Winners of Hult Prize qualifiers present prototype of ‘evaporative toilets’ for refugee camps

The team will advance to regional finals of the international competition for social good

Update: The article was updated Dec. 8 to correct the name of the winning team, change:WATER Labs.

A team of five students won the Hult Prize MIT qualifiers last night with a prototype for evaporative toilets, aiming to tackle the pressing issue of sanitation in refugee camps. Seven other MIT teams also presented at the pitching contest, which served as quarterfinals for the Hult Prize, the world’s largest student competition for social good.

The Hult Prize is an international competition that aims to solve some of the world’s most complex issues in innovative ways. This is the seventh year in a row that the competition has been run. The current edition is titled Refugees: Reawakening Human Potential, and its stated mission is to “restore the rights and dignity of 10 million refugees by 2022.”

The team, which calls itself change:WATER Labs, will now advance to the Regional Finals.

The teams that will participate in the regional finals are selected through two different processes. They can either participate in the quarterfinal pitches held by 100 campuses around the world, as change:WATER Labs did, or they can choose to submit an online application. Results of online applications will be revealed in January.

Overall, more than 20,000 applicants are expected this year. Regional finals will be held in Boston, San Francisco, London, Dubai, and Shanghai. The winners will spend the summer at the Hult Prize Accelerator, a startup incubator. They will be mentored to develop their ideas and prototypes further, in preparation for the September finale.

The eight teams participating in the MIT qualifiers all had different propositions to respond to the challenge of the 2017 edition. 

The Dot Learn team, which won second prize, proposed to solve the lack of access to education refugee children face by prototyping a new learning interface. The Durablanket team placed third and prototyped a blanket that could turn into a backpack when not used.

The problem of communication between refugees was addressed by teams like Salam, which developed a messaging app, and Tarjimly, which created a beta version of a new translation interface. The Nesterly team prototyped an interface to help refugees find their way around their new country, and the Market team tried to find ways to create business incentives in refugee camps.

The eight teams who took part in last night’s quarterfinals were remarkable in their diversity. They were composed of undergraduates, MBA students, and graduates. The Durablanket team was composed of three freshmen.

Students had very different backgrounds, coming from the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, the Political Science Department, and the Sloan School of Management. The competition’s organizing team was comprised entirely of Sloan students.

The change:WATER Labs team has already raised $120,000 and will compete to win the $1,000,000 grand prize, which will allow them to realize their project in the world.