Illac Diaz, Muntinlupa Nat’l High School share their journey towards innovation & sustainability

The past two winners of Zayed Sustainability Prize from the Philippines shared their success stories in the recently held webinar organized by Zayed Sustainability Prize.

Speaking online before 517 viewers from various parts of the Philippines, social entrepreneur Illac Diaz, and science and math educators Ma Regaele Olarte and Jason Albaro recounted their respective experiences in explaining their projects where they used free, cheap local materials, and local technology but which nevertheless turned their projects into sustainable ones that benefitted the communities around them and across the world. 

Past winners of Zayed Sustainability Prize from the Philippines were invited as guest speakers to the recently concluded webinar for aspiring nominees.

Zayed Sustainability Prize which is still accepting submissions for their 2024 Cycle until May 23, 2023 through their online portal.  Candidates can submit their entries in one of these six categories – Health, Food, Energy, Water, Climate Action and Global High Schools.

Illac Diaz, social entrepreneur

Illac won in 2015 for his Liter of Light project – a sustainable lighting project – which used recycled plastic soda bottles, water, bleach and a simple technology to build bottle lights which marginalized communities used to light their homes, businesses and streets. To date, more than 350,000 bottle lights have been used by over 145,200 families in more than 15 countries where electricity is scarce. Illac’s NGO My Shelter Foundation is training cooperatives on how to build this technology. Illac is the first Filipino and first Asian to score this Award.

Illac commented, “Liter of Light has expanded to 32 countries, with 212 staff, and helping almost one million people a year. This would not have been possible if we did not win the Zayed Sustainability Prize back in 2015. Filipinos are known for their ingenuity and creativity, especially in addressing social and environmental issues. Despite the abundance of talent and ideas, many Filipinos often face limited opportunities and resources to bring their ideas to fruition.”

He added, “I am honored to have been the first Filipino winner of the Zayed Sustainability Prize in 2015. Now, eight years later, we are passing the torch to a new generation of change makers. Through this call to action, we hope to amplify the voices of other environmental heroes from the Philippines. I want to encourage our local organizations and high schools to apply for the Zayed Sustainability Prize. It is an incredible platform and opportunity to share our unique innovations with a world that is looking for real, replicable solutions for climate adaptation.”

Illac advised, “It took us three tries. In applying, the humility is there, in the fact that the first time, you might not get in. Some innovations are not understood immediately. It takes a bit of patience. The second time for us, we got into the finals. The third time, we won. Your ideas may be ground breaking and they may not have heard of it before. You might not win immediately with the Zayed Sustainability Prize, but it allows you to be understood by other organizations in the UAE which would recognize you for your work. It is a journey with some pitfalls, so don’t despair.  Why is Zayed
sustainability Prize important? Because they do not just award and disappear. They really develop a relationship over time. They are still talking to us, are still friends with us, sharing opportunities with us.”

“This is the chance for us to take the lead, to dominate in energy, food, in industry. This kind of work is really from a bayanihan spirit, coming all together, to build rather than a pure charity. It is about time the world sees how our ideas in the Philippines can contribute to global citizenry, to leapfrog from being global beneficiaries to becoming global benefactors. Your ideas can make it, you can even make it much bigger. This could be a life-changing technology, not only for yourself but for millions of other people.”

Muntinlupa National High School

In January 2019, Muntinlupa National High School won the Global High School category, East Asia and Pacific region, making them the second winner from the Philippines. Their entry, called ReVAMP (Revitalized Algae Micro-farm Projects), proposed the building of a scalable solar-powered micro-farm with photo-bioreactors to produce high-value products from green algae (Chlorella Vulgaris) that can be used in food, energy and medicine. It’s also a source of biofuel. Regaele and Jason used their US$100,000 prize money to make bioreactors and build their algae microfarm – the first in the Philippines.

The prize money for global high schools is meant to be invested into the winning project to make it grow. Ma Regaele Olarte said, “Our US$100,000 prize went to the project so we can expand it. We also benefitted from the project because we advocated for this as science educators. We have a passion for what we’re doing. It is very rewarding for us to do this, helping not only the school. If it flourishes, we can help the whole Philippines especially in the field of green energy. This will be another part of the project when we go to the next phases of its implementation.”

Jason Albaro meanwhile revealed that Project ReVAMP has an ongoing patent registration. The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) advised Muntinlupa National High School to register the project as an invention. The school, under the Department of Education (DepEd) NCR, has a tripartite partnership agreement with DOST-NCR and I AM SAM Foundation, with the support of the University of the Philippines.  He said, “We are still starting in the Philippines. We’re doing this gradually so we can give better results.”

Their joint advice to interested candidates, “We joined the Zayed Sustainability Prize twice. Always give your best whatever you’re doing. Don’t give up. Continue to dream big. Have faith in yourselves, in your bright ideas. This might be your big chance to making something big. We urge all high schools, educators, parents and students to give yourselves this chance. The Zayed Sustainability Prize recognizes effort, so it’s better if you’re working in a team. Judges in the Zayed Sustainability Prize are experts in their own fields. Start your proposals with providing solutions and implementing them in the future. Choose a category when you submit your proposal, it should be a solution to an identified problem in your community.”

Auke Idzenga, CEO of Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation, Inc

Auke Idzenga, CEO of Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation, Inc. who was a finalist from the Philippines in the Water category 2020 Cycle, also spoke at the webinar. He commented, “AIDFI being a finalist in the water category of the Zayed Sustainability Prize resulted in a question if we were willing to implement projects for the Beyond 2020 Program, on which we immediately said yes. On two different islands here in the Philippines, we implemented two drinking water systems utilizing AIDFI ram pumps in previous waterless communities, tremendously improving the situation of some 18,000 villagers. We fully support the idea of new friendships and cooperation under this program and are eager to expand our ram pump projects to other countries as well in collaboration with the Zayed Sustainability Prize.”

Auke explained, “The Zayed Sustainability Prize is a prestigious award and they really pick out the best of the best. If you become a winner, you really have shown the technology works on the ground. if you have several projects working on the ground, then participate.”

About the Prize

The Zayed Sustainability Prize organizers are urging innovators from three sectors – – global high schools, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and non-profits – –  to have the determination to submit their innovative and sustainable solutions and have that one big chance to snatch one of the 10 awards and be recognized on a global stage. They can submit their entries in one of these six categories -Health, Food, Energy, Water. Climate Action and Global High Schools.

For the Health, Food, Energy, Climate Action and Water categories, organizations should demonstrate that they are improving access to essential products or services and have a long-term vision for better living and working conditions.

For the Global High Schools category, their projects should be student–led, with emphasis placed on the students being actively involved in the planning, implementation, and monitoring processes.

Now in its 15th year, the Prize’s US$3 million fund rewards winners US$600,000 in each category. The Global High Schools category is split into six world regions, with each school able to claim up to US$100,000 to start or further expand their project. The six world regions of the Global High Schools category are The Americas, Europe & Central Asia, Middle East & North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and East Asia & Pacific.

There is a three-stage evaluation process, beginning with the due diligence conducted on all submissions to ensure that they meet the Prize’s evaluation criteria. This identifies the qualified entries and results in the selection of eligible candidates. Following this, evaluations are undertaken by a Selection Committee consisting of category-specific panels of independent international experts. From this shortlist of candidates, the finalists are chosen and then sent to the Prize Jury who unanimously elect the winners, across all five categories.  

Winners of the 2024 Zayed Sustainability Prize will be announced at an Awards Ceremony in December 2023.