I invented a low-cost water filter called Nanofilter®, which cleans contaminated water in order to make it drinkable. Right now, about 12,000 people use the filter every day and the plan is to impact millions of lives.

Growing up, my community in Tanzania didn’t have clean drinking water, and I will never forget how horrible that was. As a child, I would get worms because the water I drank was so dirty, and I wished someone would make it easy for us to access clean water. So, I decided to take matters into my own hands and help solve the problem facing my community: I did a PhD in Chemical Engineering and invented the Nanofilter®.

The filter is designed for anyone to use, however, I am targeting rural areas in particular, because of their desperate need for clean, safe water. In Tanzania today, out of every ten children who die, nine die from waterborne diseases. This is a huge challenge for the country as a whole, but the greatest need is in rural areas.

Slow sand filters have been used in water purification for over a hundred years. While they are effective in removing bacteria and some microorganisms from water, they cannot remove heavy metals, such as copper, fluoride, or other chemical contaminants.

My patented filtration system combines a slow sand filter with a combination of nanomaterials made from sodium silicate and silver to eliminate toxic heavy metals. Water first passes through the sand and then through the nanomaterials. Where other water filters on the market offer a “one-size-fits–all” solution, the Nanofilter® can be calibrated to target and eliminate contaminants that are specific to a particular geographic region.

In 2015, I was awarded the first Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation by the Royal Academy of Engineering for developing the Nanofilter®. Winning the Africa Prize meant a lot to me! It has also motivated Africans because they can see that someone values our innovation. It shows that it pays to put your energy into innovation and that people around the world care.

After winning the Africa Prize, my success story attracted global attention.  The same year as receiving the award, I was voted as the winner of Pitch@Palace Africa, the first global Pitch@Palace event, aimed at supporting entrepreneurs from, and connected to, Africa by amplifying and accelerating their business ideas. The following year, I returned to win Pitch@Palace Global 2016!

I met around 300 investors and mentors, and got far more in return than I expected. New doors were opened to me, especially after I became a winner. I made connections which helped me get funding and I got to meet world-famous entrepreneurs and was even featured in a video clip with Bill Gates, which was beyond my wildest dreams!

My focus now is to build the Nanofilter® into a sustainable business and to scale-up our operations to reach more and more people. There is a lot of interest in the Nanofilter®, so the challenge now is to build up our customer base and to ensure that our clients are happy with our product and the service we provide. My number one goal is to reach as many people as possible and to save lives and limit the number of children who die from waterborne diseases. This is what drives me. I want to be a millionaire, not in terms of dollars, but a millionaire of impacting millions of lives!

Do you have what it takes?

If you have an innovation like Dr Hilonga, apply for the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation now! Find out more at www.raeng.org.uk/africaprize

Askwar Hilonga

Askwar Hilonga

Co-Founder at Gongali Model
Dr Askwar Hilonga is a chemical engineer and lecturer at the Nelson Mandela Institution of Science and Technology. Using his knowledge of nanotechnology, Dr Hilonga has modernised the traditional sand filtration methods still widely used to purify water. As a finalist of the inaugural Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, Dr Hilonga received six months of mentoring and training to get his project off the ground. In 2015, he was announced as the first winner of the Prize, taking home £25,000 to help commercialise his innovation.
Askwar Hilonga

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