Three students of the Heritage Christian College (HCC), Ghana emerged winners of the 2018 Global Social Innovation Challenge at the University of San Diego, United States of America (USA).
Known as Team Charcoal, the students — Evans Kwarkye, Benjamin Nketsia and Austin Carboo — presented a solution to the sanitation challenge in Ghana by turning human excreta into charcoal.
After competing with 51 teams from 27 universities in 12 countries, they won both the Audience Choice Award, which earned them $1,500, and the Overall Grand Prize in the General Track category, which also came with a seed funding of $15,000.
The Global Social Innovation Challenge is a social venture pitch competition that recognises, resources and rewards student-led social ventures focused on sustainable change.
It is an initiative of the University of San Diego's Centre for Peace and Commerce.
Participants in the challenge take a social or environmental issue and identify gaps in the approaches currently deployed to solve it.
Speaking at a press conference to welcome them at Amasaman last Tuesday, one of the team members, Nketsia, said although the team had the intention to address sanitation challenges in Ghana, it also considered the business aspect of the problem, hence the innovation of turning human excreta into charcoal.
"The initiative was introduced to us by one of our team members, after which we researched into it.
We realised that some companies were using excreta for bio gas and fertiliser, but looking at the amount being generated daily in Accra, we noticed that there were still more waste and that was why we decided to come in and contribute our quota.
We are in a strategic partnership with some of these companies and they will assist us in terms of technical advice," he said.
The Global Social Innovation Challenge, Nketsia indicated, was introduced to the school by the Centre for Entrepreneurship, Philanthropy and Ethics (CEPE), after which Team Charcoal was nominated by judges, who were businessmen, company owners and entrepreneurs, out of the five teams that were formed at the school to join other competitors in the USA.
He said the team intended to build a factory to manufacture charcoal in Accra and called on the government to support the initiative with resources in order for it to materialise.
The Mentor of Team Charcoal, Mr Alexander Asmah, said the team focused on charcoal because it realised that charcoal was used all over the country and even outside the continent.
The initiative, he said, would also prevent the felling of trees to produce charcoal, while waste would be recycled and generated into charcoal.
"We are much motivated to operationalise this idea, especially after winning the award. Our target is to look for significant investors to materialise this innovation," he added.
For his part, the President of the HCC, Dr Samuel Twumasi-Ankrah, said the business plan for the initiative had already been put together, with the hope of meeting investors with it.
The HCC, he said, was a Christ-centred university accredited by the National Accreditation Board and affiliated to the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology.
"Our goal is not to make a name or fame but to train and equip students to be integrated with ethics and entrepreneurship to enable them to become independent and create jobs for themselves and others when they are out of school," he added.