Nagpur (Maharashtra) [India], December 16: The Innovators Against Covid (IAC) program, launched by Vruksh Ecosystem Foundation and supported by GIZ India, has chosen five aspiring innovators who are providing solutions in healthcare, education, and livelihood in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

The pandemic has disrupted nearly all businesses and will continue to change how organisations operate and do business in the future. The IAC programme was launched with the goal of having a high-touch engagement with innovators, building solutions to the Covid-19 response, and providing them with a cohesive environment with stakeholders from local geography to collaborate and build future startup companies.

Arasi Arul brought a one-of-a-kind solution to address and meet the needs of elderly people who live away from their children. Individuals have been isolated due to widespread lockdown and preventative measures, which have harmed the global economy and limited access to physical and mental healthcare. However, the elderly, who have been disproportionately affected by both the virus and the lockdown measures, have reaped the fewest benefits from digital solutions. Arasi started a virtual caretaker service for parents who live away from their children.

School closures widen learning inequalities and hurt vulnerable children and youth disproportionately. 60.5% of the world’s student population was affected by school closures; 1.05 a billion learners in 109 countries were out of school. The Ekatra team, Prasenjit, Viresh, Abhijeet & Suraj took upon this challenge to build a tool for educators and organisations to deliver learning at scale, combining the power of Text (SMS & WhatsApp), Audio & Video communication. For a simple breakdown of how Ekatra works, once the courses are uploaded onto the Ekatra platform, the teacher can choose what time of day to send their daily text (500-700 characters each), as well as if they want to receive their course over Whatsapp, or SMS. They receive an image for visual cues followed by an audio call that enables instructors to answer students’ queries over a synchronous medium. Ekatra’s long term vision is to provide education to millions without access to adequate education, or even the internet, worldwide.

The M19 Initiative led by Richa & Vaibhav; started in March 2020 as a response to the pandemic. Their maker space, Maker’s Asylum, started making face shields to support the frontline workers only to realise that they could make a few in the lab while the situation demanded a lot more. That was the beginning of the M19 Collective – Makers fighting COVID19. In the last year, the collective manufactured not only 1 million face shields in 49 days but also active respirators, rebreathers, sanitisers, intubation boxes and much more. Since April 2021, the collective has reunited to work on the scarcity of oxygen in the country. This engagement aims to adopt an innovative approach for a decentralised model of knowledge sharing for manufacturing by connecting different maker spaces and outreach to local communities as well as to ideate and develop solutions for responding to the challenge of equipment repairs and their product life-extension. It can enable manufacturers to meet immediate needs relating to COVID-19 Response, including through local manufacturing, repair and maintenance, and thereby contribute towards Resource Efficiency and Circular Economy. Makers Asylum has now started hosting Repair Cafe – a unique initiative to build capacity in the country to repair oxygen concentrators.

On similar lines, and as an active part of the M19 Collective, Fablab Nagpur gave a place for innovators to power their Ideas, a playground for inventions to happen, possibilities for makers to make anything, an ecosystem for creativity, and space for like-minded people. Pratik and Asim opened their space to makers offering the space and tools to manufacture solutions to fight the pandemic digitally. It also ran several initiatives to enable creativity in children and young adults. The Protocademy is an initiative that enables the philosophy of Design-Develop-Deploy. It runs over 60 days enabling multi and interdisciplinary projects and experiential-based learning programmes. Anyone from any discipline can come up with their newly born ideas and nurture them by designing, developing a prototype and manifesting using advanced fabrication tools to a well-furnished deployable product.

Since March 2020, most of the artisans in the country have been unemployed. Artisans and weavers are the third largest segment among the poor. Their current situation is getting very low perception notwithstanding the call for “vocal for local” and ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat”. Raaha, started by Amrita & Radhika, is powering growth in the artisan economy by facilitating digital access to handmade goods. Today’s conscious global consumers work together with social enterprises and artisan communities to bring beautiful, environmentally positive gifts and immersive cultural experiences to consumers. In addition, Raaha curates immersive learning experiences for global audiences to engage with craft communities and artisans, preserving age-old craft forms. These workshops are Team Building and engagement, Students, Craft Enthusiasts, Cultural groups, and whosoever wants to start their journey as advocates for artisans. The Artisan Shop was created as a pandemic response not-for-profit initiative by Raaha + Ka-sha + Loom & Hand. The collective action movement to support our Weavers + Artisans by giving access to global consumers to buy directly from the makers.

Vruksh Ecosystem Foundation is an Innovation & Entrepreneurship Ecosystem; a think tank facilitates organisations and institutions to implement an innovation ecosystem and support global goals for a sustainable future. We enable a cohesive environment with stakeholders from local geography to work together and build future startup companies. If you are someone who wants to #BuildTheFuture, reach out to us at hi@vruksh.org!

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