Challenge innovative minds and young voices on sustainability, and they won’t let you down. This was probably what the Financial Times thought when they launched the first edition of their global competition FTxSDG Challenge by imagining thematic challenges for both start-ups from emerging markets and individuals based on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
Moreover, three of the students selected for the FTxSDG Challenge 2021 were from the Istituto Marangoni London campus.
From left, Dominika Geregová, Emelie Andersson and Sachit Tulsiani from Istituto Marangoni London chosen to take part in the FTxSDG Challenge 2021
The competition was powered by The Financial Times and Seedstars, a Swiss-based private group of companies with a mission to impact people’s lives in emerging markets through technology and entrepreneurship.
The Financial Times and Seedstars faced a demanding mission together: to empower the most promising innovative players around the globe and early-stage ventures from over 90 emerging markets by challenging them to create innovative solutions to tackle the UN’s goals to achieve a more conscious future.
The SDGs themes are mainly gender equality, climate action, quality education, good jobs and economic growth, reducing inequalities, and good health and wellbeing.
The 2021 experience started with participation in Investment Readiness Sessions ahead of the pitching competition. At the same time, individuals were paired up with teams to work on their solutions, white entrepreneurs were asked to take their start-ups to the next level.
During the challenge week, the challengers connected from all over the world to meet experts and leaders: 45 countries, 6 continents were represented.
The participants took part in masterclasses and workshops. They pitched their ideas and start-ups, got support from international mentors and had the opportunity to connect with a global community of investors, global thought-leaders and impact creation experts. Next, they discussed how innovation and technology could solve the most critical issues around the world. The winners of each SDG theme were announced on the last day of the event.
Among the Istituto Marangoni students selected for this contest was Sachit Tulsiani from the United Arab Emirates, in the final year of his Bachelor in Fashion Business in London. “I was part of the FTxSDG Challenge, and my theme was gender equality,” Tulsiani explained. “In my group, we had to talk about and come up with solutions about the gap in women’s access to financial services.”
In a nutshell, their goal was to help women entrepreneurs who lack sufficient credit history to access funds for their businesses. What was the solution they found to this issue? “It turned out that only 17% of women have access to proper financial services in emerging economies,” he explained. “So, we imagined creating an aggregate service where we educate women, but at the same time, we introduce them to all financial services to help them save their businesses and to make sure they know what they are picking.”
Despite almost universal access to financial services in advanced economies, financial exclusion is persistent in many emerging markets. This is why fintech companies, which apply innovative technologies to deliver such services in new ways, are starting to thrive in these emerging markets.
Their solution, called OneNa, would be different from other finetechs as it would serve as an alternative credit assessment that uses a woman entrepreneur’s financial literacy journey to build their credit history. The OneNa process requires women to participate in financial learning modules, take quizzes and input their business information through low-tech mobile solutions.
Over time, with each completion of the financial literacy modules, the idea is that through building their participation and financial literacy history with OneNa, they could start borrowing a more sizable loan amount.
“Fintech is scaling and spreading in emerging economies. So, we came to fintech to help these women to really grow their businesses and gain access to financial services,” Tulsiani concluded.
Slovakia native Dominika Geregová, a third-year student in the Fashion Business programme at Istituto Marangoni London, won the 2021 contest.
She was first introduced to her team; then, they were presented with a challenge: How to use tech to bring sustainable economic development to Amazonia while prioritising biodiversity? How to speed up economic growth and give the Amazon people the tools to defend against deforestation and improve education?
“We worked hard and intensively on coming up with our solution. Fighting different time zones and even attending calls up to 9h long! It was more than worth it because now we can proudly share we have become the winning team of the FTxSDG Challenge 2021,” Dominika Geregová said. “It was an absolute pleasure to work with Pato Kelesitse, Maria Vittoria Scino, Mathieu Gaudin, and Tolulope Joshua Ashaolu, PhD – driven, change-making professionals, and what is more – my friends.”
Dominika Geregová is also finishing her LLB Law Degree at Matej Bel University in Banská Bystrica. She was a Dior Mentee as part of the Women@Dior programme and a double winner of the Financial Times challenges, as she also recently won the FTxBocconi Challenge 2022.
“What I appreciate most about The Financial Times is its credibility and reliability and the level of innovation,” said Geregová, who currently works at the Financial Times Business Development Department in London as a part-time intern.
From left, Dominika Geregová and Emelie Andersson
The last of the three students from the Istituto Marangoni BA programme in London chosen to participate as one of the challengers out of over 4500 total applications was Emelie Andersson.
Andersson represented an inclusive, multinational team of individuals from six countries. They also worked on a project focused on using technology to combat deforestation in the Amazon while creating avenues for social andeconomic development.
“What an exciting week,” she said. “Working on the SDG – climate actions have given me new perspectives on the challenges the world is facing.”