Two weeks ago I was at western university in London, Ontario, to compete in an international competition called the World’s Challenge Challenge (no typos)
Every year, western presents the sustainable development goals to 20~ universities, encouraging students to come up with a solution to these global issues (which is the most daunting ask for 19 and 20 year olds ever). Each university hosts a regional competition, from which they pick a team to send to the international finals at western university. you have 7 minutes to make your pitch plus questions from the judges
my team came up with the concept of using multi-story gardens to build sustainable communities. Because it was a competition with a global context, we situated our pitch in protracted refugee situations, which is a situation that has moved past the initial state of crisis and instead into a state of long-term stagnancy with limited access to education, work, and other long-term needs. for example, the average protracted refugee lives in a camp-like setting for 9 years (!)
our idea is quite straightforward – a multi-story garden structure made out of wood to grow produce vertically instead of horizontally. In fact, it’s been done before – we just tweaked it a bit. but our design isn’t even the star of the presentation; in my honest opinion, it needs a lot of work and isn’t very robust. But I think our multi-discplinary approach to a complex issue is what led us to win the regional competition at UBC.
Why multi story gardens are great
- Many refugees come from backgrounds in agriculture
- Food rations are often micronutrient deficient
- Produce can give a sense of cultural integrity to displaced populations
I know you’re probably thinking that I sound like western savior from Canada trying to solve the issues of poor nations although our team tried really really really hard not to come across as such. In any case, our 7 minute pitch sounded like more of a case study than a business pitch for social ventures (which is what the competition was better geared for, I think)
The top prizes were 30k, 20k and 7k for first, second, and third place. My team didn’t place but i am so so happy for the teams that did win – the startup world is in better hands with these people!! also arguably in more experienced hands.
the winners were studying law, in the midst of their masters in business/entrepreneurship and had just graduated from kinesiology (respective to first/second/third place)
I came out of the competition feeling a bit fuzzy.
- What exactly did I invest my energy and resources into? If this isn’t a product that I can sell to people how else can this actualize as a ‘solution’?
- What’s the future of this idea? is it a concept to pitch to aid agencies??
we came up with the idea in december, won the competition at UBC in february, and spent the week at western preparing for the competition in june.. now what? pitch competitions take up so many resources and tons of energy, time spent that’s too valuable to simply dispose of and move on…
And here ensues the repeat of the cycle of what am I doing with my life is my impact even worthwhile who am I to try and solve such complex issues I really don’t know what I’m doing will I ever be financially stable everything is very transient