Published:  12:01 AM, 17 November 2021

EcoVation BD pledges to tackle climate change with innovation

EcoVation BD pledges to tackle climate change with innovation
EcoVation Bangladesh (formerly Liter of Light Bangladesh) is a passionate research & innovation driven social enterprise founded by me with a vision to solve society’s problems by innovation. It started the journey with a solution to solve the energy poverty problem in Bangladesh, later venturing into other innovative initiatives.

I, founded the social enterprise, EcoVation Bangladesh in 2015, which innovate, design & implement integrated innovative solutions for marginalized communities of Bangladesh. Their motto is ‘Innovate to Impact’.

They are lighting up underprivileged lives free-of-cost, ensuring clean water for communities, providing menstrual hygiene solutions, bringing livelihood opportunities for the deprived, serving Rohingya refugees, building a plastic-free Bangladesh.

To date, there are over 30 projects implemented around the country, the solution having positively impacted the lives of approximately 1,50,000 disadvantaged people. The organisation also takes actions towards educating the communities on locally innovated technology and solutions. They aim to innovate technologies that are easy to make and can solve society’s problems. Their volunteer-run projects enable the young volunteers to design & make solutions that can solve peoples’ problems. EcoVation Bangladesh is working to achieve United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, specifically SDG1, SDG7, SDG9, SDG11 & SDG17.

When I first started volunteering in 2010, it was at the beach, and they were tasked with cleaning up the area. There were roughly 300+ youth involved, and some were cleaning, while others were spreading awareness by chatting to passersby and handing out leaflets. He realized this strategy wasn't effective when people ignored us and threw away the leaflet we passed out to them. He was contemplating doing something sustainable. In 2005 out of his techie curiosity he made a charge-lamp out of simple materials for the first time when he was 13. From that enthusiasm & passion about innovation and doing something for the underprivileged, he first saw a YouTube video of people building lights out of bottles filled with water, and in 2014, he experimented for the first time in a nearby house and they succeeded. So this sparked an idea in his head that he thought was a really great one. Because those who live in rural areas or areas without access to electricity would greatly benefit from our efforts to provide them with these lights. Then he started the organization to work more on that technology and to make it available to thousands of people who have no access to electricity.

In 2021, they have several projects namely Project LightGiver, Project SolarPreneur, Project Bishuddha Pani, Project MyPad, Project Rohingya, Project AntiPlastic.

Right after the foundation of the organization, we started researching to design more effective eco-friendly lighting solutions. While designing technology, we follow 4 key principles, 1. Need to keep it eco-friendly, 2. Need to use easily available materials, 3. Easy to do process, 4. Cost effective. Since the beginning we designed 11 kinds of solar lights that are cheap, eco-friendly and anyone can make. At present we have three kinds of solar bottle lights designed by EcoVation Bangladesh (formerly Liter of Light Bangladesh), bottle bamboo bottle lamp, solar streetlight, and water bottle light. All are made by bottle, we use the bottle as a symbol to aware people that a light can be made of anything. For solar lamps we use used plastic bottle, bamboo, small solar panel, lithium battery and circuit. The assembling process is really easy, one can learn from YouTube tutorials we published. All the materials are easily available everywhere. We just make the small circuit to make the whole light function. It can lit up a small room for around 12 hours if charged once with the solar panel

The solar streetlight is similarly made out of similar types of materials. It is just equipped with a different circuit that keeps it on when there is darkness, and automatically turns off when there is sunlight. It can lit up 500 sq ft area outside, yard or street. It costs 5-15 thousand to make depending on the capacity. It is almost one fifth of the price other manufacturers are selling. Both the lights have a 5-year lifetime, making it well-suited to remote places with extreme climates.

 The most interesting design is the water bottle lamp. That kind of light doesn’t have any electronic components. It was just made out of a plastic bottle filled with chlorinated water, and set on the tin-roof by cutting a small hole. This light keeps a dark room enlightened during the day time providing bright light. Only the clean water keeps refracting the sunlight it consumes from the top. It costs less than 300 taka to make.

Once we had success providing our lighting solutions to underprivileged, we ventured into finding solutions for other vital problems. We started designing a solar-powered water purification system which is portable and we can set up anywhere. One purification system can provide 10-50 litres of clean water in a remote place. A system is equipped with a solar panel, battery, DC submersible pump and an RO water filter. We are also designing portable handheld water filters. Which can be used in remote places to drink instant clean water. To address water problems in hill tract areas, we are experimenting with ramp-pump technology. In this hydraulic pump, no electricity is needed. The ram pump can lift water to a max height of 180 feet. This produces a lot of pressure at the pump with an input head pressure of 25 feet. We are trying to improvise the design to minimize the setup cost.

