Smoke rises between houses from fuels being burned for cooking, threatening both the environment and human health through carbon dioxide emissions and indoor air pollution. Meanwhile, diapers that have not been properly disposed of are polluting waterways and sewage systems and become a potential source of disease. What do these two seemingly distinct problems have to do with one another? For starters, they are two of many hazards that the residents of Kibera — an informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya, and one of the largest such settlements in Africa — have to live with every day. But both also were seen as an opportunity by the founders of a Nairobi start-up called LeafyLife that aims to recycle used diapers to produce a cheap, sustainable and clean fuel.

Dennis Muguta, Melvin Kizito and Peter Gachanja, the founders of LeafyLife, had to overcome many challenges when bringing their invention to life. As in many other low- and middle-income countries, training, funding and support for budding entrepreneurs is not easily accessible. According to the latest report of the Global Innovation Index, with the exception of China, every one of the 30 countries leading in innovation is a high-income economy. In response to this need, large players in the worlds of economics and innovation, including the World Economic Forum and the European Union’s European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), have started initiatives to make innovation more diverse and support sustainability entrepreneurs, like LeafyLife, worldwide.

Global Sustainability Solutions

The ClimateLaunchpad competition, organized annually by EIT Climate-KIC, a public-private partnership funded by EIT, is one such initiative. Participants receive extensive coaching in entrepreneurship while the top 16 finalists also gain access to a business school for cleantech entrepreneurs, and developing start-ups receive mentorship, training and access to investors who help them turn into fully fledged cleantech businesses.

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