By Gavin Gibbon
Expo 2020 Dubai may be a year away, but Yousuf Caires, senior vice president, Expo Live, explains how the global innovation and partnership programme is making a huge difference already by funding social entrepreneurs all over the world
Yousuf Caires describes it as “the most inspiring and human and real aspect of Expo 2020 Dubai”. He may be biased when it comes to talking about Expo Live, as he is, after all, senior vice president of the global innovation and partnership programme.
However, after taking a deep dive into the initiative, there is no denying the benefits it has made already, the impact it hopes to make during Expo 2020 next year, and the effects it will have in the many years ahead after the event ends.
Expo Live was a promise that Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum made when the emirate was bidding for Expo 2020 and he has dedicated a $100m fund to support projects with innovative, creative solutions to pressing challenges around the world – helping to improve people’s lives, preserve the planet, or both.
Three-and-a-half years since it was launched, the team has received around 11,000 applications from about 184 nations. And they have funded 120 innovators from 65 different countries, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Bahrain, as well as further afield in Grenada in the Caribbean, Brazil, Chile, China and Russia.
Expo Live projects look for solutions across 14 different sectors, including agriculture, education, environment, employment, energy and healthcare.
Some 70 Expo Live global innovators – out of the programme’s 120 grantees to date – align their efforts with 16 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals; while 31 percent of all grantees are also led by female entrepreneurs.
Caires tells Arabian Business: “Apart from numbers, I know numbers are cool, but it’s the human story. These are entrepreneurs who have a very strong mission to what they do. They’re impact organisations, they’re solving a problem in their community, in their environment.
“We’ve focused on them because of that element. They’re not just putting apps together because they can, because they know how to code. It’s maybe doing an app that solves a particular problem. And these are problems that are very relevant to our Expo: opportunity, mobility and sustainability. Anything that connects people to achieve a greater purpose.”
Applications for the fifth cycle of funding closed in September and the Expo Live team is currently sifting its way through 4,000 requests for assistance, with the final beneficiaries due to be notified in February next year.
“For an entrepreneur in Ecuador who can’t get funding anywhere, this is huge,” says Caires.
To qualify for the grant the initial applications are narrowed down to a group of around 40 or 50. The social entrepreneurs are then flown to Dubai where they learn about Expo and are given a 15-minute slot to pitch their proposal in front of an evaluation panel – made up of representatives from Expo 2020 Dubai’s partners, including DP World, Emirates Airline, Accenture and Siemens. Caires reveals there is an 85 percent acceptance rate for those who are invited over to Dubai.
“We wanted to focus on impact organisations, so a big part of the criteria was, before they told us about their financials and how promising the market is, we wanted to know what problem they were trying to solve? Why they care about that? Why they’re interested in that issue? What would make me feel confident that you could solve this problem or contribute to that?” he says.
“We also then had criteria around what the product or service is. It needs to relate to Expo and its sub-themes: opportunity, mobility and sustainability. We also didn’t want ideas, we wanted prototypes and beyond.”
Among the successful applicants is Holland-based Land Life Company, founded in 2013 with the goal of restoring the world’s two billion hectares of degraded land through its suite of technology options. It has developed Cocoon – a low-cost, water efficient, biodegradable planting technology that enables the sustainable and scalable planting of trees in arid soils.
Or Desert Control, a Norwegian company with operations in Dubai whose patented “pure” liquid nano clay transforms dry, sandy soil into lucrative arable land – reducing water irrigation needs by more than 50 percent, while also increasing yields.
And UAE-based Yalla Give, the first licensed online charity fundraising platform in the Middle East. The platform offers personal crowdfunding and online fundraising for its members in many countries, including the UAE and UK.
Yalla Give, CEO and founder Abdulla Al Nuaimi, tells Arabian Business: “Expo Live is supporting us on the marketing side, to hire a marketing team, to upscale our marketing performance in the market in the UAE in particular; and also supporting us to complete our innovation and technology. Through Expo Live’s grant we will be developing our smart application which will be available on IoS and android devices.
“It’s really very vital. Let’s call it, like a life or death situation, because before the grant we didn’t really have enough income to sustain the business, but now the grant is helping us to grow.”
Successful applicants will showcase their initiatives at Expo 2020 Dubai over the course of its six-month staging.
Expo Live also includes a University Innovation Programme, where 46 teams of students, from across the UAE, were granted up to AED50,000 ($13,614) each – alongside exposure, mentorship and guidance – to help develop creative solutions to pressing challenges.
With the idea of a legacy almost as important as the event itself, Expo Live is arguably one of the best placed aspects to ensure the effects of Expo 2020 Dubai continue to be felt way into the future.
Caires says: “What we do is we give that extra horse power to people who want to make a difference and we can’t stop that. That’s just too important for us to stop.”For all the latest Technology news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.