How a new generation of entrepreneurs is tackling the world’s biggest challenges head on could not be a better story to illustrate the current goings-on amongst all and above all the doers in this world of today. It is by the World Economic Forum. Here it is.
How a new generation of entrepreneurs is tackling the world’s biggest challenges head on
From the climate crisis to the destruction of natural ecosystems, the world faces an unprecedented set of interconnected challenges.
Innovative entrepreneurs are building businesses that protect and restore the planet and everything that lives on it.
UpLink is helping over 260 entrepreneurs find the resources, experts and funding they need to take their promising solutions to the next level.
The impact driven by innovative entrepreneurs
From drones that detect illegal fishing and robots that sort plastic waste, to sustainable solutions for the world’s forests and remote learning tools for students struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic – these are just some ways entrepreneurs are using their creative energy to tackle issues within their communities and beyond.
The World Economic Forum created UpLink, an open innovation platform launched in partnership with Salesforce and Deloitte, to unlock an entrepreneur revolution and support positive systemic change for people and planet. Its mission is to create the necessary bridges to the expert help that entrepreneurs need to take their innovations to the next level.
Since its launch in January 2020, UpLink has identified over 260 individuals with highly promising solutions and is working to support their growth through visibility, access and introductions that allow them to scale their businesses. These entrepreneurs are already achieving tremendous impact and, in 2021-2022, they were able to collectively secure more than $942 million in funding to support their activities.
UpLink’s 2021-2022 Impact Report highlights how Top Innovators are addressing issues spanning the environment, economy and society, including protecting or actively managing some 10 million hectares of natural habitat and restoring over 812,000 hectares. They have provided 16.4 million people with access to essential health services and ensured 1.87 million people have gained access to basic sanitation. Additionally, they have successfully educated or trained 5.5 million people and ensured more than 25 million people benefited from greater market access.
“We must ignite an ecopreneur revolution, which is why I’m so excited about UpLink.”
— Marc Benioff, Co-Chief Executive Officer of Salesforce
Which challenges are entrepreneurs facing today?
The world faces an unprecedented set of global issues. From the climate crisis and the destruction of natural ecosystems to the COVID-19 pandemic and rampant income inequality, there is a critical need to advance the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
Yet, there are a number of entrepreneurial solutions that can already accelerate the SDGs. Indeed, as US Climate Envoy John Kerry recently said, almost half of the emissions cuts needed to achieve net-zero will come from early-stage solutions and future technologies.
But for many of these entrepreneurs, finding the mentorship, resources and – crucially – funding they need to scale their operations, expand their teams and widen their impact is often beyond their reach, especially for those operating in developing economies.
Unleashing the creative energy of the world’s brightest entrepreneurs is essential and it is crucial to build a collaborative framework around them that can support their innovations and help them thrive.
“Problems and issues that we face as a global community cannot be solved by individual entities or governments. We have to collectively address these issues.”
— Punit Renjen, Chief Executive Officer, Deloitte
Our approach to collaborating with entrepreneurs.
UpLink Since its launch, UpLink has been dedicated to creating this collaborative environment for the world’s entrepreneurs.
The platform is building a digital space where investors, experts and other organizations can work together to elevate and support innovations.
This innovation ecosystem is enabled by:
An open digital platform, which sources entrepreneurs from all over the world through innovation challenges in a range of critical areas, including nature, the ocean, plastics, climate change, the circular economy, water, health and education – with many more to come. These are designed and run in collaboration with a diverse set of partners across the public and private sectors, including Accenture, HCL, IKEA Foundation, Friends of Ocean Action, Nestlé, UNICEF, and the World Health Organization.
The convening and amplification power of the Forum, which offers increased access to events, initiatives, multi-stakeholder communities and funding opportunities for innovators.
Over the last two years, 46,000 users have joined the UpLink platform and entrepreneurs have submitted 3,500 solutions via 34 innovation challenges. The community has recognized 265 Top Innovators in four categories who are now receiving support to grow their companies.
“Initiatives shouldn’t just come from enlightened business leaders or governments. We have to engage people. They have ideas. We have to give them the means to translate their ideas into action.”
— World Economic Forum Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab.
How can you get involved?
We invite visionary leaders, organizations, businesses, governments and philanthropists to join UpLink in driving the entrepreneur revolution. Through UpLink, we are accelerating progress on the SDGs by sourcing and scaling innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing issues, raising awareness for key sustainability issues and unlocking funding opportunities.
Rich Miller writes in DATACENTERFrontier that Beyond Green Power: New Frontiers in Data Center Sustainability can easily be envisioned as these are increasingly populating planet earth.
