, and he needed an emergency blood transfusion. It was a difficult start but thankfully, four years on, Tonbra is a thriving little boy.

Virtue’s experience was the inspiration behind Tiny Hearts.

Making treatment affordable and accessible for millions

The World Health Organization estimates that 6 million babies worldwide do not receive treatment for neonatal jaundice, putting them at risk of hearing loss, cerebral palsy, blindness and even death.

Vowing that she would make access to phototherapy units more widely available, Virtue drew on her skills as a 3D product designer.

She came up with the Crib A’glow unit: a solar-powered, lightweight phototherapy cot that solves the problems of access, cost and unreliable electricity supply faced by many homes and medical facilities across rural Africa.

The compact units have provided phototherapy treatment for more than 1,800 babies in rural and suburban locations in Nigeria and Ghana since 2016. And Virtue has also launched the Yellow Alert programme to raise awareness of the signs of jaundice among new parents and health workers.

“Crib A’glow cots are available for sale or hire by hospitals, NGOs, government agencies and individuals, and we hope to scale up our reach significantly in the years ahead. We have no doubt the need is there,” Virtue says.