Western students are demonstrating that solving some of the world’s most pressing issues need not just be a responsibility of governments and powerful organizations as they embark on this year’s World’s Challenge Challenge competition.
“The World’s Challenge Challenge provides a unique opportunity for globally minded students to collaborate on solutions to tackle our world’s most pressing issues,” said Lise Laporte, senior director, Western International. “As a pitch competition focused on social entrepreneurship and the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, it encourages participants to become global leaders by building skills and creating projects that are ethical, sustainable and community focused.”
For the past eight years, teams of students across disciplines have been competing in the annual World’s Challenge Challenge. Each team comes up with an idea to make the world a better place by addressing one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The teams then pitch their solutions to a panel of academic and community leaders.
“The challenge came about in 2013, when we were trying to think of ways to engage students in conversations around the importance of internationalization,” said Laporte. “Ideally, we were looking to create space for students from different academic backgrounds to come together to look at issues that are important in a global context and address them from an interdisciplinary perspective.”
The winning team members from Western’s World’s Challenge Challenge will each receive $1,000, and will have the opportunity to compete against students from around the world in the World’s Challenge Challenge Global Final. This global competition began in 2017 and is hosted by Western. The top team price for the global final is $30,000.
In addition to creating the Global Final and inviting partner institutions from around the world to host their own campus competitions, Challenge organizers are focused on enhancing the experience for Western students, including offering support and mentorship for teams prior to the competition through a collaboration with the Morrissette Institute for Entrepreneurship.
“Every year, I’m inspired by the level of commitment of the participants, the quality of the ideas and the desire to create positive change,” Laporte said.
Meet the top 10 teams selected to compete in Western’s World’s Challenge Challenge finals on March 24.
World challenge: Increase crop yields, reduce soil degradation, and decrease the resources needed for crop sustentation in emerging nations.
Solution: A precision agricultural system designed to service the needs of farmers in emerging nations by decreasing the resources needed for crop sustentation, preventing soil degradation, and increasing crop yield through mesh networking, machine-learning, and online APIs.
Inspiration: The inspiration behind Agri-Edge came from two group members who frequently visit farms and communities in rural nations and are shocked by the lack of technology in agriculture.
Why it’s important: The way that agriculture is growing, farmers must take preventative measures with respect to soil degradation and resource conservation, however with high costs and designs created for North American markets, current implementations in precision agriculture are inaccessible to farmers in emerging nations.
Team members: Liam Briggs, third-year, software engineering and Ivey; Natalie Connors, third-year, chemical engineering; Waleed Sawan, third-year, software engineering and Ivey; Edward Zurabov, third-year, software engineering and Ivey dual
World challenge: Climate action, specifically reducing carbon emissions from transportations
Solution: Create a bikeshare program within London, Ont., that would provide students a method of transportation and independence to get from one area to another. This solution would provide bikes all over the city where anyone can easily rent one out for a period of time before returning the bike to one of the many bike stations located all over London.
Inspiration: Our inspiration for this project/solution came about when we discussed how we wished we had bikes at times so that we can get around campus more easily and also get to places faster than just walking or depending on the bus (which may be late).
Why is this important? It’s important to address this particular global issue because it not only tackles the carbon emissions from transportation that are rampant all over North America, it also incorporates physical activity which is beneficial for physical and mental health. Furthermore, it provides a method for people to engage in social distancing activities. Lastly, this is a program that is applicable to many underdeveloped countries in which cars are not an affordable option but bikes are needed and necessary for most people. Team members: Lilian Yeung, fourth-year, biology; Sneha Nahar, first-year, DAN Department of Management and Organizational Studies; Zarish Ahsan, third-year, medical science; Rose Manuba, third-year, biology
World challenge: Addressing the loss of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK)
Solution: A digital platform that offers curated TEK stories to help preserve it against colonialism, as well as news stories that expose corporate greed on Indigenous lands in Canada.
Inspiration: TEK is increasingly recognized as pivotal to high-impact climate action, while digital storytelling is emerging as an effective cultural heritage tool.
Why it’s important: Preserving TEK is crucial as Indigenous Peoples protect 80 per cent of the Earth’s biodiversity, despite representing only five per cent of the global population and the killing of an Indigenous Earth defender every 48 hours.
