World Agenda

Last updated: 19 october, 2010 - 16:43 GMT

World challengers

Guatemala: ‘A Class Apart’ – Tecnico Maya Vocational School – creating better employment and education opportunities

‘A Class Apart’: Building a school from recycled waste in Guatemala

Now in its sixth year, World Challenge has helped projects and small businesses, from around the world, that have shown enterprise and innovation. With voting now open, World Challenge series producer, Robert Lamb looks at the competition’s winning formula

It’s probably a good idea to take a step back and recall why we started World Challenge.

At the time, I was editor of the Earth Report series. We kept coming across authentic stories where people – on their own initiative – were putting 'flesh and bones' on that dreadful bureaucratic phrase: "sustainable development".

World Challenge started as a vehicle to report on the entrepreneurs, NGO workers and other charitable groups who were motivated to do more than just make profits. Those who wanted to put something back into the community by using their own know-how and resources.

Inspired selection

Last year, we went back to check on progress since filming. Intriguingly, we found that the air of publicity on BBC World News was viewed as being almost as valuable as winning the cash prizes.

World Challenge series producer Robert Lamb

We started 'bottom-up', inviting viewers to nominate their own choice of businesses and projects which fit the bill. The jury had a difficult task to select a dozen, from a preliminary shortlist of about 100, but I think they made an inspired selection. It would have been difficult for me to pick out individual projects in case I lay myself open to favouritism, as all seemed to have very special merits. A common link was sheer determination spiced with invention.

Whether it is providing a solution to over fishing, boosting harvests without resorting to chemicals, re-fashioning waste or making breakthrough gadgetry, behind every story is an inspiring individual action.

Everything springs from a single individual or a handful of motivated people geared towards bringing about change for the better. It all sounds like a cliché, but when you see the stories yourself; you will know what I mean. Truly, World Challenge is like an antidote to doom and gloom news.

'World Challenge Plus'

Mexico: ‘Saving from a Rainy Day’ – Isla Urbana – developing a simple collection and filtering system which harvests rainwater

‘Saving from a Rainy Day’: Developing a filtering system which harvests rainwater in Mexico

For 2010 we are adding a new instalment. Finalists have requested advice and assistance - so this year we are adding 'World Challenge Plus'. We have sent out business advisers to Colombia and Kenya and filmed our trouble-shooters’ encounters with the managers and beneficiaries.

In Colombia, Green Gold - the jungle co-operative that’s mining gold without destroying the ecosystem or the lives of the native people who depend upon it - need to find better ways of marketing its environmentally-friendly gold. While in Kenya, our trouble-shooters will be advising the firm that's installing bio-gas units in institutions such as prisons and schools.

Positive progress

Kenya: ‘Double-Boiled’ – Jompy Stove – a lightweight and inexpensive stove-top device that sits between a cooking pot and an open flame to rapidly boil water

‘Double-Boiled’: Using a innovative stove-top device in Kenya to save people from contaminated water.

We found in our "catch up" section, at the end of every programme, that there was a positive story to tell. Some projects have taken off, finding markets and donors. Others, it must be said, have struggled especially given the recent recession which has taken its toll.

Sometimes our finalists have just experienced bad luck. For example, the women embroiderers in Afghanistan lost an entire consignment of their clothes when they were sent by air courier to New York – it was a dreadful blow, but they have not given up. By contrast, in Nepal the NGO making prosthetic limbs out of waste aluminium cans has received several grants and has set up a brand new centre to help the disabled.

We have kept in touch with the majority of the 70 finalists and the best thing I can report is that nearly all are still in business. This year I'm confident that the finalists will also be in business when we follow up on their progress.

Vote now!

One thing I can say about this year's series is that it will be more difficult than ever to decide which finalist to vote for. But to help, we have created a new ‘soapbox’ section at the end of every finalists’ story where they can appeal directly to you for your votes!

To cast your vote online and for full details of all projects visit the World Challenge click website

Voting closes midnight on 12 November 2010.

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