Expo 2020 Dubai teams up with Gates Foundation to help refugees

Partnership will help to fund grassroots projects around the world

A non-profit group, myAgro uses cell phone technology so farmers in Mali can buy agricultural supplies and training. Courtesy: Expo 2020 Dubai
Powered by automated translation

A Malaysian organisation that sells meals cooked by refugees, a group that supports farming communities in Africa and an education charity working in Lebanon and Jordan are being backed by Expo 2020 Dubai and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Expo and the foundation announced a partnership last week that will support grass-roots projects.

"The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has contributed funds, as well as expertise, best practices and technical assistance, to selected Expo Live grantees that have the ambition to improve the lives of people that face unimaginable challenges every day," Mohamed Al Ansaari, vice president of communications for Expo 2020 Dubai, told The ­National.

Expo Live is a global innovation programme managed by the world fair.

It provides funding and support to projects around the world that use creative ways to help people in need, with each group receiving a grant of up to $100,000 (Dh367,250).

One of the projects, PichaEats, sells meals cooked by refugee mothers living in poverty in Malaysia.

Expo partners with Bill & Melinda Gates

Expo partners with Bill & Melinda Gates

The group provides the women with an income by purchasing the food, repackaging it and arranging for the home-made meals to be delivered to customers.

With Expo funding, PichaEats can help more families and provide professional training for its chefs. Revenue is divided evenly between the women and the group, which uses its half to cover costs.

Mr Al Ansaari said the ­monthly payments allowed the ­women to send their children to school, pay rent or cover basic expenses.

Ling Sook Shian, co-founder of the project, said there were about 200,000 refugees in Malaysia and poverty forced many of the children to drop out of school.

The group aims to tackle inequality so the poor are not denied opportunities to advance.

PichaEats organises catering, buffets and food tasting experiences to highlight the stories of its chefs.

“That actually transforms them from refugees who are victims into entrepreneurs who are able to earn a living for themselves through their own hard work,” Ms Ling said.

“My biggest dream is that we can have a world where economy is shared, where when we progress, the communities also progress. My ultimate goal is to see more businesses transforming lives.”

Another of projects to receive a grant, myAgro, works with farming families in Mali, Senegal and Tanzania who live on less than $2 a day.

Expo and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Expo and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

The group has helped 47,000 farmers invest in high-quality seeds, fertilisers and training to boost their harvest and income.

Farmers pay $1 to $10 in advance using a prepaid scratch card, similar to a prepaid mobile card, and myAgro purchases and delivers the tools to farmers in time for planting season.

“We provide them with an opportunity to buy quality seeds, fertilisers that they have up to six months to pay for ahead of time,” said Abdallahi Mohamed, who works with myAgro.

“This is eventually to solve the cash flow problem that low skill farmers encounter on the ground. There is no pressure, there is no loan involved.”

Closer to home, arts and education charity, Seenaryo, developed an app to help teachers educate refugee children in Lebanon and Jordan.

Bill & Melinda Gates with Expo

Bill & Melinda Gates with Expo

To cope with a million refugee children, new schools have opened but teachers require ideas and materials to keep pupils engaged.

The Seenaryo Playkit app contains teaching resources such as games, stories and songs.

“A teacher will be easily able to search for whatever topic they are teaching and find relevant games and songs to teach that in a student-centred and active way,” said Oscar Wood, co-director at the charity.

The projects are among 142 initiatives from 76 countries that Expo Live supports with guidance and funding.

Joe Cerrell, managing director of global policy and advocacy at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said the partnership would help people who were most in need.

“This initiative will help fund and develop innovative solutions from around the world that have the potential to save lives during an emergency or enable affected communities to rebuild better and safer, and become more resilient over the longer-term,” he said.

The foundation's Emergency Response Programme helps communities by sharing technical assistance with a focus on water, sanitation, health, agriculture and financial inclusion.