How can small-scale farmers in India sell their perishables for a longer period of time, so they can earn a higher income? The solution that Veerappan Swaminathan came up with: a low-cost, solar-powered fruit drying machine, which can process and preserve fruits. The idea came to the founder and director of Sustainable Living Lab (SL2) in 2006 during a chat with fellow engineering science freshmen at the National University of Singapore (NUS).
“We wanted to make something out of our academic life, which we felt was otherwise doomed to be mediocre.” So they brainstormed and later submitted their proposal to the Mondialogo Engineering Award after reading about it in an NUS circular. The competition, jointly organised by Unesco and automotive corporation Daimler, called on students around the globe to propose technical innovations to tackle global issues such as poverty.
Their submission went on to achieve top honours, and the Generation T 2018 honouree recalls this as the pivotal moment that set him on his current path. In the eight years since the founding of SL2, he has tirelessly led the social enterprise and innovation lab to set up makerspaces and run innovation programmes, which include easing such companies as Intel and Rolls-Royce into adopting more sustainable practices. More recently, SL2 helped India’s Central Board of Secondary Education craft the official syllabus for artificial intelligence, which is being rolled out to 28,000 schools across the nation since its launch in March.