Above picture is of Large pipes sporting Google’s logo colors move water throughout the cooling plant at the Google’ data center in Douglas County, Georgia. (Photo: Google)
February 3, 2021
Sustainable Construction Strategies
More data center projects will integrate sustainability into design and construction, with early collaboration between teams to minimize the environmental impact of the construction process and create a building with low operational carbon impact, enabling more effective and cost-efficient offset strategies. Design collaboration is essential in seeking to integrate cleaner technologies into the power chain and cooling systems.
Several data center providers are working with CarbonCure, which makes a low-carbon “greener” concrete material for the tile-up walls that frame data centers. Concrete’s durability and strength are ideal for industrial construction, but the production of cement requires the use of massive kilns, which require large amounts of energy, and the actual chemical process emits staggeringly high levels of CO2. CarbonCure takes CO2 produced by large emitters like refineries and chemically mineralizes it during the concrete manufacturing process to make greener and stronger concrete. The process reduces the volume of cement required in the mixing of concrete, while also permanently removing CO2 from the atmosphere.
Waste Stream Accountability and the ‘Circular Economy’
A key priority is tracking the environmental impact of construction components, including a “reverse logistics” process to track the waste stream and disposition of debris. Asset recovery and recycling specialists will become key partners, and the most successful projects will communicate goals and best practices across the contractors and trades participating in each project. The goal is a “circular economy” that reuses and repurposes materials.
Managing packaging for equipment that is shipped to a data center facility is an important and often underlooked facet of waste stream accountability. There are also opportunities in reuse of components and equipment that that can still be productive (although this must be closely managed in a mission-critical environment).
The ability to document a net-zero waste stream impact has the potential to emerge as an additional metric for data center service providers, as customers consider the entirety of their supplier’s sustainability programs.
As customers ask tougher questions about a providers’ environmental practices and corporate social responsibility policies, certifications may emerge as another avenue for service providers to differentiate themselves.
Several ISO certifications, including ISO 50001 and ISO 14001, which Iron Mountain is certified for across its global data center portfolio, focus on energy management and provide frameworks that can assure stakeholders that the provider is considering energy impact and environmental goals in audits, communications, labeling and equipment life cycle analysis.
Water Conservation and Management
Amid changing weather patterns, many areas of the world are facing drought conditions and water is becoming a scarcer and more valuable resource. Data center operators are stepping up their efforts to reduce their reliance on potable water supplies.
Sustainable water strategies include both sourcing and design. On the sourcing front, several Google facilities include water treatment plants that allow it to cool its servers using local bodies of water or waste water from municipal water systems. Data center districts in Ashburn (Va.), Quincy (Washington) and San Antonio offer “grey water” feeds that provide recycled waste water to industrial customers.
On the design front, more providers are choosing cooling systems with minimal need for water, while others are incorporating rainwater recovery strategies that capture rain from huge roofs or parking lots and store it on site, reducing potential burden on local water systems.
Matching Workloads to Renewable Energy
Google has been a leader in the use of artificial intelligence and sophisticated energy provisioning to match its operations to carbon-free energy sources. The company recently said it will power its entire global information empire entirely with carbon-free energy by 2030, matching every hour of its data center operations to carbon-free energy sources. This marks an ambitious step forward in using technology to create exceptional sustainability.
Google can currently account for all its operations with energy purchases. But the intermittent nature of renewable energy creates challenges in matching green power to IT operations around the clock. Solar power is only available during daylight hours. Wind energy can be used at night, but not when the wind dies down. Google created a “carbon-intelligent computing platform” that optimizes for green energy by rescheduling workloads that are not time-sensitive, matching workloads to solar power during the day, and wind energy in the evening, for example. The company also hopes to move workloads between data centers to boost its use of renewables, a strategy that offers even greater potential gains by shifting data center capacity to locations where green energy is more plentiful, routing around utilities that are slow to adopt renewables.
Google has pledged to share its advances with the broader data center industry, providing others with the tools to reduce carbon impact. Continued instrumentation of older data centers is a key step in this direction.
Eliminating Diesel Generators
Microsoft recently announced plans to eliminate its reliance on diesel fuel by the year 2030, which has major implications for the company’s data centers, many of which use diesel-powered generators for emergency backup power. With its new deadline, Microsoft sets in motion a push to either replace its generators with cleaner technologies, or perhaps eliminate them altogether by managing resiliency through software.
