RISE 2019 alumni - Making a difference in 2020

U21 Real Impact on Society and Environment (RISE) student competition launched in June 2019 and provides a platform for student innovators across the U21 network to develop projects seeking to improve the lives of others. Each U21 member institution is invited to nominate a student-led project based on an aspect of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. 50 students from 16 institutions competed in the 2019 final for the chance to win $2000 seed funding for their project.  

Now more than ever communities need innovative solutions to challenges that may have emerged or been heightened by the Covid-19 pandemic; U21 caught up with some of our RISE 2019 finalists to find out how their projects have progressed and adapted to the challenges of 2020. 

ROOTS Africa – Winner Most Innovative  
ROOTS Africa

SDGs: GOAL 1: No Poverty| GOAL 2: Zero Hunger| GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure 

Roots Africa connects students and academic institutions in Maryland with farming communities in Liberia and Uganda, to create young changemakers who can implement agricultural change and innovation.  

With Universitas 21's financial support, ROOTS Africa was able to facilitate videoconferencing calls between students in the US and Africa to first identify needs and then kick off the campaign. ROOTS Africa was also recently able to launch their website to increase the projects visibility and reach.  

Furthermore, as a result of publicity generated by the competition, the project has received a number of new donors and many supporters to build the capacity of ROOTS Africa. Additionally, Cedric Nwafor, founder of ROOTS Africa, highlights how the competition reminded him of the importance of grassroots fundraising. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic ROOTS has recently successfully crowdfunded $20,000 to support African families to stay safe during lockdown. 

For the coming months, there are many other exciting projects in the works for the team, including an expansion of their TinyBooks program, which provides customised text for use by farmers and students, complete with pictures and location-specific-knowledge, and a new venture focused on training producers to sell to businesses.  

Eliminating Eczema in 2020  

SDGs:  GOAL 3: Good Health and Wellbeing 

The Eczema Eradication Project (TEEP) was founded with the mission to help one million people get rid of eczema by 2026. Since their formation two years ago, the interdisciplinary team of students have undertaken public workshops, patient peer support groups, and social media awareness building. 

TEEP recently switched from a low-impact NGO model to a social enterprise and with this came a new name: WeDerm. For the second half of 2020, WeDerm will be releasing a pilot Eczema Bootcamp to 18 patients with moderate to severe eczema in Hong Kong. The programme will be delivered completely virtually as the team continue to adapt to support those living with Eczema. 

Screenshot of 3 of the leaders of WeDerm attending a virtual award ceremony.



SDGs: GOAL 1: No Poverty| GOAL 2: Zero Hunger| GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being| GOAL 4: Quality Education| GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth| GOAL 10: Reduced Inequality 

Watchtower is a human-centric mental health support system connecting people together. The initiative has been trialled in schools and workplaces and uses a suite of hardcopy and digital resources to enable Watchtower to be implemented at scale. 

Like many, the Watchtower team have been navigating work and study during lockdown in the past few months. However, with mental health support more important than ever, the Watchtower action plan has evolved during this difficult time to be used as a resource for use in rural communities. By hosting workshops to support young people to map out their support networks and articulate the support they need, Watchtower is engaging new communities and a network of mentors in rural communities. 


To find out more about RISE and the 2019 finalist projects, please see our RISE webpages. RISE 2020 is now open for member registrations. If you are a student interested in entering, please see our student information pages where you can sign up to an information session. 
Amber Bartlett