RISE 2019 alumni - Making A Difference In 2020 (Part 2)

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.  

Solar4Schools – Winner most potential 

SDGs: GOAL 4: Quality Education| GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean Energy 

Two years ago, “Solar4Schools” founder, Yang, discovered that many communities in Kenya struggled to access clean and reliable electricity. People are still dependent on kerosene and even have trouble charging their phones. Yang decided to take on the challenge of turning this barrier into a sustainable business opportunity for schools. After several months of innovation, design and testing, Solar4Schools impressed the RISE 2019 judges with the potential the project showed and won $2000 seed funding to pilot the project. 

However, just as the team were preparing to pilot their product in a handful of Kenyan schools, plans were interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent school closures. But instead of putting the project on hold, Solar4Schools adapted, quickly realising their model could add benefit for many other groups such as local businesses, farmers and charitable organisations.

With a new approach came a new name: Mbegu Solar. ‘Mbegu’, meaning ‘seed’ in Swahili, illustrates the project philosophy of planting a seed with a sustainable economic opportunity and then letting them grow and flourish themselves. The funding provided by RISE 2019 enabled the team to rebrand and to launch their new website to increase the projects visibility and reach. 

Logo of Mgebu Solar



SDGs: GOAL 1: No Poverty| GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being| GOAL 4: Quality Education| GOAL 6: Clean Water and Sanitation| GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth 

Lilypads are on a mission to ensure that no one is limited by their period because a period day should be a day like any other. For many women across the world it isn’t; a lack of access to sanitary products and menstrual education leads to unequal opportunity.

Picture of Lilypad Founders

Lilypads' story began in rural Kenya. After discovering that many girls here were being forced to engage in transactional sex in exchange for sanitary products. Alison and Mhairi, Lilypads' founders, have spent the last two years working with textile specialists to develop a comfortable, discreet and affordable reusable sanitary product.  Having established initiatives around the world, Lilypads realised that the reusable products on the market in the UK were not fitting the needs of menstruators and saw an opportunity to sell products in the UK to subsidise their work internationally.   

As a finalist in the U21 RISE 2019 student competition, Lilypads received a RISE pledge of ongoing support from a mentor and coach to develop their team further. During the Covid-19 pandemic they have  have also been able to focus on what is most important to them and to lay the groundwork for future work with schools. Moreover On the 21 July 2020 Lilypads launched their Crowdfunder for pre-orders of their reusable period pads. Within 4 days they were 90% funded. Find out more at: https://rbsbackherbusiness.co.uk/lilypads-beunlimited . 

Image of girls in school uniform holding Lilipads products


Snap Recycle 

SDGs: GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production 

Snap Recycle is an app-based recycling tool which helps communities understand and follow local recycling processes, to increase recycling, reduce landfill, and encourage responsible consumption. 

Although the team have been focusing on their studies in the past few months, they continue to engage their local university community to help better understand student environmental habits and behaviors. Recently the team have regrouped and refocused, using their development time in the RISE program to hone in their project aims and focus on their strengths to progress the project. 


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 to enter, please see our student information pages where you can sign up to an information session. 

Amber Bartlett