Eliminating expensive generators and UPS systems has been a goal for some hyperscale providers. Facebook chose Lulea, Sweden for a data center because the robust local power grid allowed it to operate with fewer generators. In the U.S., providers have experimented with “data stations” that operate with no generators on highly-reliable locations on the power grid.
There are four primary options companies have pursued as alternatives to generators — fuel cells, lithium-ion batteries, shifting capacity to smaller edge data centers that can more easily run on batteries, and shifting to cloud-based resiliency.
Fuel Cells and On-Site Power
Microsoft has successfully tested the use of hydrogen fuel cells to power its data center servers. The company called the test “a worldwide first that could jump-start a long-forecast clean energy economy built around the most abundant element in the universe.”
Microsoft said it recently ran a row of 10 racks of Microsoft Azure cloud servers for 48 hours using a 250-kilowatt hydrogen-powered fuel cell system at a facility near Salt Lake City, Utah. Since most data center power outages last less than 48 hours, the test offered a strong case that fuel cells could be used in place of diesel generators to keep a data center operating through a utility outage.
Some companies, like Equinix and eBay, have deployed Bloom Energy fuel cells to improve reliability and cut energy costs, but have powered them with natural gas. The use of biofuels looms as another potential avenue to pair fuel cells with renewable sourcing.
Utility-scale energy storage has long been the missing link in the data center industry’s effort to power the cloud with renewable energy. Energy storage could overcome the intermittent generation patterns of leading renewable sources. Solar panels only generate power when the sun is shining, and wind turbines are idle in calm weather. Energy storage could address that gap, allowing renewable power to be stored for use overnight and on windless days.
A new project in Nevada will showcase a potential solution from Tesla, the electric car company led by tech visionary Elon Musk. Data center technology company Switch will use new large-scale energy storage technology from Tesla to boost its use of solar energy for its massive data center campuses in Las Vegas and Reno. It is a promising project in pioneering a holistic integration of renewable power, energy storage and Internet-scale data centers.
Talking Sustainability With Experts
Don’t miss the last installment of this series that features a conversation on the future of sustainable data centers. Data Center Frontier Editor Rich Miller discusses the topic with Kevin Hagen, Director, Corporate Responsibility at Iron Mountain, and Alex Sharp, Global Head of Design & Construction — Data Centers at Iron Mountain.
It’s a preview of the upcoming webinar where these experts will discuss sustainability strategies for greener data centers.
Unlike traditional devices, the artificial hand can be customised for children and youths, who otherwise require an expensive series of resized models as they grow up.
The company Cure Bionics also has plans to develop a video game-like virtual reality system that helps youngsters learn how to use the artificial hand through physical therapy.
Mohamed Dhaouafi, the 28-year-old founder and CEO of Cure Bionics, designed his first prototype while still an engineering student in his home city Sousse.
“One team member had a cousin who was born without a hand and whose parents couldn’t afford a prosthesis, especially as she was still growing up,” he said.
“So we decided to design a hand.”
Dhaouafi launched his start-up in 2017 from his parents’ home, at a time when many of his classmates chose to move abroad seeking higher salaries and international experience.
“It was like positive revenge,” he told AFP. “I wanted to prove I could do it. I also want to leave a legacy, to change people’s lives.”
Dhaouafi pointed to hurdles in Tunisia, where it can be hard or impossible to order parts via large online sales sites. There is a lack of funding and, he said, “we lack visionaries within the state”.
But by pooling money raised through sponsored competitions and seed investment from a US company, he was able to recruit four young engineers.
They are now fine-tuning designs, writing code and testing the artificial hand.
‘Climb like Spiderman’
The device works with sensors attached to the arm that detect muscle movement, and AI-assisted software that interprets them to transmit instructions to the digits.
The hand itself has a wrist that can turn sideways, a mechanical thumb and fingers that bend at the joints in response to the electronic impulses.
To teach youngsters how to use them, Cure has been working on a virtual-reality headset that “gamifies” the physical therapy process.
“Currently, for rehabilitation, children are asked to pretend to open a jar, for example, with the hand they no longer have,” said Dhaouafi.
“It takes time to succeed in activating the muscles this way. It’s not intuitive, and it’s very boring.”
In Cure’s version, the engineer said: “We get them to climb up buildings like Spiderman, with a game score to motivate them, and the doctor can follow up online from a distance”.
3-D printing meanwhile makes it possible to personalise the prosthesis like a fashion accessory or “a superhero’s outfit”, said Dhaouafi.
Cure hopes to market its first bionic hands within a few months, first in Tunisia and then elsewhere in Africa, where more than three-quarters of people in need have no access to them, according to the World Health Organization.
