From India to the UK: the youth-led solutions (em)powering communities in need

Meet Akshay Makar, Riccardo Luca Conti and Joana Dabaj, as they share their stories of successes and challenges in their paths to bringing sustainable solutions to their communities.

Words

Kira Mullally and Amy Au, SDSN Youth

Today, one in four people is a young person aged between 15 to 29. With 1.8 million worldwide, there are more young people on earth than ever before. It’s not only the sheer number of youth; it’s their level of education and awareness of global challenges that makes them critical agents of change.”

And young people are already leading change. The Youth Solutions Reportseries, launched by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network — Youth (SDSN Youth), proves just that. Released during the High-level Political Forum, the second edition of the report features 50 youth-led solutions which are advancing the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for a more livable, sustainable future.

We have met with the Founders of CLIMATENZA and CatalyticAction, two of the winning solutions featured in the report. They have shared with us their inspiration and vision for the future as well as the challenges they had faced in their path to bring sustainable solutions to their communities.

CLIMATENZA: Capturing the power of the sun

CLIMATENZA is a solar thermal company that is innovating the design of parabolic troughs to lower cost and boost efficiency for communities lacking reliable energy sources. It’s founded by Akshay Makar, a young Indian innovator and entrepreneur, who aims to reduce global warming through sustainable energy generation and consumption. His vision? To provide 24/7 access to energy in Africa.

Akshay, what inspired you to come up with this solution?

Reading articles and watching documentaries about climate change was my first step in learning how humanity is being affected by global warming. Thousands of people die every year due to natural disasters, which are exacerbated by climate change.

Then I became more aware of what was happening at home. In Delhi itself, in the past two years especially, smog covers the city during the winter, leading to the death of hundreds of people. I wanted to solve this crisis, and clean energy is the best solution we have. Scaling these solutions can lead to a reduction in global carbon emissions.

What is the main issue you’re solving with CLIMATENZA?

Two of the biggest crises of the current century are: empowering and electrifying Africa; and cutting global greenhouse gas emissions. Implementing solar thermal technology will be able to tackle both of these issues simultaneously.

With solar thermal technology, we not only add to the renewable energy generation, but also reduce carbon emissions. In addition, scaling this project will create jobs thereby empower the people in the region.

What are the main impacts you’re expecting your project to have on the population?

Job creation through the project will boost local economic growth. Also, as we disrupt the whole energy supply chain, local energy sources will increase, in turn lighting up rural communities which currently lie under darkness.

What are the challenges you’ve had to overcome in order to build your project?

Various challenges came across our path, from fundraising to customer acquisition, and even internal arguments. However, I’ve been always been motivated to deliver CLIMATENZA’s core mission from day one.

What would you consider to be your greatest achievement?

Earlier this year, we were invited to Chile by the Government’s Production Development Corporation (CORFO). This was a major breakthrough for the company to go international and become part of an economy that is exponentially moving towards a sustainable and clean-energy path. Our inclusion in CORFO’s Start-Up Chile program was our greatest achievement to date. This ray of hope was enough for me to take us from zero to here.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs who are trying to start up their business?

You never lose in your journey — you win or you learn. Most people will discourage you to go down and join the crowd. But be the face of the crowd. Motivate yourself every day. You will face more NOs than YESes. You need to continue moving no matter what, and be not only a hard worker but a smart worker.

CatalyticAction: Providing warmth with wasted wool

CatalyticAction is a UK-based charity that tackles the lack of social and educational spaces within refugee communities in Lebanon. They make use of local resources such as waste sheep wool to provide sustainable and affordable building solutions that benefits both Syrian refugees and Lebanese residents. It’s founded by Riccardo Luca Conti and Joana Dabaj, who are both architects and urban designers from University College London (UCL).

What inspired you both to come up with this solution?

In 2016, CatalyticAction was in charge of the adaptive design and building of a school for Syrian refugee children in an Informal Tented Settlement in Al-Marj, Bekaa Valley of Lebanon.

The Bekaa is Lebanon’s most important farming region, characterised by its harsh weather conditions: cold, snowy winters and hot, dry summers.

One of the main challenges of designing the school was to provide thermal insulation to keep the school warm in winter and cool in summer. As we looked for readily available materials within the local community, we found that 72% of Lebanon’s sheep farms are located in Bekaa Valley, and that the wool is often wasted. Therefore, we chose to make use of this material for insulation, because sheep wool is completely natural and sustainable, and the production of which supports farmers and women in the process.

What is the main issue you’re trying to solve with this project?

Our main goal is to provide thermal and acoustic comfort in buildings, while ensuring the production process benefits the local environment and community.

What are the main impacts you’re expecting your project to have on the population?

Our project has positive impact firstly on the well-being of the people by providing a comfortable and decent environment, secondly on their livelihood by generating job opportunities through employing local community members and businesses, and thirdly on the empowerment of women who are important actors of this project.

What are the challenges you’ve had to overcome so far?

We’ve had two main challenges when scaling up our project. Firstly, insulation is a generally disregarded issue- it is not seen as a necessary need that can change people’s lives. Therefore, acquiring funding for our project has been difficult. Secondly, sheep wool is usually a waste material in Lebanon. Turning waste wool into a usable product is itself a challenge, because the facilities to clean and treat the wool are rare and difficult to find.

What would you consider to be your greatest achievement?

Our greatest achievement is that through changing a small element of a building we’ve been able to create a huge positive impact on the lives of the communities we work with.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs who are trying to start up their business?

We advise young entrepreneurs to believe that their ideas matter and to always work towards positive changes.


Curious for more? Discover 50 youth-led solutions in the Youth Solutions Report 2018: youthsolutions.report.

Kira Mullally is a Project Officer for SDSN Youth. She is currently a Master’s Candidate at the Graduate Institute Geneva, studying International Affairs with a focus on Environment and Sustainability.

Amy Au is a Project Officer for SDSN Youth. She is currently the Digital Communications Manager of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation based in Stockholm and Geneva. Twitter: @eimii_au

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