Ahead of Dubai Expo 2020, Expo Live is focusing on solutions that can change the world

Dubai Expo 2020 will run from October 2020 to April 2021, and attract over 25 million visits. Alongside, Expo Live, an innovation and partnership programme, aims to fund, accelerate, and promote creative solutions that improve lives while preserving our planet.

The first world expo was held at London’s Crystal Palace in 1851, and the expositions have since then become synonymous with global events that aim to find solutions to fundamental challenges facing humanity.

Dubai is all set to host Expo 2020, a platform that will bring together innovators, inventors, creative minds, and countries to address some of the pressing challenges the world is facing today. Based on the theme “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future”, the expo will run from October 20, 2020, to April 10, 2021.

On the uncertainty prevailing due to coronavirus, an Expo 2020 Dubai spokersperson said, “Alongside the government of the UAE, we are working hard to adapt to unfolding events surrounding the spread of COVID-19. The health and well-being of everyone involved in Expo 2020 and everyone living in and visiting the UAE is our top priority and will not be compromised. Like many governments around the world, the UAE authorities have taken a range of robust, precautionary measures to contain the spread of the virus.”

The spokesperson further said, “We will remain attentive and alert and will virtually reconvene the Expo 2020 Steering Committee in the coming weeks to reassess and adjust planned preparations, as changing circumstances require. We are confident that the collective strength and incredible resilience of the human spirit will enable us to navigate through these most difficult of times.”

Taking centre stage in the build-up to the exposition is Expo Live, an innovation and partnership programme launched by Expo 2020 Dubai to fund, accelerate, and promote creative solutions that improve lives while preserving our planet.

Expo Live, which has an allocation of $100 million, will deploy a combination of grants, challenge prizes and knowledge-sharing events focused on the universal drivers of progress: Opportunity, Mobility, and Sustainability.

Yousuf Caires, Senior Vice President, Expo Live, Expo 2020 Dubai, in an e-mail interaction with YourStory, explains how the organisation wants to use the convening power of the world expo to drive innovation, its key focus areas and goals, the India engagement, and how people can together work towards a more inclusive and prosperous future.

Edited excerpts of the interview:

YourStory: What has the experience of Expo Live while driving innovation over the last three-and-half years?

Yousuf Caires: For me and the Expo Live team, searching the world for innovators and changemakers, supporting them financially with grants of up to $100,000, and seeing the results of these efforts has been truly amazing and inspirational.

Our ambition has always been to prove that wherever you look in the world, you will find someone with a creative solution that helps to improve people’s lives, save the planet, or both. We've learned that innovation needs a robust ecosystem to support an entrepreneur’s transition from idea to scale.

Unfortunately, many places still need their ecosystems strengthened to include early-stage investors, mentors, incubators, and accelerators.

YS: What will be the key focus areas and goals of Expo Live in 2020?

YC: Since its inception in 2016, Expo Live has found, funded, and supported 120 global innovators from 65 countries. These innovators, whose solutions are having a measurable impact on people’s lives from around the world, cover 14 different sectors, including agriculture, education, environment, employment, energy, and healthcare.

With this in mind, one of our key goals is to continue supporting these innovators – helping each and every one scale up their unique solutions as they address some of the world’s most pressing challenges.

A key milestone for Expo Live is The Good Place, our newly announced pavilion at Expo 2020. Our physical home throughout the six months of Expo, the pavilion will serve to inspire millions of visitors to become change-makers by showcasing the work of our global innovators and giving more opportunities to join Expo Live as a global innovator.

YS: How is Expo Live engaging with the topic of sustainability this year?

YC: Approximately one-third of the 120 global innovators under Expo Live’s Innovation Impact Grant Programme are developing solutions that address various sustainability-related challenges around the world.

They include Russia-based CleaPI, which is developing a range of biodegradable products made from plant materials. The firm focuses on developing more environmentally-friendly versions of disposable single-use items such as straws, cups, films, and bags, where the potential to reduce plastic waste is greatest. It uses an enzymatic process that does not involve chemicals used to create plastic polymers, ensuring the products are non-toxic and even edible.

Another innovator is Desert Control, a Norwegian company with operations in Dubai whose patented ‘liquid nanoclay’ transforms dry, sandy soil into lucrative arable land – reducing water irrigation needs by more than 50 percent, while increasing yields.

YS: There have been two engagements with India for Expo Live with Kabadiwalla Connect and Coolcrops. How has the experience with Indian entrepreneurs been?

YC: We have received hundreds of applications from India-based startups to date. Four of these have been successful in their applications and have become global innovators: Kabadiwalla Connect, CoolCrop, Saathi, and Ayzh Health.

We have always known that the spirit of social entrepreneurship and innovation and tech sector are strong in India. That is why several of these organisations are leveraging digital technology to solve real challenges on the ground. It was very clear that they were strong candidates, when they came to live-pitch here in Dubai during the Expo Live application process.

YS: India is considered as a major centre of innovation. How will Expo Live strengthen this engagement?

YC: We have built strong linkages with innovation centres, incubators, accelerators, and local investor groups working to grow the social innovation and impact investing ecosystem in India.

During Expo 2020, we will leverage this global platform to tell the stories of our Indian global innovators and the booming ecosystem they come from.

YS: What was the experience while engaging with female entrepreneurs, considering that 31 percent of grantees were women?

YC: We always hoped for a balanced portfolio that includes equal representation from women-led businesses. The selection criteria are merit-based and do not work in favour of any particular gender or nationality.

We feel fortunate to have such strong women-led startups in our portfolio37 out of 120 global innovators to date – and see them as powerful forces in their communities. Most importantly, we see them as strong leaders in their respective fields, helping to inspire other female entrepreneurs to pursue their passions and make an impact.

Examples include Ghana-based Unique Quality Product Enterprise, which helps disenfranchised women farm fonio, a highly nutritious wild grain that grows in harsh environments. Co-founded by Chief Executive Officer Salma Abdulai, the group was formed with an idea to create sustainable livelihoods for women farmers, whose lands are degraded due to excessive use, and a management system where lands can be regenerated and used to grow other crops.

(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)


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