“The aim is to be accessible financially but also geographically,” said Dhaouafi.
The envisaged price of around $2,000 to $3,000 is substantial, but a fraction of the cost of bionic prostheses currently imported from Europe.
Cure also aims to manufacture as close as possible to the end users, with local technicians measuring the patients and then printing individually fitted devices.
“An imported prosthesis today means weeks or even months of waiting when you buy it, and again with each repair,” the inventor said.
The bionic hand is made of Lego-like parts that can be replaced if damaged or to match a child’s physical growth.
It can also be solar-powered via a photovoltaic charger for use in regions without a reliable electricity supply.
The 3-D printing of rudimentary prostheses started about a decade ago and is becoming standard.
It is not a magic solution because specialised medical know-how is still crucial, said Jerry Evans, who heads Nia Technologies, a Canadian non-commercial organisation that helps African hospitals manufacture 3-D-printed lower limbs.
“3-D printing is still in its early stages,” he said, “but it is a major game changer in the field of prosthetics and orthotics.”
“Developing countries will probably leapfrog to these technologies because the cost is much lower.”
Jeffrey R. Young elaborates on how an Interest in Online Courses Surges in the MENA region. It started as for elsewhere, as a palliative to the lockdown imposed closure of all schools and education facilities.
12 October 2020
Providers of online higher education have seen a spike in interest in their courses and degree programs from the Middle East and North Africa region since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. And some say the sudden exposure to online learning may lead to a shift in attitudes about the value of digital delivery methods.
Edraak, a Jordan-based provider of free online courses delivered in Arabic, served one million new learners in the past six months, a big jump from the 650,000 new learners it served in all of 2019. The platform now serves four million learners total.
And Coursera, a U.S.-based provider of online courses and programs from well-known universities, said that since mid-March, it saw a 500 percent increase in learners from the Middle East compared to the same period last year.
FutureLearn, a British company offering similar online courses, also reports a 500-percent increase in participation from the region. Officials from edX, a nonprofit founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to offer free and low-cost online courses, says its enrollments from the region have gone up more than 200 percent since the start of the pandemic.
“There has definitely been a shift in the sense of recognizing they cannot ignore online learning anymore” in the region, said Maha Bali, an associate professor of practice at the Center for Learning and Teaching at the American University in Cairo.
Coursera has 3.4 million users in the Middle East out of approximately 70 million learners worldwide.
Shireen Yacoub, the chief executive of Edraak, called the growth in adult learning via online courses “one of the most inspiring observations we’ve had during the curfews and lockdowns.”
Even so, she worries about what she calls the “equity gap” when it comes to who is able to use the organization’s free courses. Most of Edraak’s users get to its platform through their smartphones, she added, and low-income families may have three or four kids all needing to share a phone. Computers and home Internet access are too costly for many, she adds. “We need to advocate for more equity in Internet connectivity,” she said. “Their lives will often depend on it. It’s not a luxury.” (See a related article, “The Shift to Online Education in the Arab World Is Intensifying Inequality.”)
Coursera has 3.4 million users in the Middle East out of approximately 70 million learners worldwide, according to Betty Vandenbosch, the company’s chief content officer. About 400 colleges and organizations in the region have signed up for a free program that lets them offer Coursera online courses to their enrolled students. That means that the colleges—including Al Hussein Technical University in Jordan—are offering at least some online courses based largely on content provided free from Coursera.
And she says that in recent months, Coursera has seen more interest from governments and organizations in the region to form partnerships. Such deals typically mean that governments and organizations pay Coursera a fee to get free access to Coursera’s online degree programs for their employees. That was starting to happen even before the pandemic: Last year the company announced a deal with the Abu Dhabi School of Government to train 60,000 government employees in data science, digital transformation and other high-tech skills.
“The governments in the Middle East are recognizing the challenges they have with their economies,” Vandenbosch said. “Some of those governments are saying, ‘Gosh, we really need to upskill our workforce because oil is not going to be there forever.”
New Attitudes Toward Online Learning
Experts in education technology say that the pandemic may end up being a turning point for online education in the region.
John Schwartz, head of Enterprise Global Business Development at edX, said that colleges in the MENA region have recently adopted the platform’s online courses as well. “Virtually no university had the time and resources to turn all their classroom content into online courses, so edX was able and continues to fill a large void,” he said. “In addition there has been a significantly higher degree of interest from the region’s schools to not only use edX content, but to put their own quality content online, as a partner on the edX.org platform.”
The most popular edX courses by students in the region are an introductory computer-science course by Harvard University and a course from the University of Queensland that prepares students to take the IELTS test of English-language skills.
