IWD 2022: Celebrating the Expo 2020 Dubai-backed projects founded by – and empowering – women worldwide

As Expo 2020 Dubai and the world prepare to celebrate International Women’s Day (8 March), held under 2022’s theme of #BreakTheBias, what better time to take stock of the bevy of transformative, women-led projects supported worldwide by the first World Expo ever held in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia (MEASA)?

From a former CERN scientist’s last-mile vaccine cooling and delivery system, to a Paris-based project professionalising the talents of migrant women, to an innovator getting Uganda’s low-income women out of the rental trap with a secure affordable home, 36 per cent of the 140 grantees supported under Expo Live – Expo 2020 Dubai’s global innovation and partnership programme – are either founded or co-founded by women.

A number of grantees, known as Expo Live Global Innovators, and aligned with the World Expo’s subthemes of Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability, are specifically transforming the lives of women in the communities in which they operate. And almost half (48 per cent) of all Expo Live’s 5.8 million beneficiaries are women.

Take Colombia-based Agruppa, which is connecting the country’s urban small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with rural agricultural supply, and Dar Si Hmad, a Moroccan non-profit that manages the largest fog-collection project in the world – delivering safe potable fog water to previously water-starved communities of the North African state’s Anti-Atlas Mountains.

Elsewhere, Kenya’s EcoFix (K) is producing biofuel, organic fertilisers and plant health products from the nuts and seeds of the Croton megalocarpus, a naturally-abundant plant in East Africa, with Sweden-borne revolutionary tropical weather forecasting system Ignitia helping Ghanaian farmers optimise resource use and access to high-quality weather predictions.

In Zambia, Dutch firm Land Life Company – co-founded by Rebekah Braswell – has developed theCocoon, a low-cost, water-efficient, biodegradable planting technology that enables the sustainable and scalable planting of trees in arid soils. And elsewhere on the continent, Munch Bowls, founded by entrepreneur Georgina de Kock, offers a slate of edible cutlery, bowls and other products as green alternatives to wasteful fast food containers.

Founded by Natalia Miller, Haiti-based Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods’ flagship business, EkoLakay, provides desirable and affordable container-based sanitation (CBS) services to resource-poor urban Haitians – growing from a 2013 pilot project to one that today provides 6,000-plus urban residents with safe, dignified access to household sanitation.

Transforming global healthcare also underpins the work of various female Expo Live grantees, including India-based Ayzh Health, one of 50 impactful and sustainable solutions also supported under the World Expo’s Global Best Practice Programme, so they can be scaled for further impact – advancing the Sustainable Development Goals. Founded by Zubaida Bai, the group has created a USD 3 clean birth kit to protect the world’s most vulnerable mothers and newborns.

Fellow Global Innovator Noor Medical in Germany, with Co-Founder and CEO Laila Berning at its helm, is also transforming the sterilisation of medical devices in Ghana and Uganda.

Specifically addressing female health underpins the efforts of Be Girl, which is based in the USA, but operates in Mozambique. Grounded in the belief that everyone, regardless of background, deserves access to high-quality menstrual protection, the project is revolutionising the market for menstrual hygiene products and practices.

Kitty Chia-Chi Liao, Founder of UK-based Global Innovator Ideabatic, has also created a last-mile vaccine cooling and delivery system called SMILE that eliminates vaccine wastage, with Expo Live funding used for research and development, prototyping and manufacture. And fellow UK-based Global Innovator MeeToo, an app co-founded by Kerstyn Comley, is helping youth talk anonymously about difficult things with others of a similar age or experience.

In line with Expo 2020 Dubai’s Opportunity subtheme, reflecting the necessity of financial capital as a resource to support growth, and partnerships as a primary driver of innovation and employment, numerous female Global Innovators are transforming livelihoods around the world.

In Asia, Philippines-based InvestEd – led by CEO and Co-Founder Carmina Bayombong – is breaking the poverty cycle within the country’s youth, helping low-income and marginalised students complete their college education and acquire gainful employment. Elsewhere in the region, Picha Eats, started by Co-Founder Suzanne Ling in 2016, is improving the culinary skills, consistency and professionalism of refugee chefs in Malaysia.

Boosting employment opportunities for refugees also underpins the work of Humans in the Loops, a Bulgarian social enterprise helping refugees in the Balkans better integrate into host societies by providing education and opportunities in data processing, artificial intelligence and computer vision. Australian-born, but operating in Lebanon, Talent Beyond Boundaries is also opening up skilled migration pathways, so refugees can resume their careers and rebuild their lives.

In France, Meet my Mama began in 2017 with a mission to professionalise the culinary talents of migrant women, promoting a multicultural vision, and build a more inclusive and sustainable society. Hola Code in Mexico, led by Co-CEO Aida Chávez Zapata, and another Global Best Practice Programme project, also offers a tech education for forced migrants, such as returnees, deportees and refugees, so they can access in-demand careers in related fields.

In celebration of International Women’s Day 2022, Expo 2020 Dubai will also host a diverse three-day (6-8 March) programme to shine a spotlight on gender, celebrate female talent, and catalyse urgent change that goes beyond the current rhetoric of quotas and capacity-building measures.