Solution City

The Enactus World Cup brings together teams of students from more than 30 countries who have launched game-changing ideas to help save the planet.

September 18, 2019

6:41 pm

Water hyacinths are a tall-growing green plant with a gorgeous purple flower.

“Do not be deceived by its beauty,” noted a team of women from a school in Kenya just 15 miles from Lake Victoria, which is slowly being strangled by the species.

Water hyacinths, an invasive pest, grow at an eye-popping rate, and are choking both the local ecosystem and the economy: once a thriving fishing community, the plant is filling up the lakes’ shores, making it near impossible to even launch boats, let alone get to the fish that provide both nutrition and jobs for locals. (The plant is being held responsible for a “70% loss of livelihood,” said the team.)

But the three women students from Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology in Bondo, Kenya, presented a compelling pitch that is turning water hyacinths into bio-gas briquettes. Their Project Hyatech was the winning entry from Kenya in the Enactus World Cup, a solutions-oriented annual competition pitting the winners of 37 national Enactus contests against each other to crown one champion.

Every year, 72,000 students from more than 1,700 universities participate in the program to surface entrepreneurial action (Enactus gets its name from the idea that ENtrepreneurial ACTion creates a better world for US all.) Project Hyatech was one of 31 participating finalists at this year’s Enactus World Cup, held in San Jose, California (some teams had visa issues, preventing an assembly of all 37 countries). Each team got 20 minutes of stage time to make their pitch, including five minutes of questions from a panel of judges. Judges are asked to weigh each presentation with a single question: “which Enactus team most effectively demonstrated entrepreneurial leadership to drive business and innovation for sustainable positive impact to benefit people, planet, and prosperity within the last year.”

The Kenyan team from Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University

The Kenyans were in “League 4,” one of eight preliminary competitions of up to four teams that saw astonishing project after astonishing project, including India’s Arth (replaces wood-based cremations, which cause large-scale deforestation and air pollution, with modified cow-dung logs “for conducting the Hindu practice of cremations in the crematoriums of India”); Azerbaijan’s SnacKing (converting farmers’ unused fruit into dried fruit to prevent food waste and to help farmers earn extra income); and Mexico’s CPlantae (a “sanitation technology” that uses aquatic plants and worms).

None of these projects is a charity: each uses entrepreneurial frameworks to catalyze both social good and revenue, while also providing economic benefits for a local community, including jobs. The gathering of more than 3,000 students, organizers, partners, judges, and media at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center was like a mini-UN, with the members of many teams dressed in colorful costumes, waving national flags and wearing coordinated accoutrements, like scarves or hats.

“There are massive stadiums to celebrate the greatest young athletes on the planet and thousands of theaters for the best musicians in the world," said Terry Torok, Enactus' Chief Innovation Officer (who was also host of the Earth's Call Town Hall at our inaugural curtain-raiser event in Aspen this past May). "But where on earth is the stage for the passionate young people changing the world for good? We have created just that. A world stage for nextgen leaders to share their stories of proven impact and innovation driving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. That’s the Enactus World Cup!"

The action yesterday saw the number of winning teams whittled down to 16 semi-finalists, with the winner to be announced later today (winners will be posted here). This year also saw a special track of projects related to SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation) called the “World Water Race,” in which a number of teams globally competed for portions of a total $120,000 in prize money. The winning team, India’s Project Asbah, “aims to provide affordable and clean drinking water to urban slums and rural villages through contaminant-specific water-filtration technologies.”

Shortly after the Indian team from Shri Ram College of Commerce was crowned the World Water Race champions, a grand spectacle of nearly 20 students helped announce the next “race” for the 2020 Enactus World Cup in the Netherlands: an SDG 14 (Life Under Water) race, dubbed “1 Race 4 Oceans,” which will focus on ocean-oriented solutions (from over-fishing to micro-plastics to acidification).

Members of the Kazakhstan team at Enactus in San Jose.

Solutions are what make Enactus such a potential game-changer. As Enactus President and CEO Rachel Jarosh noted in a leadership dinner last night, Enactus has changed the lives of its participants, “Not through its curricula, which are excellent, and not through the academic support they get, which is also excellent, but by being able to connect to other people through solutions."

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