Joseph Nguthiru, a student in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Egerton University, is the winner of the Presidential Award for Kenya in the East African Youth Innovation Forum (EAYIF).
Nguthiru, 24, is an innovator who works on sustainable solutions to climate change. His current project is a startup called HyaPak, where he and his team are working on creating biodegradable alternatives to single-use plastic products from water hyacinth — such as wrappers and consumables like straws, tubers and plastic plates. These biodegrade within three to six months.
HyaPak was developed as a school project after Nguthiru and his classmates got stuck in Lake Naivasha due to water hyacinth surrounding their boat during a school trip. For this innovation, Nguthiru has won a string of awards internationally from IGAD, UNESCO, and the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO), among others.
Nguthiru is among six winners — one each from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan — who were formally unveiled during the Forum.
Nguthiru also has other award-winning innovations to his name. His accomplishments include inventing a solar dryer that is now being used to revive pyrethrum farming in Kenya, smart roads, and smart pipes.
These latter two projects focused on creating sustainable cities in the face of the climate change crisis and have won awards at the International Engineering Students Conference in 2020 and 2021, respectively. His innovation in eliminating plastic use in cosmetic packaging saw him win the L’Oréal Brandstorm 2020 prize.
The presidential awards seek to recognize outstanding applications developed by East African youth as well as outstanding youth innovators who are enabling the local innovation eco-system.
The youth innovation programme was advertised in the media in each partner state and on the EAC and EASTECO websites. Applications were accepted online from eligible young innovators below 35 years of age in eight priority categories — namely, agriculture, health, education, climate change and environment, ICT mobile applications, energy and infrastructure, industrialization and trade, and aeronautics and space technology.
“The East African youth innovators were selected competitively from the six EAC countries,” the judges said.
“The selection was based on the following criteria: Originality, marketability, scalability, social impact, and technical aspects.”
The entries were evaluated by a national panel of experts comprising the ministries responsible for Science, Technology and Innovation, the National Council of Science and Technology, and ministries responsible for EAC Affairs in each partner state, together with other stakeholders.
The Forum itself was held in Kampala, Uganda, from 8-9 November. It brought together young researchers, developers and innovators, entrepreneurs, finance actors, academia and public policy makers to discuss the regional situation and latest trends in research and development as well as innovation and product development.
Among other things, the Forum addressed itself to the challenges that the youth in the region face in advancing their talent in technological development, in addition to the opportunities available for innovation in the regional marketplace and globally.
This way, it is hoped that the Forum will have offered a platform to catalyse the effective engagement of young people in steering the course of future developments within the East African Community (EAC) through innovations.
The conference was organized by the East African Science and Technology Commission (EASTECO), under the auspices of the EAC.
The Forum aims to create a regional platform that will stimulate and support young innovators in generating scientific and technological innovative solutions to social needs and to meet market demand.
The Youth Innovation Forum further hopes to enable the youth to create social enterprises that aim to cure social problems through innovative practices. It is aimed at empowering youngsters to steer their own initiatives and contribute to the building of a prosperous and independent society.