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Merrill J. Fernando Innovation Awards 2021: #Ecovation 2021

The second edition of the Merrill J. Fernando Innovation Awards has now opened applications for innovators to submit video/PowerPoint presentations of their concept or working prototype. 
In 2016, the first edition of the Ecovation Awards called for working prototypes and well-developed concepts from across the nation that addressed current national and global environmental issues in the areas of water, biodiversity, waste, energy, and blue economy. 

However, detailing 2021’s mandate, Dilmah Tea Manager Sustainability and Conservation Shamodi Nanayakkara shared that they felt as though the focus areas were a little too broad the first time around and therefore, learning from their experiences, for this year they have streamlined the thematic areas of focus. 

Just about anyone can participate; the contest is open to individuals/groups from any industry who have an innovative idea which has the following potentials: opportunity creation in response to sustainable packaging or resource efficiency, futuristic solutions that address resource efficiency, waste management issues or sustainable packaging, innovative modes of communication to create awareness on resource efficiency and sustainable packaging needs, and an idea which taps into new or less-explored areas that can provide potential solutions for resource efficiency or sustainable packaging.

She shared that through the Ecovation Awards initiative they hope to achieve a number objectives: to consider resource efficiency and needs of sustainable packaging materials through various perspectives – ranging from practical implementable scientific innovations to thought-provoking modes of communication, drive discussions on resource efficiency and packaging sustainability, emphasise the importance of being a part of a diverse and interconnected hub of individuals, encourage multidisciplinary ideas and solutions, and create a platform where individuals can contribute with ideas about sustainable packaging and resource efficiency-related innovations.

Nanayakkara shared that what they are looking for is originality – the uniqueness of the concept/prototype; practicality – the ease of use and the extent to which the innovation can be easily and practically applied into the target market; replicability and economic viability – ease with which it can be replicated and its economic feasibility; and economies of scale – the degree to which it sufficiently tackles the issue it seeks to solve at a price or model that is accessible and cost beneficial to the target market. 

They will also be looking for relevance – the degree of relevance to the sectors of the award and its ability to solve the environmental issues it addresses; sustainability – the ability of the concept/prototype to achieve sustainable development in the addressed sectors; social impact – ability of the innovations to contribute positively towards target communities; economic and environmental policies – its contribution to national economic and environmental policies; and of course, technical soundness – the understanding of fundamentals and key scientific concepts. 
The initiative defines a prototype as a first or preliminary version of a working device, tool, or technology related to waste management resource efficiency or sustainable packaging. The submitted prototype proposal needs to clearly state its intention, rationale, how it works, a process for recreation, and technical and scientific aspects.

Sharing the primary objectives of the initiative, Dilmah Tea CEO Dilhan C. Fernando stated that the awards intend to support, strengthen, and promote eco-innovation in Sri Lanka, specifically to facilitate eco-innovations in the market; to facilitate creative minds and help direct their energies to address national and emerging environmental problems through innovation and enterprise. 
He stated that it is in order to encourage individuals to explore new ideas and develop novel business pathways, and provide support and an opportunity for all eco-innovators to compete on a level playing field. And, of course, to ensure “Concept to Market” by enabling formal linkages between eco-innovators and the business community and to provide Sri Lankan eco-innovators with a platform to international markets. 

He added that typically, brilliant ideas may experience an inability to translate into a viable commercial concept given numerous reasons, be it a lack of general guidance and necessary mentoring, or lack of other resources like funding, etc. He stated that they hope to ensure that these brilliant ideas are realised. 
He also pointed out that with an eminent judging panel – R&D ITI Additional Director Dr. Ilmi Hewajulige, Ministry of Environment Operational Focal Point Biodiversity Secretariat Director Padma Abeykoon, Saksglobal Founder/Group CEO Jeevan Gnanam, Ananta Sustainables Founder Savera Weerasinghe, Biodiversity Sri Lanka Advisor Shiranee Yasarathne, and University of Moratuwa Faculty of Studies Dean Prof. Ajith de Alwis – the contestants will receive invaluable mentorship from such persons at this critical point in the development of their concepts.