Climate change has become one of the worst global crises of the 21st century. Whether one believes this phenomenon or not, its effects have been and will remain relentless especially on developing countries already crippled by poverty. Collective global action on climate change must therefore no longer be an agenda item for discussion, but a priority. There is undoubtedly therefore a dire need to bring to bare all necessary resources and efforts to fight climate change by means of both mitigation and adaptation.
In the face of this increasing environmental crisis and in addition to the already existing social and economic hardships in the global environment, youth and children are amongst the worst affected. That notwithstanding, there is an increasing appreciation of the little taped energy and creativity latent in this demographic of the population.
As a result, the Development Reality Institute (DRI) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) partnered to promote and support innovation by young people in the energy sector. The youth and child focused initiative seeks to support social innovations addressing climate change and other environmental challenges. The project titled Green Innovations Hub (GiHUB) has the overall objective of igniting social change and unlocking young people’s potential in contributing to achieving sustainable development through social innovation.
The work of the GiHUB recognises that it is not enough to just make available resources, but to also support capacity building and strengthening processes to enable better and more effective utilisation of resources. All supported innovations need to pass the test of serving the community in which the innovator is resident. Equally important to the work of the GiHUB is promoting innovation at a very young age, when cognitive development is still malleable, highly explorative and uniquely creative.
Support under the project is rendered to school going children through institution based environmental clubs, or any such other clubs within schools. The support is provided in the form of small start-up grants to kick-start small projects at the school level. This component of the project within schools however is driven more by the need for training and demonstration versus an over-fixation on actual commercially viable activities.
The GiHUB believes in the potential and capacity of young people to innovate solutions around challenges they face on a day to day basis, the overriding mantra is ‘who better to address our own challenges, than ourselves’. Central to this thinking within the GiHUB is that young people resident in their communities understand their lived realities better than anyone else external to their environment, and are thus better capable of coming up with solutions to their own challenges.
The GiHUB launched its first Innovation Challenge Competition on the 27th of November 2015, with the primary objective of providing project financing, incubation and mentorship to young innovators who believe they have novel ideas to address energy challenges in their communities. This first pilot innovation call put on offer eight USD 5 000 grants for innovators in both rural and urban areas, and twelve USD 1 000 grants for schools within the rural and urban areas. Given that the focus of the innovation call was youth and children the age limit was set at thirty-five.
The challenge sought innovations from broadly three categories; rural, urban, and schools to cater to the various youth age groups as well as to various backgrounds. On the launch of the Innovation Challenge, a call for proposals was made and this was followed up by a mass media campaign to raise awareness about the Innovation Challenge and to encourage young people to apply. The media campaign utilised both the print and electronic media outlets coupled with a combination of live roadshows in targeted areas which engaged young people explaining the project and how to enter the competition.
This process will be followed by selection, shortlisting and adjudication of the most innovative ideas, which will be further refined at a bootcamp. At the boot camp, innovators will receive free training and mentorship from partners. Once the shortlisted candidates have been capacitated and have had the opportunity to refine their ideas, they will pitch their ideas to a panel of experts and the winners of the innovation challenge will receive grants in any one of the two categories they would have applied. With respect to the schools category the adjudication will entail identifying twelve innovative ideas submitted by environmental clubs from both rural and urban areas and the winners will be known after the adjudication process is complete.
Though the innovation challenge is currently servicing only 6 provinces (Harare, Bulawayo, Masvingo, Mutare, Midlands and Mashonaland West), the project has potential to expand to all ten provinces and be self-sustaining through increased civil society, public and private corporations engagement and support. DRI and UNICEF anticipate that after a successful completion of the pilot phase (Sept 2015 – April 2016), the project can be scaled up. It is envisaged that the supported projects will buttress a burgeoning green movement with potential for stimulating a multiplier effect and reinvigorating the national economy using youth as a growth engine and catalyst of trade.
Ultimately the GiHUB through its vast network of partners aims to continuously assess and technically support progress of funded projects for upscale as well as hold more innovation challenges in different areas in the environmental sector. At inception the project was lead by the DRI and UNICEF, but to date the Hub boasts of over twenty partners forming a mosaic of multi-sectoral experience, background and persuasions. The GiHUB network continues to grow, and intensity its efforts of bringing together various players who can carry forward the vision of the project. For more information about the GiHUB.