The Merrill J. Fernando Eco-Innovations Awards, initiated with a view to promote Eco-Innovation in Sri Lanka for a sustainable future, awarded the winners of 2016 on Friday, 18th November.

Eco-Innovation is crucial to economic growth and to managing the humanitarian and environmental challenges faced by a nation. Sri Lanka is a country blessed not only with biological diversity and cultural heritage but also with creativity, knowledge, intellectual ability and commitment. Unfortunately, many ingenious and innovative ideas remain unrealized because innovators lack the means of developing their concepts and prototypes. Recognizing this, Dilmah Conservation initiated the Merrill J. Fernando Eco-Innovation Awards to provide the support Sri Lankan innovators need while also supporting the environmental, humanitarian and general development priorities of Sri Lanka - thus replicating in their innovations the success of Dilmah, a Sri Lankan business driven by an ordinary Sri Lankan with an innovative idea.

The winners of the 2016 Merrill J. Fernando Eco-Innovation Awards were awarded on Friday, 18th November 2016 with sector winners receiving a quarter million Sri Lankan rupees, the overall 2016 Concept winner receiving half a million Sri Lankan rupees and the 2016 Prototype winner, receiving a grand total of one million Sri Lankan rupees, to develop their innovations. In addition to providing this financial support, the MJF award also aims to benefit both the innovator and the country by facilitating its incorporation into society or bringing the 'concept to market.'

In his opening speech at the Award Ceremony, Dilhan C. Fernando, Trustee of Dilmah Conservation and Director of Dilmah Tea said, "The main purpose [of the MJF Award] was to foster a culture of innovation. Innovation is the key to addressing problems of development. . . ", adding that " . . .through the Awards we discovered that in Sri Lanka, we have the intelligence, we have the creativity, we have the ability, we have the people who can find the solutions to the most pressing problems, it is simply a question of providing them with the right platform".

The MJF Awards called for working prototypes and well-developed concepts from across the nation that addressed current national and global environmental issues in the areas of Water, Biodiversity, Waste, Energy and Blue Economy. More than 100 prototypes were submitted under these five sectors and were evaluated by an expert panel lead by Professors Sarath Kotagama, Dr. Sumith Pilapitiya, Mrs. Shiranee Yasaratne and Professor Ajith De Alwis, respectively. Following an extensive evaluation process, the judging panel selected eight winning innovations, 2 of which were selected by Merrill J. Fernando, Founder of Dilmah Tea, as the best overall prototype and concept.

Professor Ajith De Alwis, Professor at University of Moratuwa, Project Director, Coordinating Secretariat for Science and Technology and Innovation (COSTI) and Panel Facilitator of the Blue Economy Sector, gave a profoundly inspiring talk on the importance of such platforms as the MJF Awards in fostering innovation, stating that "there are 3 key parties, the dreamers - who come up with the ideas, the doers - who provide the opportunity, the platform to bring forth these ideas such as the Merrill J. Fernando Eco-Innovation Awards, and the enablers - the government, the people who take the decisions on behalf of us and set the stage. ", going on to add the importance of each of these three parties individually but most importantly their effectiveness when they work hand in hand in achieving their goals.

The winners of the 2016 Merrill J. Fernando Eco-Innovations Award are:

B.G. Harsha Abeywardana won the 2016 Prototype Winner award for his innovation 'Viable Approach on Value Addition to Refuse Tea by Producing Bricks, Papers, Cardboards and Orchid Pots. '

K.K.L Madusanka won the 2016 Concept Winner award for his innovation 'Tank Purifier'

H. Mahendra Prasad Peiris won both the 2016 Blue Economy Concept Winner award and the 2016 Blue Economy Prototype award for his innovations 'Strip-Spreading of Tea Bushes' and 'Herbicide Free Integrated Weed Management'.

I.S.W. Karunatilake won the 2016 Water Prototype Winner award for his innovation 'Wave-less, Eco-friendly Boat'.

Raveen Perera won the 2016 Waste Concept Winner award for his innovation 'Plass Game Box'

T. Sunil Somasiri Gomes won the 2016 Waste Prototype award for his innovation 'Invention of Technology of Spherical Container to World Centrifuge Latex Industry'.

W.M. Jeremy Fernando won the 2016 Energy Prototype award for his innovation 'Power Line Communication Based Energy Saving and Management System'.

Merrill J. Fernando, Founder of Dilmah Tea, who presented the winners with their trophies, spoke at the ceremony on the role of innovation in the story of Dilmah, reiterating the significance of the three key parties highlighted by Professor De Alwis. He concluded saying 'I thank the panel of experts, for their help throughout the awards and for picking the best, and all the participants, not only those who won awards but everyone who participated. ' Adding, 'I've always believed that mere participation in a competition is an experience and you learn to do better next time, and eventually you become a winner'.

With the Merrill J. Fernando Eco-Innovations Award, Dilmah Conservation hopes to inspire Sri Lankans to create unique solutions that will carry the island nation into a prosperous future.

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