Team members: Ayesha Sarmad, Hira Jawaid, Khadeeja Farooq, Reem Kambris – Faculty of Science, first-year master program
Eye2Eye – Make Seeing Better
World challenge: Vision is an essential aspect of education and social mobility. Vision impairment interferes with one’s ability to read and learn. One billion people lack access to eyeglasses. Providing eyeglasses to those who need them fits with the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of quality education. Without quality education, people lose access to opportunities for decent work (another SDG). Furthermore, when people lose opportunities for decent work, societies remain unequal. Over $411 billion in productivity is lost worldwide due to uncorrected vision impairments. By providing eyeglasses, we reduce inequalities and boost growth as individuals become more productive. In addition, access to eyeglasses enhances health and well-being (both of which are SDGs), not only because eye health is an important component of overall health, but because uncorrected vision impairment can lead to other health problems and injuries.
Solution: Distribute self-adjustable refractive lenses to underserved rural and Indigenous communities in Canada who do not have access to affordable prescription eyeglasses. Then, we intend to scale our solution globally in developing countries.
Inspiration: We are service-oriented students. Our passion is helping other people. So, when we learned of the injustices pertaining to eye care that presently persist within developing countries and Canada’s Indigenous communities, we were galvanized to create solutions that may make a positive change. We want to make seeing better for people who do not have fair opportunities and continue to suffer from inequalities due to vision impairment. Our program offers a practical local solution to the global challenge by distributing affordable self-adjustable lenses to underserved rural and Indigenous communities in Canada. We intend to specifically support this niche because the current prescription lens market scarcely provides an accessible product, therefore, our program is expected to fill the need.
Why it’s important: Uncorrected vision impairment is a major barrier to learning and social mobility. We believe it is important to address this issue because the inequalities felt today by Canada’s Indigenous communities were imparted by colonialism and racism. Through our initiative, we hope to overcome these challenges by reducing the obstacles to accessing affordable eyeglasses.
Team members: Tyreek Gaynor-Fray, fourth-year, health sciences; Kieran Bovingdon, third-year, Ivey Business
Combatting post-partum hemorrhage
World’s challenge: Our idea aims to address post-partum hemorrhage (PPH) – the leading cause of maternal mortality worldwide – which particularly affects low and middle-income countries, where current treatments are inaccessible.
Solution: There is evidence that breastfeeding can reduce the risk of PPH by causing the release of a natural chemical (oxytocin), so our idea involves setting up breastfeeding clinics in regions where PPH is endemic. Mothers can have access to manual breast pumps so they can store breastmilk after their child is fed and can later choose to sell excess milk to the clinic which can be resold to NGOs that supply breast milk to infants who require it.
Inspiration: We were inspired after learning about the lethality and prevalence of PPH during one of our classes. Even though PPH is one of the leading causes of mortality globally, it struck us that 99 per cent of deaths occurred in low-middle income countries (LMIC) because they don’t have access to current first-line treatments available in high-income countries.
Why it’s important: We think it’s important to address PPH to ensure that people can safely give birth despite where they are from. We realized that current treatments in the West can’t simply be applied to other countries due to differences in legislation and the lack of sustainability, thus a new way of addressing the problem needs to be implemented.
Team members: Sarah Krause, Josh Jesin, Asaanth Sivajohan – all second-year, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry
World challenge: Despite vast changes and advancements in modern life, the western pattern diet, the typical North American diet, is considered one of the leading causes of several non-communicable diseases (NCDs) including cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes mellitus. Collectively, such diseases contribute to more than 70 per cent of all deaths worldwide and drastically overwhelm health-care systems and societies alike. As it stands today, the only effective management for said diseases is rooted in education and preventative medicine. Therefore, the implementation of nutrition education is not only time-sensitive but critical to managing the health and wellness of future generations. Despite the importance of such programs, very minimal effort has been made by politicians and policymakers alike to develop a diverse and well-rounded nutrition curriculum that effectively conveys information to diverse populations. Rather, several Western nations have adopted a one-size-fits-all curriculum that can be challenging for children to apply to their everyday lives. As such, the aim of NutriGlobe is to develop an inclusive guide that not only works to combat the prevalence of non-communicable diseases but rather restructures how children perceive nutrition, to ultimately establish healthier relationships with food. Moreover, our initiative aims to offer a series of diverse, easy-to-make healthy recipes that are consistent with the availability of items in food banks. This will prove to be of tremendous benefit for individuals experiencing food insecurity as it reduces the stigmatization of foods, particularly those that are processed, to introduce the element of choice for several vulnerable populations.