We also started designing a sanitary pad vending machine. Females can purchase sanitary pads instantly by using mobile financial banking apps or cash. Pads will be stacked in the vending machine, buyers can scan QR code by MFS app and then place order. We are equipping it with a solar panel & battery so that it functions even if electricity is unavailable.

We are designing a low-cost power-wall equipped with nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery pack and solar panel, which can provide seamless electricity in rural areas with an affordable price.

In Bangladesh around 3 crore people don’t have access to electricity, globally it’s 1.3 billion. For many, kerosene (paraffin) is a common lighting fuel that is affordable and accessible. Kerosene lamps emit both toxic carbon dioxide (CO2) and black carbon. 13% people, which is 18.5 million in Bangladesh use kerosene lamps, burn 2000 million litres of kerosene, which produces around 45000 tons of carbon. Kerosene lamps pose significant health impacts, due both to chronic illness resulting from inhalation of fumes and to risk of injury due to fire.

Since our inception, we have lit up more than 90,000 peoples’ lives including Rohingya refugees directly with our volunteer-made water bottle lamp, bamboo bottle solar lamp and streetlights. We reduced 3250 metric tons of toxic CO2  emissions and reduced toxic kerosene use significantly. Our beneficiaries save around 15,000 BDT yearly on energy cost, in the last few years they saved more than 3 crore BDT.

Globally, Bangladesh is considered the market leader of solar home systems with 6 million household setup. However, these systems remain prohibitively expensive for a large portion of people from the river islands. Also, solar-powered products are not widely available in Bangladesh, production is really limited because of not having enough technically skilled people. That ends up not many companies venture into the solar market. To address this problem, we started a grassroots livelihood initiative Project SolarPreneur in 2018, where we train underprivileged youths, women and young people, including refugees, in solar product making. And also equip them with green-skill, business development & market-linkage lessons. Sometimes we provide them with seed-funding to buy tools and start their own micro-enterprise to manufacture & sell solar lights and earn livelihood. Whoever turns into a micro-entrepreneur we call them SolarPreneur, and who just equipped themselves with green-skill we call them SolarEngineer. Our solar lamp-making training is allowing youths to have a sustainable livelihood. Which brings a huge workforce in the renewable energy sector. After the free training, we continuously support them strategically. So far we trained around 3000 rural people.

80% of people in Bangladesh don't have access to clean water. Bangladesh is surrounded by river & sea. People in low-income families and slums have to drink and use the tainted water. Floods, cyclones, earthquakes and droughts are all common in Bangladesh, causing devastating upheaval to people's lives. Rural & remote area communities lack access to safe drinking water. Waterborne diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A kills around 800 thousand people every year. To address this problem we need to develop water cleaning systems and avail them to the underprivileged first. With that aim, in 2020 we started Project Bishuddha Pani with designing solar-powered water purification systems. We installed 20+ of those RO systems under Project Bishuddha Pani charity initiative in different public places such as mosques, madrasa, school etc, which ensures clean water for around 50,000 people completely free-of-cost. We covered areas in Teknaf near the Rohingya refugee camp and Chittagong so far.

We are now designing handheld portable water purification filters that can be used in rural areas to filter water to drink instantly.

Approximately 95% of the menstruating females in Bangladesh do not use sanitary pads because they cannot afford them, leading to illnesses and increased absences from school or work. It causes vital diseases, even some end up dying. Also, single-use sanitary pads become an environmental hazard as it doesn't degrade easily. To solve these problems, ensure menstrual hygiene, and save the environment, EcoVation Bangladesh started Project MyPad where we train underprivileged females on making cheap reusable napkins from garment scraps. It brings livelihood scopes, as well as ensuring low-cost sanitary napkins to underprivileged females. Our project demonstrates a possible solution: a low-cost sanitary napkin made of garment waste. Low-cost sanitary napkins can drastically change the lives of women working in factories. The taboo around menstrual health is still as prevalent in the society of Bangladesh as it was for many years — despite the issue concerning half of the population. These taboos emerge from an absence of proper awareness and management of menstrual hygiene, causing more complications to the already sensitive and painful occurrence. Educating girls and boys alike about puberty and menstrual health in a healthy open way as a natural part of their curriculum will be a game-changer in removing the stigma. Another part of Project MyPad is to raise awareness regarding the subject and put emphasis on practicing menstrual hygiene management. We organize sessions, community outreach, workshops at different educational institutions. And to remove the social taboos and create awareness, Project MyPad has trained and briefed at least a few thousand school-going girls in the last ten years about the management of menstrual issues. Also, we are planning to launch & operate a toll-free teleservice where any female can get free advice from professionals.

We are soon to install solar-powered sanitary pad vending machines in school, college, universities and garment factories to ensure low cost sanitary pads on-demand.

We have plans to distribute 10,000 water bottle lamps, solar lamps and streetlight in the Rohingya refugee  camp and host community.
In their Rohingya Response Projects, we run all our projects for serving rohingya refugees and host communities in partnership with International NGOs and UN organizations. Rohingyas & host community people get training for self-reliance and then they make solar lamps & streetlights to sell them in camp.

