The Sustainability Prize


The Lab’s 2019 Sustainability Prize at EARTH University was recently awarded to Yesenia Sandra Cahuana Condori for the project: YAKU sin límites (Water Without Limits). We spoke with Yesenia about how she developed the project and her plans to take it to scale in Arequipa, Peru. Please enjoy this interview with Yesenia!

Yesenia with her winning certificate during the 2019 Sustainability Prize ceremony at EARTH University

The Lab: Why did you chose a water purification system as opposed to other sustainability related projects?

Yesenia: Water is the fundamental basis for human beings, and many waterbodies are very contaminated due to constant discharges of waste into rivers. If children consume clean and purified water, they will not suffer from ailments such as diarrhea. It’s important to address these problems at their root. Biofilters are unique in that they remove heavy metals from water, such as arsenic, lead, and chromium.

At EARTH University I researched how to purify water. I conducted many analyses about biofilters and their ability to remove heavy metals and other contaminants. I also created a prototype artisanal oven in which to fabricate the biofilters. This enabled me to know the approximate cost of production of the biofilters.

Prototype biofilters

The Lab: How are you planning on implementing this project in the future?

Yesenia: The project will be implemented in the city of Arequipa, Peru. My first step is to find the appropriate legal support in my country that will allow me to realize my project.

My plan is to employ local women, particularly single mothers. There are many local women who wish to work. It’s true that in order to form a business one needs to work with people who are business-savvy, and for that reason I will work on strengthening my association with female colleagues who want to support the project.

In 2020 I plan to focus on the project, processing the patent for the biofilters, establishing all of the necessary legal documents, and beginning the production and sale of the biofilters. The materials used in the fabrication of the biofilters I will have to obtain in Peru, from various industries. For example, fibers obtained from a company involved in sugar production. Also, based on the prototype artisanal oven that I created at EARTH University, I will create another oven in Peru. The women employed at the project will be involved in the fabrication and sale of the biofilters.

The Lab: Why did you chose the name YAKU?

Yesenia: YAKU means ‘water’ in Quechua. Later on I added the phrase “sín límites” (without limits). The project in general is called YAKU sin límites (Water Without Limits).

The prototype artisanal oven made by Yesenia at EARTH University

The Lab: What was the influence of The Lab’s sustainability principles in developing YAKU?

Yesenia: I had been working on the project independently and as part of some class projects. However, I hadn’t presented it anywhere. Since presenting it in EARTH University’s Sustainability and Innovation Forum and obtaining the first-place ranking as a finalist, I began believing that my project was special and could achieve great things. This helped motivate me and keep me focused.

In the material domain, I sought to find waste materials from various companies, to reduce overall environmental impact. In the economic domain, my objective was to look for low-cost materials, so that the biofilters would be accessible by low-income populations. In the social domain, I am motivated to work with women, given that this is the population with the highest unemployment rate in my country, and women are also those who are in charge of raising children. In the domain of life, the project enables better quality of life of various people without harmful environmental impacts. And in the spiritual domain, I am working transparently to be able to implement my project.

The Lab: What’s your vision for the future of YAKU?

Yesenia: I envision that during the first few years YAKU will enable production of biofilters at the national level. Later I plan to expand production throughout Latin America and the world.

Left to right: Tobias Wuscher; Yesenia Sandra Cahuana Condori; Michael Ben-Eli, founder of The Sustainability Laboratory; Yanine Chan Blanco, Dean and Vice President of Academic Affairs; Mike Gucovsky, a Lab board member; and Róger Castellón Mora, EARTH University faculty member

We wish Yesenia luck in her future pursuits, and we look forward to seeing how she implements her scale-up in the coming years! For more information about The Lab’s Sustainability Prize at EARTH University, please contact us at info[at]sustainabilitylabs[dot]org.

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