Solution: To develop an inclusive guide, composed of “globes” that cater to cultural and nutritional needs that are also cognizant of varying socio-economic statuses. This will be done through the creation of a website with print resources, webinars and a network of nutritionists, as well as collaborative community programs with independent grocers, community centres and food banks across Canada.
Inspiration: Having all experienced the nutrition curriculum, there was one consensus we were all able to agree on, the way nutrition is taught in schools does not prepare us enough to make appropriate decisions later in life – whether it’s not being able to relate concepts of the food pyramid to ethnic foods at home or the fact that it is far too broad to apply to everyone’s lives. We wanted an idea that considered the diversity of Canada’s population and presented information in a clear and accessible manner. Not only does NutriGlobe integrate heritage and culture into nutrition education, but it also recognizes differences in socio-economic status and agricultural zones of the various provinces of Canada, something that has never been done before. As a team, we have collective experience working with food banks, shelters and individuals experiencing homelessness. Witnessing firsthand how complicated nutrition may be for such individuals, we wanted to make sure that we were also recognizing the complexity of such issues and actively working to improve said area.
Why it’s important: As science students, we recognize the value of nutrition and how a poor diet can lead to several diseases including Type 2 diabetes and hypertension. Most importantly research shows that early education and health literacy is a critical social determinant of health, by developing a centralized hub of information where individuals could be connected with easily understandable content, we are hoping to improve how individuals perceive nutrition.
Team members: Amel Sassi, fourth-year, medical sciences; Angela Zemingui, third-year, medical sciences; Balsam Mudathir, fourth-year, Engineering; Randa Mudathir, fourth-year, science
World challenge: The UN has recognized internet access as a basic human right for over 10 years and is a large part of goal #10 in the UN Sustainable Development Goals – Reduced Inequalities. Seventy-six per cent of households in Indigenous communities don’t meet Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s standards for internet access.
Solution: A wireless meshing network is a best-suited solution for this problem. It is an existing, inexpensive solution to connect large areas to the internet. In a mesh network, one initial node can support a multitude of other nodes added to its network within its vicinity.
Inspiration: We originally wanted to implement telemedicine options in Indigenous communities as it is widely known that access to health care for rural Indigenous communities is not good. However, upon initial research we uncovered a larger issue at hand: access to the internet. One of our team members recently read an article about wireless meshing in Cuba, which led to the formation of Project Online. It is an existing, inexpensive solution to connect large areas to the internet. In a mesh network, one initial node can support a multitude of other nodes added to its network within its vicinity.
Why it’s important: In Canada, truth and reconciliation is a problem that is very close to our country’s history and values, and we were taken aback to realize just how unknown this problem is. We feel that this solution, although now being applied to Indigenous communities, can be applied to global communities with the correct model.
Team members: Kaden Gulamani, second-year, medical sciences; Alim Bhatia, second-year, social sciences; Zakir Bhanji, second-year, social sciences
Team MANI Project: Momentum
World challenge: Addressing the complex problem of mental health in Nigeria. Understanding mental health in Nigeria requires the consideration of a multitude of political, economic, social and technological factors. This includes outdated and insufficient mental health policies, such as the Lunacy Act. It also includes the lack of government interest in the issue and the collective stigma related to addressing mental health. Another important consideration is extreme poverty and the lack of mental health infrastructure within the country. These factors, and many more, collectively contribute to the severity of this wicked problem and highlight the importance of taking action and developing a sustainable mental health innovation.
Solution: A mental health innovation called, Momentum, which is a card game designed to normalize conversations around mental well-being, to build an understanding of mental health and wellness, and to encourage health-seeking behaviors through positive reframing. The objective of the game is not to earn points or win the game, but to get to know yourself better and to create a sense of community with others.