We also started training Rohingya and host community females on clothed sanitary pad making under our Project MyPad, so that they can make them and sell them to International NGOs in the refugee camps.

We also installed solar-powered water purification systems in the refugee context to ensure clean safe water for the host community and Rohingya refugees.

We believe in bringing solutions first rather than creating awareness. Once we successfully design a solution, then we arrange online and offline sessions to discuss those solutions, we do workshops at different levels to promote the alternatives.

We plan to launch the PlasticPreneur project once we have 2-3 tested plastic alternatives. In this project we will provide underprivileged youth with technology & business model to start their plastic recycling & upcycling micro-enterprise.

We EcoVation Bangladesh won a Startup Award from Youth Co:Lab by UNDP & Citi Foundation for our sustainable social entrepreneurial approach. For our impactful intervention for Rohingya refugees, the United Nations shortlisted us for Young Leaders for SDGs Award. We got selected in YSEH Social Enterprise by the UN Major Group for Children and Youth. I achieved a place in George HW Bush Points of Light Inspiration Honor Roll. BDSIF recognized us with the Bangladesh Digital Social Innovation Award. Switzerland based YE Community and International Trade Centre shortlisted me for Youth EcoPreneur Award for impacting 90,000 peoples’ lives with renewable energy technology.

We want at least 50% Bangladeshi people to be entirely energy self-sufficient by enabling solar power. This will allow people to be fully independent of the conventional grid power supply. Additionally, we want to launch a program SolarLife, where people can pay nothing for their electricity in the future. That follows EcoVation’s vision of providing clean and affordable energy for everyone. The project, which is aimed at the rural population, is addressing the development inequality between the urban and rural areas. The project mechanism promotes inclusion so as to leave no one behind.

Our goal is to expand our activities nationally. We will train 10,000 underprivileged youth on solar product making so that they can add up to the green energy skill economy.  We want to provide free eco-friendly renewable energy solutions to 1,00,000 energy-deprived houses including Rohingya refugees every year which will benefit more than half a million underprivileged people. That will save 50 crore BDT energy expenses every year.  And innovate more easy-to-make solutions so that we can share the innovations with peer-to-peer learning models that will end up solving a national level social problem we are facing. Reducing 100 thousands metric tons of carbon emission is the ultimate goal. Innovation, ensuring jobs, reducing carbon, lighting up lives are the current goals precisely. We aim to bring solutions to the problem that causes climate change, so that it helps in climate action directly.

Under our Project LightGiver, we are lighting up villages in Bangladesh every month. Our 2022 plan is set for LightGiver, we will lit up at least 5 communities every month free-of-cost with volunteer made solar lamps & streetlights with the CSR support from a local FMCG company. They are partnering up with more corporates to implement similar projects.

We will involve disabled and transgender people in our voluntary initiative.

We will install solar-powered water purification systems in as many places to ensure clean water for 1 million people in the next few years. We will sell our handheld portable water filter with a subsidized price and sometimes will donate.

We will install at least 20 sanitary pad vending machines in different public places.

We will launch two social enterprises, one is to sell plastic alternatives produced under our livelihood program, and another is a reusable sanitary pad brand.

We are soon launching an Innovation Hub to facilitate all the young innovators who has passion to innovate solutions but don’t have access to technical, strategic and funding support. Joy Barua Lablu, a young innovator who got fame after innovating a low-cost bionic prosthetic hand for those who lost their hands in road accidents. Joy joined EcoVation innovator team to streamline new innovations to impact peoples’ lives.  have plans to start an open-source community-led 3D prosthetic hand design platform where volunteers will contribute their ideas to design prosthetic hands.

 have plan to launch Exchange program to attract foreign students to join EcoVation’s initiatives and also study in a Bangladeshi university for one semester. It will help us build an intercultural innovation network.

From 2022  will avoid all plastic branding materials such as banner, bag etc and will use jute banners for our events.

We have a big plan to achieve four World Records by creating the largest solar lamp portrait artwork of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. We will engage above 1000 volunteers to make 7000 solar lamps, and make the largest solar artwork in a stadium. And in the stadium, at least 5000 witnesses will be there. We will teach them about renewable energy. Highest number of volunteers made solar lamps, highest number of solar lamps assembled, and largest solar artwork, highest number of people learned about renewable energy, these are the four World Records. Later these 7000 solar lamps will light up at least 100 of the communities.

With EcoVation’s expanding plan nationwide, soon it will form regional teams in 64 districts. According to the need assessment, priority basis it will roll out the teams, which will bring around 1000 team members onboard.

Shanjidul Alam Seban Shaan is 4th Industrial Revolution and Innovation Activist and Founder of EcoVation Bangladesh

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