Originally published on AnswersOn.

By Joseph Raczynski

The Global Maker Challenge is an online open-innovation platform that offers an opportunity for “makers” and innovators to connect and collaborate, across the globe, and try to solve real-world problems affecting people’s lives.


ABU DHABI & DUBAI, UAE — Recently the Mohammed bin Rashid Initiative for Global Prosperity, facilitated by MIT Solve in partnership with the United Nations and University of Cambridge, held their pitch event where 16 global sustainability start-up finalists from a pool of 1,200 applicants competed for an award of $1 million.

The Global Maker Challenge is facilitated by the Initiative for Global Prosperity, which seeks to unite the world’s leading manufacturers, start-ups, entrepreneurs, governments, UN agencies, philanthropists, academia experts, and researchers, and form a community dedicated to spreading global prosperity through innovation.

The cumulative energy from the 16 finalists working on solving real world problems in the neediest areas around the world was palpable. The solutions that people devised from cutting-edge technology available to benefit the masses was astonishing.

This global initiative is supported from the very top of the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). I had the high honor to sit down with Chief Executive Officer of Alliances for Global Sustainability, and royal family member, Sheikha Shamma bint Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, and discuss how and why this initiative means so much. Indeed, it became clear in the conversation that the UAE does not just promote these ideas but acts on them.

“Our government sees artificial intelligence (AI) as a significant component in improving efficiency and resources across all public sectors, and facilitating ease of access to court services and processes for the people of the UAE,” Sheikha Shamma said, stressing the importance of the role start-ups play to “make” new ideas and innovate. While the Global Maker Challenge finalists focused on how to improve lives globally, the UAE also is pushing ahead with these emerging technologies locally, explained Sheikha Shamma.

“The UAE is very progressive in its use of technology, both within the private sector, but more specifically at a government level, adopting new tools such as blockchain and AI with the aim of leading in this area by 2031.”

The finalists

Focusing on the finalists, I had the opportunity to speak with many of them who fell into four distinct categories in the competition; Sustainable Energy; Digital Divide and Digital Literacy; Rural Transformation & Zero Hunger; and Sustainable Cities.

One finalist, Otago Ltd., is a start-up that produces eco-friendly char-briquettes for clean cooking in Cambodia. “Nearly three billion people rely on open fires and traditional stoves to cook their food,” said Otago founder Carlo Figà Talamanca, adding that these fires emit massive amounts of air pollution inside homes and contribute to nearly four million deaths per year, impacting mainly women and children. Otago’s concept of biomass briquettes (coconut shells, corn cobs, and bamboo), produce less sparks, pollutants, and do not contribute to deforestation as traditional charcoal production does.

Sukhmeet Singh discussing his pitch on sustainable energy in India at the Global Maker Challenge

Another finalist, OffGridBox, provides affordable clean water and renewable energy for rural communities in Rwanda. It is a financially sustainable and environmentally friendly metal crate that leverages solar energy in an affordable way. Each box, through micro-payments, provides 400 families with lighting and phone charging within their homes and purified drinking water — all for only 18-cents, or less than half of what they currently spend. (Amazingly, while people often do not have running water or electricity, they did have mobile phones.)

The Rumie Initiative, another finalist, aims to reduce the digital divide by delivering online learning resources on mobile phones to communities with limited or no Internet connectivity. And LearnCloud — an online repository of high-quality, digital educational content — is crowdsourced by educators and other passionate volunteers in different languages and for different contexts. This program allows kids in the most remote locations around the world to have all the books they would need from 1st grade through 12th, all on a donated Android tablet or phone.

Ada Health was originally developed for doctors by doctors to advance patient symptom reporting. Then, doctors and AI experts spent seven years developing a sophisticated medical reasoning engine that now encompasses the complex constellation of connections between the currently known 12,000 symptoms and 10,000 conditions that can affect the human body. Hila Azadzoy, managing director of the global health initiative at Ada, stated that the organization goes into areas around the world where doctors may be scarce and helps individuals understand and manage their health through personalized symptom assessments and recommend next steps. The patients can also share these results with their healthcare professional via a chatbot on a mobile device. Ada speaks five languages, and it has more than five million users worldwide who have completed more than nine million symptom assessments.

The finalist pitched their ideas to panels of judges from around the world. After the pitches, the panelist, judges, consultants, and other participants entered into several workshops on innovation, design thinking, mentoring, and women entrepreneurs mobilizing positive change.

The cumulative energy from the 16 finalists working on solving real world problems in the neediest areas around the world was palpable. The solutions that people devised from cutting-edge technology available to benefit the masses was astonishing.

And having these initiatives facilitated by a public and private partnership is critical to bettering a world in need. As the Initiative for Global Prosperity explained, “the well-being of our world is based on fostering the values of resilience, community, harmony, and dignity.”

The winners of the Global Maker Challenge will be announced in Yekaterinburg, Russia in July.