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DM grant: a stepping stone for social enterprises

Bart Weetjens's picture

Hi, I am Bart Weetjens, a social entrepreneur, and founder of the organization APOPO, with a vision of appropriate technologies to enhance the impact of humanitarian detection tasks. Basically we teach African communities how to train "HeroRATS", giant African pouched rats that are trained to save human lives by detecting landmines and diseases. In 2003, I was a DM winner. The DM grant enabled us to provide proof of principle that trained rats can sniff out sputum samples and indicate TB patients, based on olfactory cues in human sputa. 4 years later, we are validating the technology, in co-operation with the Tanzanian Government, and are developing appropriate business models to replicate this approach in other countries as well.

I am happy to announce that APOPO was selected last month as a recipient of a three-year, $1,000,000 award from the Skoll Foundation to further sustainable growth of the APOPO organization and its activities in Africa. The Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship are presented by the Skoll Foundation to recognize the most innovative and sustainable approaches to resolving the most urgent social issues. Apopo joins a prestigious global network of Skoll entrepreneurs, now numbering 61, who are working around the world on issues including tolerance and human rights, health, economic and social equity, peace and security, institutional responsibility, and environmental sustainability.

This recognition by the Skoll Foundation is a major support for my organization. It will assist us to build the needed capacity in order to sustain growth. And this is really needed. Since APOPO won the DM award in 2003, we learnt that the risk of some successful social enterprises that are structured as non-profits, is to fail to incorporate the organizational changes that are needed to responsibly further the activities in a sustainable way. In our case, a pact for peace and security was signed two years ago by eleven African countries in the Great Lakes Region. With our current capacity, we cannot adequately respond to this huge demand. And that is exactly what the Skoll awards are targeted at: to assist APOPO in building the core of the organization, to enable us to sustainable grow as social enterprise.

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