Nextgen Essay Competition Winner Announced

News | November 12, 2012

The EastWest Institute’s nextgen essay competition, seeking submissions of at most 800 words from under-35s, received 58 entries from 20 countries. The primary criteria set by the judges were originality, creativity and feasibility. Because our essay question was very broad, we received a number of interesting ideas that, while creative and engaging, did not go far enough in terms of specificity of implementation. The central example put forth in the winning entry, the Winddrinker, went above and beyond the other submissions in that regard. The device the essay mentions combines a windmill and a desalination pump. It was demonstrated to work in April 2012 and is currently in the implementation phase in Somaliland.

The submission was written by Sjoerd Dijkstra, the 30-year-old project manager of the Winddrinker project. He identifies a broad problem but offers a specific solution. In awarding him first place, the EastWest Institute hopes to draw attention to this kind of thinking from the next generation, enhancing such efforts to make the world a safer and better place.



If I had the means, I would create a global public private partnership which solved water scarcity problems locally through innovation solutions. Water scarcity, driven by climate change, rising populations, and ad hoc management techniques has been a source of territorial conflict, particularly in Northern Africa and the Middle East. Clashes in this part of the world are frequently characterized in initial billing as being driven by Islamist ideology and extremism. Usually, the real drivers are extreme poverty and environmental stresses. It can be argued that water scarcity is a driver for the outcome of poverty, which in turn can lead to conflict.

Understandably, water scarcity solutions are usually framed through the lens of how to best share existing resources. As a result, impenetrable gridlock can arise because agreements cannot be reached. However, what if the question were pivoted and it became: how can we create more water in our communities?

In parts of the world where water scarcity exists, each locale faces different realities. For would-be problem solvers, there are different pathways forward which must navigate political, cultural, and regulatory differences. As a result, each solution should be localized. If an organization existed which, in tandem with the World Bank and UN, developed solutions for local problems through innovation approaches devised from the ground up, and positioned those initiatives for success by partnering with local governments to drive implementation and global for-profit funding to drive long term implementation, new breakthroughs could be achieved.

An example of innovation coming alive in a local environment where there is a need is the Winddrinker ( Designed by a Dutch engineering team, this streamlined technology desalinates salt water using only wind power and is cheap to install and maintain. Already in operation in Hargeisa, Somaliland, and run by a local water provider, the result has been to bring cheap water in greater quantity to a part of the world where water scarcity is dire. The results have been job creation and water sustainability. A PPP which systematically entered communities in need, developed affordable solutions like the Winddrinker, positioned them within local governments, and which was sustained by a long term global funding stream, would go a long way toward alleviating the global water scarcity problem. The offshoots from such intervention would be local job creation, improved public health, and likely reduced instances of conflict over resources.

Sjoerd Dijkstra (1981) holds a MSc-degree (2008) in Aerospace Engineering. In 2005, he was involved in an early stage of the high tech start-up TANIQ. Recently, Sjoerd worked as a business analyst at Royal DSM, for which he analyzed markets and developed strategies for DSM's second generation biofuels program. Currently, he works as a project manager for AIM (Amsterdam Initiative against Malnutrition), a GAIN managed collaboration with large Dutch players like DSM, Unlilever, Akzo Nobel, Rabobank, Wageningen University and Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Sjoerd develops business cases to combat malnutrition in Africa and South-East Asia.


The EastWest Institute would also like to congratulate the four other finalists:

Michael Mylrea

Michael Krebs

Alixe Leclercq

Luciana Grosu