Joshua Ichor has won the United Nation’s (UN) Swarovski Prize for creating a technology that monitors contamination and scarcity in groundwater well in Africa. He tells ENIOLA OYEMOLADE what inspired the invention, how it works and how winning the prize makes him feel.
You are the first and only African to bag the United Nation’s Swarovski Prize for creating a technology that monitors contamination and scarcity in groundwater wells in Africa. How does this achievement make you feel?
I feel very excited and thankful to God, my family, teachers and team who have supported me on this difficult journey. To me, contributing to solving the problem of water is personal because I almost died from a water-borne disease while growing up in a rural village in Benue State. This became the motivation for my water innovation. I have worked tirelessly for many years to arrive at my innovation and winning this award is an indication that ones background can not limit what he can achieve.
What is this prize all about and what does it seek to achieve?
The Swarovski Creatives for Our Future Prize is awarded by the Swarovski Foundation in Partnership with the UN. The prize seeks to identify the best innovators around the world who are working to promote sustainability. In its second year, the prize was awarded to six innovators this year 2022. I was the only African who received this award for my innovation on water.
How did you learn about the award in the first place and what motivated you to enter?
I learnt about the award from a friend of mine who was a finalist last year. What inspired me to apply was the opportunity to meet fellow innovators who are working on promoting sustainability in the communities. We live in a time where the world is faced with challenges from water scarcity to food and climate change. I was in search of a platform to share my solution with the world and that was exactly what I got.
Take us through the process of applying for the award
Swarovski prize is a game changer. Anyone applying for the award must be well prepared because you will be competing against the best group of innovators there is out there. It is like looking to earn a place at the top of the innovation industry and writing your name in gold. Swarovski itself is an excellent brand that values innovation and excellence, impact and sustainability. After filling a rigorous application with detailed explanations for my project, I had to make a pitch video explaining my innovative work. I also submitted documents and confirmed my availability to travel for the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
How do you think the experience from the award competition will help your education and career?
Since winning the award, I have been exposed to opportunities such as MIT solve; I have met with different industry leaders and Innovators. I am currently receiving valuable mentorship and master classes under top experts from all different parts of the world. This is a life-changing experience that is tremendously valuable for my work, school and career as an innovator.
What do you think made you stand out of every other person across different countries that applied for the prize?
My work was original. It has been inspired by a personal experience and pain point which only a few can connect to. For me, solving the water problem of Sub-Saharan Africa is a personal battle that I must win, for me and for humanity. I have dedicated my life to study and understand water, the problems around it and sustainable solutions. I am attacking the problem with all I have got; I work on my innovation day and night. So, I guess the energy and passion behind my work was felt.
What inspired you to create this technology and how long did it take for you to finish building it? How does the technology work?
My innovation was inspired by my suffering from Typhoid fever for many years. Clean water was very scarce in my community in Benue State. Most times, the water we could access was contaminated, and that led to me suffering from complications related to typhoid as it was a near-death experience. God spared my life, and I believe it was for a reason; to combat water scarcity and contamination in rural communities such as mine.
My technology is a data-driven geotechnical innovation that combines key principles of hydro geology for ground water exploration, extraction and management. Due to changing climates and disrupted weather patterns, water is becoming scarce. I have developed a technology that uses artificial intelligence to track clean ground water which has become a key source of domestic and industrial water supply. My technology has a monitoring tool for hand pump boreholes that detects their dysfunction and contamination and sends alerts to enable timely troubleshooting.
What are the reactions and responses you have gotten so far since you created this technology?
So far, feedback has been positive because my innovation is solving a serious issue that threatens sustainability and life in general. I have received valuable feedback from international companies such as Xylem USA, British council and the UN.
Were there some challenges you encountered during the process of building this technology?
My team and I developed this technology without much support. We were struggling to raise funding for years. It seemed as though no one believed in what we were doing but we kept faith. Because it was a heart felt problem, we kept researching and working, with the vision firmly driven in our hearts. Finally, we are beginning to see light in the middle of the tunnel, by the time we reach the end, the story will be quite explosive.
You are the Chief Executive Officer of GeoTek. What is GeoTek about and what brought about it?
Geotek is a company I founded to help combat environmental problems that threaten environmental sustainability especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. At Geotek, we have a mandate of leveraging innovation to develop cutting edge solutions to problems such as water scarcity, flood and pollution. I am putting together a team of passionate innovators, born of adversity and driven by impact ready to change a world confronted with overwhelming problems.
How do you combine being a CEO and also being a student together?
I have always been prepared for this journey, being a CEO and a university student has required sacrifice. There is a price to pay, inform of sleep, working 18 hours a day and sacrificing social life. I have paid it all while still maintaining excellent grades in school. It is a life I chose, so I am living it with no excuse or regret. No pain, no gain.
How do you think the government or even organisations can help solve the issue of contamination and scarcity in groundwater wells?
Government and organisations need to implement policies that will promote water sustainability. Ground water exploration will not even be needed in the first place of government was maintaining our water boards. Presently, less than 30 percent of Nigerians have access to tap water and this is bad for a country considered the giant of Africa.
On the other hand, Private organisations need to adopt sound management policies for their water wells. It is not about drilling and installation, but about management to ensure continuous functioning and sustainability. This is very much needed to preserve this precious resource for generations to come.
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