Creators of solutions to stem COVID-19 honored by Indian Government and UN Women

Date: Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Authors: Minji Kwag, Feroza Sanjana and Pritha Banerjee


The winners of the COVID-19 Shri Shakti Challenge. Top row, from left are the top winners: Romita Ghosh, Dr. Anjana Ramkumar and Dr. Anushka Ashokan, and Dr. P. Gayatri Hela. Bottom row, from left are the winners of Promising Solutions: Vasanthi Palanivel, Jaya Parashar and Ankita Parashar, and Shivi Kapil. Meet the Shri Shakti Challenge Winners! 

New Delhi, India – Women and girls have been disproportionately hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic’s social isolation and economic fallout. They face increased violence, unpaid care work, and other inequalities and violations of their rights. To address this and to ensure that women are included in efforts to recover from the crisis, UN Women’s WeEmpowerAsia programme and the National Informatics Centre of India's MyGov initiative organized the COVID-19 Shri Shakti Challenge in India. Outstanding female entrepreneurs, scientists, innovators and change-makers were named winners and their accomplishments recognized. Shri Shakti means “female power”; the Indian Government came up with the theme and invited WeEmpowerAsia to take part in activities around it.

The total of 1,265 entries from across the country leveraged technology in bioinformatics, data sets and application programs to strengthen the fight against COVID-19. After a six-month screening, the winners for the Challenge and for the ‘Promising Solutions’ category were announced last month. With funds provided by the European Union, WeEmpowerAsia and MyGov awarded the top three winning teams 500,000 rupees (USD 6,776) each and the three Promising Solutions winning teams 200,000 rupees (USD 2,710) each to help them carry out and promote their projects. In addition, grants of 75,000 rupees (USD 1,016) were given to each of the 11 finalists.  WeEmpowerAsia and MyGov will continue to help the winners connect with experts and potential investors so they can further develop and promote their solutions.

Dr. Anjana Ramkumar and Dr. Anushka Ashokan and their product. Photo: Deepa Alex

The Indian Government has mandated the wearing of face masks to try to stem COVID-19, but most of the masks available are disposable ones that not everyone can afford. To solve this problem and to protect the environment, Dr. Anjana Ramkumar and Dr. Anushka Ashokan, top winners from Thanmatra Innovations, created an antimicrobial spray that can disinfect any kind of fabric. “As soon as you spray it on a cotton cloth or a mask, it instantly sterilizes the mask, creating antiviral polymer that sticks to the fabric, and it provides a prolonged effect,” said Dr. Ashokan.

Photo: Courtesy of Romita Ghosh

Romita Ghosh, a top winner from iHeal HealthTech, is an entrepreneur who runs medical device start-ups. She created a UV-based sterilizer that will enable doctors and hospitals to reuse personal protective equipment, masks, and other disposables safely “at 99.9 per cent efficiency”. She said that the sterilizer will also come in handy in the post-COVID-19 era because reusing such items would not only save money but also reduce biomedical wastes and the need to treat them. Ghosh encouraged young aspiring innovators in India “to have an innovator’s mindset, which means focusing on original research-based innovations rather than replicating the ideas that we see around”. She also expressed her hope that the next-generation innovators focus on “human-centric designs” and make user-friendly and cost-effective products.

Photo: Courtesy of Dr. P. Gayatri Hela

Another top winner, Dr. P. Gayatri Hela, Managing Director of Reseda Lifesciences and a chemical scientist, created a hand sanitizer using plant extracts. Her company makes chemical-free/plant-based products to fend off germs in homes and pests in agriculture. “I wanted to address the negative effect of excessive usage of chemicals in everyday products,” Dr. Hela said.

WeEmpowerAsia provided the finalists with mentoring by experts from NASSCOM, India’s industry association for information technology and business process management, to help them further develop their ideas into effective solutions. The finalists attended eight sessions on topics including financial and business modelling, legal certification, marketing and digital marketing, product designing, and ways to make pitches.

Abhishek Singh, CEO of MyGov, said the Shri Shakti Challenge gave women-led enterprises an opportunity to come up with “innovative solutions that can help tackle problems that women face or impact a large number of women – it’s about innovation, empowerment and inclusion”.

Nishtha Satyam, Deputy Country Representative for UN Women India, said the Challenge is important to UN Women because “it centre-stages 50 per cent of the population and makes sure that gender is mainstreamed into how we respond to the pandemic as a country.”

Watch the interview videos of the 11 finalists to learn more about their ideas and solutions!

Related Article: Winners of UN Women’s and MyGov’s COVID-19 Shri Shakti Challenge

For more information, contact:

Suhela Khan
Country Programme Manager, WeEmpowerAsia India
UN Women India
Email: suhela.khan@unwomen.org

Minji Kwag
International Communications Consultant, WeEmpowerAsia
UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific
Email: minji.kwag@unwomen.org

About WeEmpowerAsia
The EU-funded programme WeEmpowerAsia of UN Women seeks to increase the number of women who lead and participate in business in China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam. For more information, visit: http://weempowerasia.org