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Humanitarian Innovation Awards

Engineering solutions for the most vulnerable
Our Professor Ron Johnston Humanitarian Innovation Awards encourage and rewards students to engineer cutting-edge solutions that have a positive impact for people around the world.

With growing humanitarian needs and limited funding, innovative solutions are vital to assist the most vulnerable groups in new and efficient ways.

Our annual Professor Ron Johnston Humanitarian Innovation Awards is a means of doing just that, by encouraging and rewarding university students to create cutting-edge solutions that could save lives and make a positive impact on people around the world!

The Humanitarian Innovation Awards consist of two parts. The Hackathon is a weekend-long virtual event where unversity students collaborate in teams to create a technology driven solutions to address a humanitarian challenge.  The Innovation Pitch is a national submission contest designed for university students to develop an innovative technological or engineering solution and submit a video explaining their idea. 

Humanitarian Innovation Hackathon

Our Humanitarian Innovation Hackathon is a weekend-long virtual event designed for university students to work collaboratively in cross-discipline teams to create technology-driven solutions for the most pressing humanitarian challenges.

Participants are asked to identify practical solutions for real and current problems from a current international humanitarian response context.

The 2021 Humanitarian Innovation Hackathon took place 23-25 July, and saw participants come up with cutting-edge solutions to help address challenges ranging from natural distaster recovery to managing plastic waste.

The Humanitarian Innovation Hackathon is open to all undergraduate students across Australia. 

Past winners

First Prize: RedR Ron Johnston Rapid Response Prize (Prize: Medal and $5,000)


  • Alex Hofmann (Monash University)
  • Allan Soo (University of Technology Sydney)
  • Ben Hofmann (Australian National University)
  • Emily Unewisse (University of Adelaide)
  • James Hurst (Australian National University)

Pacific Telecommunications Council / Beyond Essential Humanitarian Internship Appointent

"Winter is not Coming"

  • Katia Moors (University of Sydney)
  • Thomas Sau (Macquarie University

Pacific Telecommunications Council First Prize for Best Humanitarian Digital Innovation

"Greys Humanity"

  • Alida Fois from (University of Melbourne)
  • Celina Dhobbie (Monash University)
  • Charvi Mamidi (University of Sydney)
  • Portia Sihvola (Queensland University of Technology)

Pacific Telecommunications Council Second Prize for Best Humanitarian Digital Innovation


  • Avanish Shrestha (University of Sydney)
  • Isabella Notarpietro (University of New South Wales)
  • Rafe Skidmore (University of Sydney)
  • Meg Phillips (University of Tasmania)
  • Syed Emaad Rizwan (Macquarie University)

Humanitarian Innovation Pitch

Our Humanitarian Innovation Pitch is a national submissions contest designed for university students to develop innovative technological or engineering solutions that support human welfare through benevolent treatment or assistance to people for substantially altruistic reasons.

Students are encouraged to select a real-world humanitarian problem and develop technology-driven solutions. 

Submissions are comprised of a short video encapsulating the essence of a student's idea, accompanied by a written brief showing evidence of how each solution could be achieved.

Past winners

Professor Ron Johnston Prize in Humanitarian Innovation Winner (Prize: Medal, $2,500, Cardno internship and automatic entry into hackathon)

"Team Orinum"

  • Vanathy Arudselvan (University of Sydney)
  • Yeeun Cho (University of Sydney)

Runner Up (Prize: GHD internship and automatic entry into hackathon)

"The Double A Team"

  • Ally Moodie (Queensland University of Technology)
  • Adele van der Winden (Queensland University of Technology)


  • International and national university students, domiciled in Australia and studying at any Australian University;
  • Students studying in any discipline but preferably “STEM-capable participants” studying for degrees in engineering and/or computer science; the reason for this preference is because of the emphasis on “engineering” innovations;
  • Students must be studying an undergraduate degree to participate –  full-time and part-time students are welcome;
  • Entry may be made by groups of 2 to 4 individuals working as a team;
  • Entrants will be required to provide evidence of their eligibility under these rules as a part of their submission.

Latest rules will be communicated soon.

  1. Complete the EOI
  2. On completion, you will receive an email with the rules and the link to submit your Pitch application. You or your team can complete the EOI
  3. Form a team of 2-4 undergraduate students
  4. Decide on a Humanitarian issue based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals
  5. Formulate an Innovative idea - check out previous winners
  6. Create a video 3- 4 minutes (check rules and FAQs to identify what the judges are looking for)
  7. Complete the submission form. This will be sent to you via email once you have completed your EOI
  • Identify by research a real problem in a humanitarian or a developing country context;
  • Preferably with a connection to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals;
  • Especially those solutions that address needs which do not fit conventional commercial finance driven markets and are therefore “orphans” to traditional market solutions;
  • Especially solutions aimed to alleviate or address needs of disadvantaged communities or
  • Groups that may be overlooked by traditional engineering and technology projects.

Open  3 March and close 30 April 2021


Evaluation criteria will include but not be limited to the degree to which the humanitarian engineering innovation:

  • uses engineering skills, knowhow and technologies;
  • is original;
  • is novel;
  • is inventive;
  • is environmentally sound and sustainable;
  • is practical for the target community or persons;
  • addresses a real and pressing problem;
  • an actual demonstration or other proof of practicality will be highly considered.

In 2020, winners were awarded:

  • The Professor Ron Johnston Prize in Humanitarian Innovation,
  • a total of $2,500 in cash prizes,
  • an internship on a Pacific Islands engineering project with consulting engineering firm Cardno Ltd, and
  • travel stipends for the Humanitarian Innovation Hackathon, held in Sydney.

About Ron Johnston

Professor Ron Johnston, Executive Director of the Australian Centre for Innovation (ACIIC) has worked for more than thirty years in pioneering better understanding of the ways that science and technology contribute to economic and social development, the characteristics of the global knowledge economy and the processes and culture of innovation. His special skill is based on the breadth of his knowledge across technologies and his ability to integrate them into a socioeconomic and environmental context.

These annual awards are named in honor of Professor Ron Johnston, to recognise his outstanding contributions as Director of ACIIC for some 20+ years.