Zenia Tata interview: the importance of funding innovation for the benefits of humanity

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]An interview with Zenia Tata, executive director of global expansion at XPRIZE. Zenia’s areas of expertise include program design, management, and business development for not-for-profit organizations and business enterprises. Her ideas for a better world are featured on her TED Talk on ‘Radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity’.

Interview topics

  • About the water abundance XPRIZE
  • Experimental Innovation
  • Futuristic thinking

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About the water abundance XPRIZE, powered by Australian Aid and the Tata Group

XPRIZE is a non-profit innovation engine that is striving to push the limits of what’s possible.

The Water Abundance XPRIZE is global competition with a USD$1.75 million prize purse. Team registrations for the competition close on Friday, April 28th.

Zenia talks extensively on the work being done by XPRIZE on making affordable and scalable innovation available to billions of people across the globe.

Exponential Innovation

The water scarcity mapping that Zenia mentions in her interview is a great way of knowing which parts of the world are most affected or will be affected due to water scarcity. This video puts water scarcity in perspective.

A previous XPRIZE was used to inspire changes to global health with new innovation and technology, with a Tricorder from the Star Trek series. In the series, the fictional character Dr Leonard McCoy used a handheld scanning device to diagnose medical conditions in seconds. In the series, it scanned vital organ functions, detect the presence of dangerous organisms in the body. Watch the medical tricorder in use in Star Trek below.

The teams that made it to the finals of the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE have designed tricorders to a market that they understand which will then be taken to the grand scale with the other teams.


Throughout the interview, Zenia refers to Jugaad. ‘Jugaad’ is a Hindi term commonly used in India and by Indians across the globe, Jugaad is an innovative idea that provides a quick solution to a problem. Indians usually use the term in a humorous way as they look for cost-effective solutions to solve everyday problems. When an individual thinks of coming up with ‘jugaad’, he/she is basically adapting quickly to unforeseen circumstances in an intelligent way, a way that gets the job done.

XPRIZE also has an interesting Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE competition underway at present which is a global challenge to develop rapid and unmanned deep-sea technologies for ocean exploration. The prize purse for this competition will reward a total of USD$7 million. This includes a $1 million bonus prize offered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to teams that demonstrate their technology can “sniff out” a specified object in the ocean through biological and chemical signals.

Futuristic Thinking: What this means and its application

Backcasting is a method of analyzing alternate futures. Zenia mentions that it is a good way of making it a roadmap for a call to action for the world and decision-makers.

Zenia stresses on the fact that this is the right time to go into new areas of interest and educating oneself is the best way of learning about new areas. And framing it to a context that they relate to.

In the interview, Zenia mentions a number of blogs, where people can learn more about this style of thinking — Futurism, TechCrunch, Singularity University. Zenia adds that though she reads a lot of blogs and books, however, she relates it to her field of expertise, International Development, and that context.

To coincide with World Water Day, Zenia recently wrote an article for the UN Foundation’s Global Connections blog on Moonshot Thinking and its relationship to the water crisis.

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This interview and related content was originally part of the Kini Interview Series. Kini is a retired brand of the AWP and IWCAN.

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