Three-person teams of UBC students are devising solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems—from addressing stove pollution in the global south, to creating a low-cost electron microscope for diagnosing disease, to the preservation of Indigenous knowledge.
As part of International Development Week (Feb. 4–8), six of these teams will be facing off, Dragon’s Den-style, on Thursday, Feb. 7, in the UBC World’s Challenge Challenge—a competition in which students pitch their solutions to global problems. Teams have a mere seven minutes to convince a panel of judges, made up of UBC faculty and alumni, that their proposal is worth supporting.
The winning project will receive $6,000 and a place in the third annual World’s Challenge Challenge Global Finals, held in June at Western University in London, Ont. There, teams from around the globe will vie for a top prize of $30,000.
Among those hoping to make it to London are Jordan Konyk, 24, a master’s student in the School of Community and Regional Planning, and his teammates Narayan Gopinathan, 24, a master’s student at the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, and Denby McDonnell, 23, a master’s student in the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs.
The trio have turned their attention to household pollution caused by traditional biomass-burning stoves—an issue that affects three billion people every year and leads to over four million premature deaths annually, according to the World Health Organization.
“It’s a huge issue, and one approach to it is to just give people better stoves, but these programs–they’re very expensive and hard to implement,” says Konyk. “Our approach is to look at some very simple behavioural interventions that can reduce air pollution indoors and achieve the same health outcomes. Research shows that simple actions, such as opening windows, fixing chimneys, cooking outdoors or locating children in another room during cooking, can reduce indoor air pollution by 20 to 90 per cent.”
“When you bring students from across Canada and around the world together and invite them to create something new together, what they come up with is phenomenal,” says Michelle Suderman, director of international student development at UBC.
Other projects being presented at the UBC WCC include a low-cost scanning electron microscope with the potential to improve access to disease diagnostics and research worldwide; a platform that provides access to revenue-based financing for emerging entrepreneurs across the globe; an automated waste-sorting system to reduce the waste burden of developing countries and improve recycling efforts; an offline reporting and data-collection application to track incidents of sexual violence in sub-Saharan Africa; and the creation of a database of rural and Indigenous health knowledge in Ecuador.
The WCC is just one example of how UBC is encouraging students to engage and launch their careers from an increasingly global perspective, says Michelle Suderman, director of international student development at UBC.
“The university is committed to equipping leaders who can solve global problems that aren’t limited by national or regional boundaries,” she says. “The creativity of students’ approaches to problem solving and the diversity of opinions and perspectives within the teams really leads to some great outcomes.”
While this year’s WCC winners remain to be chosen, those from previous years are already making an impact. Amit Chandna, a UBC graduate whose team finished second in the first WCC in 2017 with a proposal for a solar-powered crop irrigation system, secured additional funding to pilot the project in Tanzania.
“When you bring students from across Canada and around the world together and invite them to create something new together, what they come up with is phenomenal,” says Suderman.
International Development Week is being hosted by UBC’s Simon K.Y. Lee Global Lounge. The UBC World’s Challenge Challenge will take place at the C.K. Choi Building on Feb. 7, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Click here for more information about the week’s events.