MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab, in partnership with Zain Group and MBC Hope, announces winners of ‘Innovate for Refugees’ global competition

October 05, 2016
  • Winners hail from the US, Morocco, Jordan, Switzerland, Netherlands, and Lebanon.

MIT Enterprise Forum (MIT EF) Pan Arab, in partnership with Zain Group and MBC Hope, announced the seven winners of the Innovate for Refugees competition at an award ceremony that took place at the King Hussein Business Park Main Theatre in Amman, Jordan on October 4.

Following a round of judging and deliberations by a panel of six industry experts, the final winners were selected as follows:

  • General:
    • Change Water Labs from the United States and Evaptainers from Morocco; each awarded $20,000 by Zain Group and MBC Hope.
    • Boloro & BanQ from Jordan awarded $20,000 offered by Zain Group.
  • Education: Natakallam from the United States awarded US$20,000 offered by Jusoor.
  • Child-focused: LEDLife from Switzerland awarded US$20,000 offered by UNICEF.
  • Most innovative solution brought forward by a refugee:
    • Open Embassy from the Netherlands awarded US$30,000 offered by Uber.
    • Recycle Beirut from Lebanon awarded $20,000 offered by Samih Darwazah Foundation.

The competition was initially set to reward five winners but given the calibre of the finalists, two additional prizes were offered: $20,000 by Zain Group and $20,000 by Samih Darwazah Foundation.

The competition was initially set to reward five winners but given the caliber of the finalists, two additional prizes were offered: $20,000 by Zain Group and $20,000 by Samih Darwazah Foundation.

The MIT EF Pan Arab Innovate for Refugees initiative was launched in June 2016 in partnership with Zain Group, a leading mobile telecommunications innovator across the Middle East and Africa, and MBC Hope, the Corporate Social Responsibility arm of MBC, and is supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UNICEF, Jusoor and Uber. There were also over 30 partners supporting the competition including TechFugees and the International Rescue Committee.

The competition invited entrepreneurs and refugees from around the world to come up with tech-driven, innovative solutions to help address the global refugee crisis. Over 1,600 applications were received, with 21 finalists shortlisted to the final round.

Winners were selected based on the criteria of innovation, impact, scalability, team membership and financial sustainability. In addition to cash prizes, winners are set to receive mentorship and training by industry experts to help them through the execution of the projects.

Hala Fadel, Founder, and Chair of the MIT EF Pan Arab said “Technology’s mission is to provide solutions to problems faced by millions of people and this is the logic behind the MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab Innovate for Refugees initiative. We want to get at the heart of the crucial and central purpose of today's technologies and innovations,”

Zain Group CEO, Scott Gegenheimer said, “A heartfelt congratulations to the winners. We are very impressed by the passion and innovation that continues to be produced in this region and are particularly moved by the refugee theme of this competition. Often, the best solutions for problems are homegrown, so we have every faith this competition and its winners through their endeavors, will foster a better future for many refugees across the region and beyond.”

Mazen Hayek, MBC Group's official spokesman commented: “As MBC, we see hope everywhere; we are thrilled to have partnered with the MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab for this competition which successfully found real solutions for some of the most pressing problems faced by refugees.”

The award ceremony was attended by Admir Masic, Assistant Professor at MIT and Education Lead at MIT Solve, Alexander Mars, Founder & CEO, Epic Foundation, Said Darwazah, Chairman and CEO of Hikma Pharmaceuticals, Scott Gegenheimer, CEO of Zain Group and Ahmad Al Hanandeh, CEO of Zain Jordan.

Applications for the competition were received from a wide range of countries and sectors, the majority of which hailed from Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon. Basic needs, healthcare, and education sectors were well represented within the applications. Women submitted 32% of all applications, and 15% of total entries were submitted by refugees.

Description of the winners:

Boloro and BanQ – Global Payments and Economic ID Network, based in Jordan, bring financial inclusion and economic opportunity solutions for refugees and extreme poverty populations through a partnership between BanQu, a leading blockchain economic identity platform company and Boloro Global Limited, a USA-based global payments gateway platform.

Change Water Labs, based in the US, consists of a revolutionary evaporative toilet that is low-cost, compact, stand-alone solution for off-grid and informal dwellings and which rapidly “flushes” away 85-90% of daily household sewage volumes.

Evaptainers, based in Morocco, are mobile and modular evaporative coolers that are ideal for low-income, off-grid areas and that can triple or quadruple the shelf-life of most produce.

LEDlife, based in Switzerland, has developed a low cost, fun and easy to make DIY solar LED lamp kit; an educational tool for teaching about renewables, sustainability, and recycling.

NaTakallam, based in the US, consists of a platform that provides employment opportunities to Syrian refugees as Arabic conversation partners for Arabic students around the world.

OpenEmbassy, based in the Netherlands, is an online helpdesk that enables status holders (refugees with a permit) to ask questions about their integration process and from their answers, Open Embassy develops an FAQ and a smart wiki and shares the lessons learnt with the key stakeholders like local government and NGOs, to help them develop smarter integration policies and products.

Recycle Beirut, based in Lebanon, is a social business combining two problems, the refugee crisis, and the waste crisis, into a solution. The company employs refugees at a living wage to pick up, sort, and process recyclables for the greater Beirut area.