“The pandemic really changed the dynamics towards online learning in the Middle East.”
Gehan Osman Assistant professor of instructional design and technology at the American University in Cairo
“The pandemic really changed the dynamics towards online learning in the Middle East,” said Gehan Osman, an assistant professor of instructional design and technology at the American University in Cairo’s Graduate School of Education, in an email interview. “Professors who had never considered even blended or web-based instruction before embraced online learning because it was the only alternative. Many of these professors said that they would never go back to completely face-to-face because they discovered many instructional value of going online.”
Curtis J. Bonk is a professor of instructional systems technology at Indiana University at Bloomington and author of The World Is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education, and other books about online learning. He said he is suddenly getting invitations to speak in the region at places that had not done much with online education in the past. One example: He recently spoke at an online forum for teachers at the grade school and university level in the United Arab Emirates run by the Ministry of Education, and more than 600 people attended.
The Biggest Concern: Cheating
However, some reservations about online education remain. The biggest concern: that the format will lead to rampant cheating. “Many insist that exams and major assessment need to be done in person in a proctored environment,” said Osman.
Bali agreed that academic integrity remains a key concern. “We know in Egypt many online standardized tests done in exam centers get leaked/cheated, et cetera,” she said, noting that people worry the same kind of thing could happen in online courses.
And even those providing online courses stress that they are not meant as a wholesale replacement for classroom instruction.
“Even at Edraak we don’t think that online ed and learning is a silver bullet to education in the region,” said Yacoub, that group’s chief executive. “We really believe in the value of in-person teaching.”
For Bali, the question for colleges should be what is the purpose of education, and “how to use the online effectively while preserving the best of what we can do face-to-face.”
New efforts are underway to help train professors in the region to teach online. Among them, the Center for Learning in Practice based at the Carey Institute for Global Good is running a series of free online workshops on how to teach with online technologies, with a focus on inclusive teaching.
The UK Labour Party is promising to provide free broadband internet to every British household by 2030 if it wins the 2019 election. To do this, the party would nationalise the broadband infrastructure business of BT and tax internet giants like Google and Facebook. Whatever you think of this plan, it at least reflects that the internet has become not only an essential utility for conducting daily life, but also crucial for exercising our political rights.
In fact, I recently published research that shows why internet access should be considered a human right and a universal entitlement. And for that reason, it ought to be provided free to those who can’t afford it, not just in the UK, but around the world.
Internet access is today necessary for leading a minimally decent life, which doesn’t just mean survival but rather includes political rights that allow us to influence the rules that shape our lives and hold authorities accountable. That is why rights such as free speech, free association, and free information are among the central rights included in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And, crucially, everyone needs to have roughly equal opportunities to exercise their political rights.
Before the internet, most people in democracies had roughly equal opportunities to exercise their political rights. They could vote, write to newspapers or their political representative, attend public meetings and join organisations.
But when some people gained internet access, their opportunities to exercise political rights became much greater compared to those without the internet. They could publish their views online for potentially millions of people to see, join forces with other people without having to physically attend regular meetings, and obtain a wealth of previously inaccessible political information.
Today, a large proportion of our political debates take place online, so in some ways our political rights can only be exercised via the internet. This means internet access is required for people to have roughly equal opportunities to make use of their political freedoms, and why we should recognise internet access as a human right.
As a human right, internet access should be “free” in two ways. First, it should be unmonitored, uncensored, and uninterrupted – as the UN’s General Assembly has demanded in a non-binding resolution in 2016. Second, governments should guarantee a minimally decent infrastructure that is available to all citizens no matter how much money they have. This means funding for internet access should be part of minimum welfare benefits, provided without charge to those who can’t afford to pay for it, just like legal counsel. (This is already the case in Germany.)
A political goal
In developing countries, digital infrastructure reaching everyone might be too expensive to guarantee immediately. But with the required technology becoming cheaper (more people on the planet have access to a web-capable phone than have access to clean water and a toilet), universal access could first be guaranteed via free wifi in public places. Supply can start off in a basic way and grow over time.
Should everyone in Britain have free broadband in their homes? There are many good reasons to provide the best possible internet access to everyone, such as increasing economic productivity, sharing prosperity more evenly across the country, or promoting opportunities for social engagement and civic participation. And, as such, free broadband for all may be a worthy political goal.
But what is most important is ensuring that everyone has the kind of internet access required for roughly equal opportunities to use their political freedoms. Guaranteed internet access should be considered a human right in our virtual world, whoever ultimately pays the bills.
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