There is no greater fulfillment than seeing potential achieved, and last Thursday we celebrated extraordinary achievement at the Merrill J. Fernando Innovation Awards. 10 young women, men or teams, were felicitated for their achievement in defining creative, circular design driven solutions to challenges we face today. The young innovators came from Kalmunai to Kalutara and Anuradhapura to Ampara, in exploring waste for new uses in packaging, construction, substituting harmful products, water purification methods, and air cleaning. They were selected from amongst 64 submissions, with 16 shortlisted applicants being closely mentored and guided in refining their submission. Dilmah Conservation and the MJF Charitable Foundation were supported by an eminent panel of judges and mentors including Prof. Ajith de Alwis, Prof. Ilmi Hewajulige, Mr. Jeevan Gnanam, Ms. Pathma Abeykoon, Ms. Savera Weerasinghe and Ms. Shiranee Yasaratne. The combined technical knowledge, experience and entrepreneurial guidance that the panel brought to the initiative was invaluable.
Sri Lanka is blessed in a very special way – rich biodiversity producing incredible teas, spices, cashews, the hospitality, traditions, art and creativity of her people. Yet potential is worthless unless it is harnessed, and regardless of political, policy or other failures, the right mindset can produce the attitudinal change we need to translate potential to achievement. As we look beyond the present crisis, to a time when we work together in framing solutions to our social, political, economic, health and environmental challenges, we need to be driven by the knowledge that the world has changed and now more than ever before, we are on a ‘burning platform’. We cannot be complacent. This is what drove Israel to miraculous achievement, when the country lacked the natural potential that Sri Lanka has in abundance. It is that mindset that will drive Sri Lanka to secure its place once more amongst the great nations of the world.
Every business has an obligation to share its success with those less fortunate and as we collaborate amongst youth, academia, businesses, governments, NGOs, we can discover the solutions that will help us to build on potential to achieve. That achievement needs to be measured primarily in its impact on the livelihoods of people and the connected health of our environment. That is the principle behind our Innovation Awards, and their evolution into the Genesis Project. More on Genesis soon.
The winner of ECOVATION 2021 was a team comprising Professor Rangika Halwatura and Himahansi Galkanda, affiliated to the University of Moratuwa, who created an eco-friendly wall-putty out of waste alum sludge. While being honoured as winner of Ecovation 2021 with the Merrill J Fernando Innovation Awards 2021 trophy, the team received a cash prize of Rs 750,000.
In second place was Sudhara Jayakody, also affiliated to the University of Moratuwa, with his Eco Crumbler – “earthworm pet home” – a solution devised to help people living in small homes and apartments manage household food waste sustainably. Chosen in third place was Gamini Priyantha Alexander, from Nature’s Paper (Pvt) Ltd, a formidable eco-entrepreneur, who has been creating eco-friendly packaging alternatives out of paper waste and agricultural waste as well as invasive plants. The second place and third place winners received cash prizes of Rs. 500,000 and Rs. 250,000 respectively. The remaining top 10 were also awarded with cash prizes of Rs 50,000 each towards their continuing eco innovation journey.
The Merrill J. Fernando Innovation Awards encourages eco-innovators to showcase their product, and acts as space for knowledge-sharing and growth. Going beyond traditional competitions, ECOVATION seeks to work closely with the winning innovators to assess and refine their innovations, adapt and scale-up to suit environmental, commercial and market requirements. The winning innovators will also be provided legal support to protect the intellectual property rights of the respective eco-innovators.
My appreciation to our judges, my colleagues at Dilmah Tea and Dilmah Conservation and my sincere congratulations to the winners.