Inspiration: The inspiration behind our card game originated from our desire to create an innovation that would be fun, accessible and popular with Nigerian youth. As we reflected on our own experiences, we were inspired by activities that connected us to our friends and family, such as card games. In developing this project, we took inspiration from games that we enjoy as Canadian youth, such as Cards Against Humanity and We’re Not Really Strangers. Additionally, our community partner, Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative (MANI), is interested in creating a card game that prompts meaningful, positive conversations about mental health, as this is also the focus of one of MANI’s most successful innovations called Conversation Cafe. Thus, similar to what individuals experience when participating in MANI’s Conversation Cafe, our card game hopes to create a safe and welcoming space for players to talk about their mental health experiences without judgment.
Why it’s important: Mental health challenges are a growing concern each year, particularly during COVID-19, where many youth are isolated. As master’s students studying global health systems, we have taken a course on global mental health innovations and wanted to develop a practical and accessible mental health tool that would aid youth in opening up conversations around mental illness and well-being. With a population of roughly 200 million people, approximately 20 to 30 per cent of Nigerians are believed to be suffering from a mental illness, yet outdated mental health policies, little awareness, and poor mental health response in the country further exacerbate the situation. Additionally, many Nigerian youth who come forward with a mental health issue often face discrimination and rejection from their own families due to poor mental health literacy and cultural attitudes. This stigma continues to be a huge issue in the country and prevents Nigerians, particularly Nigerian youth, from seeking the help that they need. Through improving mental health literacy and increasing health-seeking behaviors, we hope to decrease this stigma and normalize conversations around mental illness and well-being.
Team members: Margarita Amoranto, Mengjie Dai, Amn Marwaha, Amanda McCall – all first-year, master of management of applied science in global health systems
Sustainable Agriculture Solutions
World challenge: With climate change being more apparent and having a toll on the crops, we wanted to tackle crop waste and food insecurity in agricultural rural regions in West Africa. In reference to what UN goals we are tackling, we are prioritizing boosting agricultural productivity while also strengthening the farm’s capacity for adaption to disasters that decrease soil quality.
Solution: Creating environmentally friendly and easy-to-assemble compost bins to convert crop waste into biofertilizer with the use of African Nightcrawler worms. Additionally, to encourage resilient agricultural practices, we will include information pamphlets and train farmers on other sustainable practices.
Inspiration: We started this project in August because we were fortunate to talk to some Ugandan farmers through a pen pal program. That is where we realized we could help them through a biological approach, given how we are all biology students with some background in sustainability. The stories of this farmer and his fears as to how the droughts and climate change will affect his crops gave us a perspective as to how we can help.
Why it’s important: These communities that depend on small-scale farms are often the ones with the highest food insecurity, while also having limited technology to adapt to changing climate. Many of the regions we are targeting are stricken with large-scale food insecurity, often due to low agricultural productivity. We can tackle this issue by decreasing the crop wastage in these regions.
Team members: Noah Varghese: fourth-year, science; Renay Rahman, third-year, science; Shaira Shafiquzzaman, third-year, science
World challenge: United Nations Sustainable Development Goals:
 Sustainable Cities and Communities
 Climate Action
- Lacking environmental standards for building operations
- Opaque and undecipherable environmental scoring
- Costly and time-inefficient auditing
Solution: EcoScore is our web application with an Azure Synapse Analytics model. It uses artificial intelligence to determine building operations emissions, rate current efforts with an easily understood 0 to 100 report card grade and propose cost-effective strategy – all at a fraction of the cost of our closest competitor.
Inspiration: A question posed by one of our team members: How are we supposed to coordinate climate action among businesses, not just consumers?
Why it’s important: In a world where building operations make up 30 per cent of all emissions, we need to focus on green buildings, and not just building green – as mainstream standards like LEED and BOMA would have you believe. In doing so, we can reduce emissions faster than any carbon offset and help all sectors become clean, cost-efficient and compliant.
Team members: Raymond Wang, first-year, Faculty of Science; Sam Glan Lu, first-year, Faculty of Science; Joyce Xinhui Liu, first-year, Faculty of Social Science; Alice Yang, first-year, Faculty of Science