UAE ventures aimed to improve lives are first to get Expo 2020 grants

Smart Labour literacy app, ICBA water development and Ver2 medical education all benefit

Yousuf Caires, vice president of Expo Live, said ideas for projects have also been submitted from the UAE. Ravindranath K/The National
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A trio of UAE-based ventures that will help to improve lives are among the first wave of recipients to receive grants from Expo 2020’s US$100 million Expo Live initiative.

Smart Labour, the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) and Ver2 Digital Medicine were among 29 initiatives from across the globe to receive Innovation Impact Grants from the first wave of $100m Innovation Grants that the Expo Live initiative aims to distribute through six-monthly cycles during and ahead of the Expo event.

Yousef Caires, vice-president of the Expo Live initiative, explained that each firm is typically awarded at least $100,000, but that in some cases “there were a couple of them that were at a better place or in a better position to receive a little bit more”.

For instance, although it has not revealed details about individual grants, it said the three UAE initiatives combined received grants worth more than $1m.
Smart Labour is an app aimed at helping construction site workers and other blue-collar staff to improve reading and writing skills by offering rewards such as food and shopping vouchers, as well as extra credits from telecom companies.

Founder Abu Muadh said that there are currently 2.2 million blue-collar workers in the UAE and and 16.5 million in the wider Middle East who have access to smartphones, but were mainly only using them for entertainment or to keep in touch with families who could benefit from smart learning apps.

For many, a lack of education meant they were unable to express themselves well, “which has a direct effect on their productivity, happiness and overall contribution to the economy”.

As well as helping them to learn new skills, the app allows them to report health and safety incidents and provide other feedback using voice notes and photos.

The ICBA is a Dubai-based non-profit organisation that was set up in 1999 with a mandate to develop agricultural production in harsher, desert climates where water has higher salinity levels. The grant will support the development of inland and coastal modular farms in the UAE.


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Meanwhile, Ver2 Digital Medicine has developed a medical education platform that will help to train doctors online in Africa.

Its chief executive Brian de Francesca said that in Africa there was “a chronic shortage of doctors and creating more doctors the traditional way takes a very, very long time”.

He said that based on current demand, it could take up to 300 years for Africa to train enough doctors through traditional methods of building and staffing medical schools.

“Africa can and will leapfrog other countries when it comes to medical education because they must,” he added.

Mr Caires said that during this initial pilot phase of the Expo Live process, it received 575 applications from organisations in 71 countries across the world.

Of these, 168 were taken through a further level of scrutiny before 33 of these were invited to pitch for funding at a two-day event in Dubai. The 29 awards were made to initiatives from 23 different countries.

“That speaks a lot [of] the global ambition of the programme,” Mr Caires said. “We’ve got [initiatives] from Latin America, to Europe, South Africa, South Asia, the Caribbean and North Asia.”

The second round of funding applications is likely to open in September, Mr Caires said.

More details can be found at Expo 2020