The Swiss-Middle East Circular Economy for Youth Initiative: Building a legacy beyond Expo 2020
When Expo 2020 Dubai got postponed after the start of the pandemic, it presented a big challenge for the activities of Swissnex at the Swiss Pavilion and all the work which was done in preparation to build up a network of local researchers, students and key innovation stakeholders. However, an opportunity emerged thanks to remote digital interaction. In order to build a bridge between the extra year of delay and the start of Expo 2020 we launched in February of 2021 “The Swiss – Middle East Circular Economy for Youth Initiative” (SMECEYI).
The aim of the initiative is to tackle two salient issues at once: Waste management and youth unemployment. It is in this context that SMECEYI was set up to unite students and professors from Switzerland and the region. Indeed, the digital nature of SMECEYI made it possible to target not only Emirati universities, but also the ones in the Middle East, making the initiative regional.
Thanks to the help of the Swiss Leading House for the MENA region and the existing contacts of Swissnex at the Swiss Pavilion, we were able to connect with 10 universities from the UAE, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and the occupied territory of Palestine. 15 teams comprised of more than 100 students were conceived with the mission of designing an innovative solution to enable a circular economy while empowering youth.
After two pitching rounds online between April and August, the six finalists were chosen. Two representatives per group were invited to take part in the SMECEYI final event at the Swiss Pavilion of Expo 2020. On 4 November 2021 the pitching competition took place. After a heated series of pitches, team Plasticycle was chosen as the winner, thanks to their close ties with Swiss peers and their high likelihood of developing the project in the medium and long run. Plasticycle incorporates students from the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik in Lebanon, the University of Lausanne and the University of Applied Sciences of Eastern Switzerland (OST). It is mentored by Prof. Roger Marti of the School of Engineering and Architecture of Fribourg (HEIA-FR).
Plasticycle will benefit from mentoring sessions from Nestlé and will be invited to attend their prestigious R+D Accelerator in Lausanne during summer of 2022. They have also been awarded a Research Partnership Grant from the Swiss Leading House for the MENA region to fund further collaborations with the HEIA-FR and OST. Furthermore, their presence at the Swiss Pavilion allowed them to gain significant media exposure, including an article about them in L’Orient Le Jour, one of the most read newspapers in Lebanon, and an interview on Lebanese TV channel Al Jadeed.
The adventure continues for all the finalists as the teams have been able to meet Swiss diplomatic officials in our representations in Beirut, Ramallah and Riyadh. Furthermore, Seedstars will provide coaching sessions for the finalists at the start of this year. To conclude, SMECEYI has managed to create a legacy for Swissnex's presence in the region beyond Expo 2020. It is currently being investigated whether this cooperation model can be transferred to other major events and locations of our network.