Fishermen in Vietnam. Photo by: David Mills / World Fish / CC BY-NC-ND

In Sept. 2016, Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop announced the 10 winners of the Blue Economy Challenge in Washington, D.C. It awards creative uses of aquaculture to ensure both sustainable development and environmental sustainability.

This week, the challenge will conclude in New York on June 8, World Oceans Day.

Supported by InnovationXchange, the innovation lab supporting Australia’s aid program within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the challenge sought innovative ideas with a focus on projects in the Indian Ocean.

In total, 221 submissions from 41 countries were received with varying degrees of potential impact — regionally and globally. But only 10 were selected for a seven month accelerator program that includes personal and online opportunities to grow their business supported by market leaders, technical experts, philanthropies, NGO and public sector actors, and the program manager SecondMuse.

The winners were selected for their potential to have global impact. Among them were low-cost farming solutions to support female-led business, vaccine-carrying fish feed, improved seaweed farming technology and sea cucumber production.

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Come Thursday, their progress will be available for all to see. Throughout the day, the program will release videos highlighting the problem and potential solutions, according to David Ball, a consultant for SecondMuse tasked with the responsibility of managing the challenge. That will be followed by a 360-degree, feature-length movie focusing on three of the projects in Tanzania and two panel discussions, streamed online, covering issues around re-engineering aquaculture. Panelists include InnovationXchange, SecondMuse and National Geographic.

It will be an event to showcase the achievements of the challenge and encourage private sector investment in an area that will impact the 3 billion people around the world who depend on oceans for their livelihood and protein sources.

Selecting the challenge winners

The blue economy was initially selected as an area of focus for InnovationXchange due to its potential impact on local industries. Domestically it is an industry worth $2.4 billion Australian dollars ($1.7 million) annually that employs more than 10,000 people.

But within the aid program, the blue economy also has the potential to make big, and sustainable, economic impacts for smallholder farmers and women.

So the challenge was set to identify new aquaculture practices that can reduce environmental impacts while building food security and developing economies.

“It initially started as a way to figure out what our oceans needed — what would be the challenge to focus on to draw attention to our oceans, which are in big danger,” Ball explained. “From that initial project design and systems analysis, aquaculture was identified as a vehicle that could be impactful.”

The winners selected for the Blue Economy Challenge have the potential for global impact, according to Ball.

“Through the selection process, we really wanted to identify projects and companies that would be successful long term,” he explained. “But at the same time we wanted to push ourselves to be risky. For example, someone like Sea Power, who aim to improve seaweed farming technology to empower women and protect the environment in Tanzania, is riskier. Their pathway to financial sustainability is a little bit complex. But it was worth it for us to take that risk because of the potential impact that they could have.”

The selection of challenge winners for the accelerator project was not simply limited to small and emerging businesses. At the end of the spectrum opposite to Sea Power is AgriProtein, who have been operating since 2008 to support insects in fish feed and were going to be a successful organization whether they participated in the accelerator program or not.

“Their importance was in being an example for the younger companies and in mentoring them,” Ball said. “They explained processes they went through and mistakes they made. And that diversity helped in creating a healthy cohort within the group.”

During the seven month accelerator program, the challenge winners have raised $40 million Australian dollars ($30 million) and built momentum around reducing the impact on ocean resources. Currently almost half of captured fish go back into fish feed.

Momentum is also building in Tanzania, where two winners are based and an additional four are thinking of piloting aquaculture programs.

Building scalable, innovative businesses that can impact global aquaculture practices is an important outcome of the challenge. But equally important has been building a network that is actively engaging in sharing knowledge and collaborating — for the good of the world.

The accelerator program created a network of more than 500 people to support and grow the capability of the winners. Combined with a network of 221 applicants, the potential for global impact and aquaculture security is strong.

Next steps for the Blue Economy Challenge

This week concludes the Blue Economy Challenge. But for SecondMuse, there is still more work to be done to promote the oceans and the importance to everyday lives.

“Many people’s experience interacting with the ocean and the protein from it is within a grocery store,” Ball said. “I am guilty of that myself, but there are 3 billion people around the world who depend on oceans for their livelihood and protein sources.”

Ball is still hopeful that he can provide support for the 211 applicants that missed out on the accelerator program. The group is talking with DFAT about additional ideas for global scale programs. Ideas are also being scoped for East Africa to encourage more entrepreneurs in Tanzania. And challenges focusing on shrimp and salmon are part of the future plans.

“This allows us to get more specific,” Ball said. “For us, the real goal is to have systematic change throughout the value chain. To be able to do that, you have to go really, really narrow.”

Getting involved

On Wednesday, their global event will aim to reach DFAT’s audience, which includes numerous Australian stakeholders who have not considered the value of the Indian Ocean region, as well as organizations such as the World Bank and the private sector to continue to grow and develop programs creating sustainable oceans.

And while not everyone can be in New York for the live immersive experience, no one is being left out. The live stream will encourage global involvement in the panels, while videos explaining the impact of the program will be shared via Twitter by SecondMuse and InnovationXchange using the hashtag #Aquacelerator.

“For us it is the conclusion of about a year of work,” Ball said. “It’s the wrap up of the Blue Economy Challenge and it coincides nicely with World Oceans Day.”

And the aim is to make the blue economy accessible to all.

“We’re looking to get the average Joe to be interested in aquaculture,” Ball said.

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About the author

  • Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a Senior Reporter based in Canberra, where she focuses on the Australian aid community. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane, and online through Lisa additionally consults with Australian government providing data analytics, reporting and visualization services. Lisa was awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.

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