Social enterprise that helps refugees charge lifeline phones is up for international award.

Edinburgh Uni-founded Elpis makes New York final of MIT Solve competition.

A social enterprise formed by University of Edinburgh students is on the shortlist for a prestigious international award in New York.

Elpis was founded in 2015 by Samuel Kellerhals and Alexandros Angelopoulos with the aim of supplying solar-powered phone charging units to refugee camps where there is often scare access to electricity. Angelopoulos had just returned from a summer of volunteer work at camps on the islands of his native Greece.

Now their units are widely used by refugees on the islands as well as camps in Rwanda and they are in the final of the Challenges/Community Innovation category of the MIT Solve initiative.
Kellerhals said: “Alexander came into contact with refugees on a daily basis and what struck him was that one of the first things they asked him for was where they could charge their phones.

If that’s the only way to contact your family or to transfer money, your phone becomes a lifeline. It is something we often take for granted but the modern refugee has come to rely on it as a means to navigate, to access information.

He came back to Edinburgh and we though it would be good to find a way to take what we had learned in lectures and use it to devise a solution to this problem.”

The charging units have been a huge success in Greece and last year, Elpis introduced four of them to the largest camp in Rwanda, where 50,000 people live without electricity. The founders have been joined by Fidele Gisore, who runs the operation in the east African country.

Kellerhals, from Switzerland, was originally drawn to Edinburgh by the BSc in Environmental and Ecological Sciences course. Elvis has been supported in its efforts by the Scottish international charity Challenges and the university’s chaplaincy.

He said: “The city played a huge role in getting this project off the ground. We had a lot of support from the university itself with grant, funding and mentorship. Challenges was able to provide us with support and mentorship, and contacts in Africa for us to be able to gain permission to work in the camps.

We also had a lot of support from communities throughout Scotland and we did a lot of fundraising events. The Chaplaincy of the university helped us with our first funding round to go to Greece to install the units.”

Now Elpis aims to attract investment to grow and provide units in other countries afflicted by refugee crises.

Kellerhals added: “That’s why this MIT conference is such a big break for us – it could give us the opportunity to get the funding to advance to the next stage, to improve our units even more and start the journey.

The winners of each MIT Solve Challenge category will be given £10,000 after the final on Sunday September 22 in New York. You can vote for Elpis by clicking here.

The above article by Hamish Burns first published on insider.co.uk in Sept, 2019.