epAward 2019 Trends Towards Software Solutions

We are just a few weeks away from the big empowering people. Award 2019 (epAward) ceremony in Cairo. For the team, the run-up period has been intense – marred with tight deadlines, scheduling, organizing and now tying all loose ends to ensure a great experience for all participants. This has also given us a few moments to reflect on the entire period, the launch, the applications, phase evaluation, etc. What stands out for us is the dynamism and stimulating nature of our 11 finalists’ solutions. We caught-up with Carola Schwank, Head of empowering people. Network about her reflections on this year’s competition.    

epAward has been running for a while now. How have the award focus areas progressed over the last seven years?

We launched epAward in 2012 with the idea to build a robust network of social entrepreneurs using well-functioning technologies that bridge gaps in basic supply areas. Our aim was to bring a global spotlight on these solutions to help expand their horizons across the development cooperation ecosystem to enable collaboration and investment. Our initial focus was more on how innovative the solutions were, particularly in their use of new technologies. The idea was to simply build a database as a catalogue that enabled implementation partners to easily find promising and well-assessed technologies.

epNetwork members at epWorkshop in Berlin, 2016.

With the passage of time, we learned that the business approach is key when it comes to creative implementation to ensure a strong social impact by creating new jobs, income and by building knowledge on the ground in the developing regions. Thus, we not only redefined our criteria and sharpened the assessment process but also decided to support the inventor-entrepreneurs through specific offers tailored to their demands and to connect them with the wealth of experience and knowledge of our network members. This is now the heart of our empowering people initiative.

These 11 finalists will present their business plans in Cairo at epAward 2019.

How do these social enterprises improve living conditions in the most remote areas?

When we decided our eight categories for epAward, we were conscious to be aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Therefore, our mission is to address crucial development challenges by supporting and strengthening social interventions operational in the remotest pockets across the globe. These enterprises are often embedded within local communities and develop their solutions in collaboration with them. These innovators, start-ups, and social enterprises came up with innovative and resourceful solutions that work to remove some of the biggest development roadblocks on the ground and improve living conditions for underserved communities.

Our 11 finalists are all trailblazers in their own sectors! They have come up with suitable technological fixes to providing safe drinking water, uninterrupted clean energy supply or agri-technology for smallholding farmers. Along with enabling affordable healthcare, and adaptive education and mobility services for the physically challenged and less privileged communities.

Why did you see the need to add new criteria on business models and team for the award this year?

Even though we strongly focus on technologies and see many success stories of technology transfer within the network, our portfolio of activities furthers the network members in their business and implementation approaches. We see the biggest demand from early-stage enterprises in this aspect.  We also learned that social impact depends on preconditions such as organizational development, estimating growth plans and management of resources or the level of interaction within the different teams of an organization. This encouraged us to emphasize more and more on the business potential of the organizations including business plans and revenue generation for the long haul.

Carola Schwank with epNetwork members.

Our first evaluation underlined the importance of the necessity of a strong business model for an enterprise to thrive for the years to come and broaden their impact area.  We also realized that that people and teams actually make an enterprise, therefore, we urged our applicants to showcase their existing organizational structures and the potential to nurture talent and teams. Based on this we also introspected our own capacities to support startups in stabilizing their enterprise along with helping them attract potential investors or financial partners during their growth phase.

aQysta – winner of epAward 2016 – displaying their solution at the 2016 epAward ceremony in Berlin.

In what way are the submitted project and their structures are different from the last two editions?

We definitely witness a shift with this year’s award entries. The trend is more towards software interfaces than hardware, unlike previous years. These digital solutions are addressing crucial amenities from education, healthcare to agriculture and mobility. We observed that the award entries paid a greater emphasis on the needs and demands of communities and customers. In some cases, the solutions have been developed together with the communities, the users and the entrepreneurs. The new approach of co-creation has better acceptance from the end-users. We also saw that more and more solutions are centered around the marginalized and often ignored disabled individuals from low-income areas.

Our finalists bring many affordable solutions for disabled people in developing countries. This demonstrates the strong social awareness and empathy of social entrepreneurs as the advocates of the most marginalized target groups.

What does that mean for empowering people. Network (epNetwork)?

In general, the epNetwork is a microcosm of current trends and developments across the social entrepreneurship and philanthropic community. The network evolves according to the demands of the hour. It is nimble to the changes, needs and appetite for disruptive technologies and structures in developing countries. As this year’s finalists have more software implementations addressing the deficits in their areas of operations, we are excited to get a deeper understanding of their technologies and work towards making them more sustainable and impactful. We are also interested to see how our network members will benefit from different technical approaches, mindsets and cultural backgrounds of this year’s winners and their teams.

Carola Schwank with the epAward 2016 winners.

Check-out our finalists here and vote for your favorite to help them win the Community Prize of €10,000.

Vote now!

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