Shaping a Fairer World with Innovation and the SDGs – Elly Savatia

Elly Savatia
Elly Savatia

I am a 20-year-old tech enthusiast, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) advocate, and budding social innovator. I see myself as an inventor and in the long term, I aspire to explore the possibilities of technology and positively impact the world with solutions to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges.

Growing up I was fascinated by electronics and remember pulling apart devices to understand how they worked. I was also the best student in Science and Innovation in primary school; don’t take my word for it, I have the awards to prove it!
In secondary school, I was first an active member then the chairman of my school’s Science Club. This is how I learned about and in December 2017 entered GMin’s Innovate Kenya Competition. My first impression was that I was surrounded by brilliant young people from all over the country who were working on tangible solutions to healthcare problems, fire outbreaks, road accidents and security. I felt so pleased to be considered their peer.

I developed the stair ramp, a robotic staircase solution that helps physically disabled persons with mobility in buildings. It operates based on the louvre frame principle and incorporates sensors (Arduino micro-controller) and levers. The inclusive mobility model can be installed in buildings so that it can adjust to different configurations based on the user’s preference. This project earned me a spot as a finalist in the boot camp.

In the boot camp, all finalists were taken through an accelerated program on design thinking, leadership and innovation for social good. With the help of my mentor –Lisa Kimondo, I prototyped the second model of my innovation, now fully automated. I also overcame my fear of public speaking and pitched my project to the boot camp judges.

After boot camp, my eyes were opened to the possibilities of social innovation and change-making. The boot camp also equipped me with a series of transformative life-long lessons and instilled confidence in my ability to solve problems around me. Once back in school I co-founded a club that focused on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), thus connecting my individual interest in technology to a global movement for social change. Through this club, I participated in the Climate Action Project, a global, student-centred program involving 250 schools across 69 countries. Through this, we partnered with the British Council to participate in environmental talks and plant trees in our school.

Elly addressing Students on SDGs

After high school, I took a gap year during which I enrolled in an online course about teaching the Sustainable Development Goals as I was frustrated by the lack of public knowledge around the SDGs and assumption that only the UN or national governments could take action to achieve these goals. After this course I founded Innovate 4 SGDs; a venture which fosters a culture of young change-makers to achieve the SDGs and spark interest in innovation practices for local and global challenges.

By hosting discussions, debates, design thinking sessions, and networking opportunities Innovate 4 SDGs enables “students with global citizenship skills and problems solving skills to prepare them to be change-makers” for fair and sustainable development. In March 2019, Innovate 4 SDGs partnered with 2017 Top 10 Global Teacher Prize Finalist Dr Ken Silburn, a global expert in STEM education, to introduce STEM to students in marginalized communities across Nairobi’s public schools. Since the summer of 2019, Innovate 4 SGDs Initiative has reached over 3,000 students in Kenya and Nigeria, 70% of who did not know previously know about the SDGs.

Since participating in the Innovate Kenya boot camp I have had numerous opportunities and wins such as

  • Overall winner nationally UNHCR Refugee Creative Essay Writing Contest 2018.
  • Youth Citizen Entrepreneurship Competition and shortlisted among best projects 2018.
  • Overall Winner Jenesis Summit Talent and Innovation Competition 2018.
  • Accepted to join The Junior Academy, a subsidiary of the New York Academy of Sciences on a merit basis. This is an elite group of problem solvers made up of talented STEM students, STEM experts, and companies around the world dedicated to designing innovative solutions to global challenges.
  • Finalist at Urban Resilience Hackathon themed “driving innovation for better Cities 2019.”
  • Youth representative at the first session of The UN-Habitat Assembly held on 27-31 May 2019, at the headquarters of UN-Habitat in Nairobi.
  • Appointed as a youth representative and speaker at UN-Habitat’s second Youth Blue Economy Conference held on 26th May 2019.
  • Ashoka LeadYoung ambassador & changemaker
  • Deputy team captain –Team Kenya First Global Robotics, the official team which represented Kenya in The annual FGC Challenge 2019 in Dubai.
  • Appointed youth representative Our Cities 2030 by UN-Habitat Youth.
  • Barack Obama’s Young African Leadership Fellow – Cohort 35 – youngest fellow
  • Special award and certificate at YALI fellowship – recognized by YALI “most likely to sell a company to Google “
  • African Young Leaders Fellowship Class of 2020 – Teen General Assembly, Teennation Africa.
  • Africave fellow 2020.

I am also a peer mentor for GMin’s  InChallenge boot camps and STEM outreach programs. I am immensely happy and grateful to be an alumnus of Innovate Kenya as it opened me up to a whole new way of seeing the world and my role in it. Also, because I met amazing friends to work with on co-founding projects. I would definitely encourage other young people to apply and take advantage of this amazing opportunity.