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Announcing the Young Changemakers Cohort of the Duke-UNICEF Innovation Accelerator

Photos of the social entrepreneurs selected for the Young Changemakers cohort of the Duke-UNICEF Innovation Accelerator, surrounding the program's logo.

Duke and UNICEF—who partnered in May 2019 to form the Duke-UNICEF Innovation Accelerator—have announced the Accelerator’s third cohort of six social enterprises.

Building on UNICEF’s 70-year history of innovating for children and Duke’s track record of success in entrepreneurial education, the Innovation Accelerator aims to support social enterprises tackling the most pressing challenges facing children and youth around the world.

The new cohort of social enterprises will join the Innovation Accelerator to develop and scale innovations that are addressing SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation for all) in East Asia and the Pacific and beyond. The innovators’ solutions—which range from clean water filtration systems, to youth-led sanitation projects, to an innovative place-based toilet—all aim to provide local solutions to challenges in water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) with a focus on youth engagement and youth leadership.

Why WASH?

Water, sanitation, and health are at the core of sustainable development, and the range of services they provide underpin poverty reduction, economic growth, and environmental sustainability. However, in recent decades overexploitation, pollution, and climate change have led to severe water stress in locales around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose additional obstacles, impairing access for billions of people to safely managed drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene services—services desperately needed to prevent the virus from spreading. Urgent action is needed to overcome this global WASH crisis, as it affects all countries around the world socially, economically, and environmentally.

Abundant Water staff conduct a filter demonstration for teachers and students

“South Asia and the Pacific continue to face pressing challenges surrounding WASH, especially in relation to limited WASH infrastructure and education, both of which are pivotal in leading to the necessary sustained behavioral change at the community level,” said Emily Glazebrook, Program Supervisor for Abundant Water, one of the enterprises selected for the cohort. “Endemic water-borne diseases continue to contribute to the region’s health burdens, and in rural and remote areas these challenges are manifold, impacting all stages and areas of life.”

Meet the Innovators

After a rigorous application process, six social enterprises were selected to receive Accelerator support to increase their impact in East Asia and the Pacific.

  • Abundant Water: Produces low-cost ceramic water filters for homes, schools, and health clinics and empowers local entrepreneurs to run micro-businesses to promote safe water and reach the hardest and most resource-poor areas of the Asia-Pacific. The reduction in firewood usage for water boiling generates carbon credits, helping to keep filter prices low.                     
  • Ira Concept Co: Designs and produces organic biodegradable sanitary pads, having established a strong customer base through a subscription-based model in Thailand. They advocate for menstrual products to be freely available in offices and schools, donate a portion of products, and are starting to work on programs to raise awareness and reduce period stigma through programs in schools.
  • Learn to Serve Vanuatu: Tackles access to clean water and climate adaptation through youth-led resiliency projects in Vanuatu. They build ownership and sustainability through establishing and supporting local water management committees that, beyond collecting fees/revenue to sustain the water system, establish/incorporate local savings and loan mechanisms.
  • Masy Consultants: Equip teachers with the tools and resources they need to educate Filipino youth on critical water, sanitation, and hygiene issues, improving student health outcomes and creating life-long behavior change.
  • Myanmar Kitchen: Runs small water drinking plants in the poorest areas of Yangon, improving health outcomes for the local community. Each plant is run as a small business, providing water at significant savings to consumers while covering the ongoing operation and maintenance costs. Water is then sold at less than 10% of the cost of existing bottled water, creating huge savings for Yangon’s most vulnerable families.
  • Te Maeu Projects: In Kiribati, where space is limited and households typically have to share a toilet block, Te Maeu developed the Island Compact Toilet, with integrated shower and handwashing. Following prototypes they are working on generating sales and scaling up production.

Their Passion Is Personal

As with most entrepreneurs, members of the third cohort have been greatly influenced by their personal challenges and experiences.

Varangtip Satchatippavarn, Founder and CEO for Ira Concepts, described how her struggles shaped her entrepreneurial journey. “I am solving problems that I have experienced firsthand—period poverty whilst at school and at work, allergies from conventional pads, reproductive health issues, and a lack of menstrual hygiene education during my youth. Nobody should have to experience these issues, wherever or whoever they are. Everyone has the right to menstrual hygiene management and education.”

Members of local organization Luuk Rieng visit a remote house to donate menstrual pads donated by Ira Concepts to young Muslim teenagers in Thailand’s Yala province

Thomas Philip Da Jose, Managing Director & Co-Founder for Masy Consultants, described the influence of his parents’ emphasis on paying it forward, known in the Philippines as “the Bayanihan Spirit.” He explained, “This has fueled my humanitarian journey to use my education to create meaningful and tangible change, especially for poor communities that account for a significant number of illnesses and deaths attributed to waterborne diseases. I have seen firsthand the suffering brought about by water poverty, with 14 Filipinos dying every single day for the past 10 years due to a lack of innovative WASH interventions. For this reason, I have committed my life to shape a world where everyone has access to clean water and sanitation and can live in health, dignity, and prosperity.”

At a Masy Consultants educator training session

Tailored Support From Duke and UNICEF

Through the Innovation Accelerator’s two-year program, the entrepreneurs will have access to a multitude of resources, including UNICEF subject matter experts, mentorship opportunities, Duke University faculty and students, monthly capacity building webinars, and a week-long residency at Duke’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative.

Many of them also look forward to working in a community of like-minded social entrepreneurs. “We would like to learn from other social entrepreneurs to better understand and adjust our current solutions,” Satchatippavarn said. “We hope to find ways in which we can better serve and meet the needs of our customers.”

To learn more about the Duke-UNICEF Innovation Accelerator, visit www.dukeunicef.org

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