As participants in this year’s edition of the World’s Challenge Challenge competition, Western students are showing their acute understanding of problems related to sustainability and are putting their best efforts together to suggest solutions.
“The World’s Challenge Challenge provides a unique opportunity for globally minded students to collaborate on ideas to tackle our world’s most pressing issues,” said Lise Laporte, senior director, Western International.
“We are thrilled to co-lead this campus-wide initiative with our colleagues from the Morrisette Institute for Entrepreneurship again this year. This program continues to attract some of our student community’s brightest minds and I’m always inspired by the ideas they bring to the competition,” she said.
Teams of students from across disciplines have been participating in the annual competition since it launched in 2013. Each team identifies one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and, armed with data and real-world examples, suggests workable solutions for specific aspects of these goals.
“There are so many students who are passionate about having a positive impact on the broader community and world around them, so the World’s Challenge Challenge is an amazing opportunity for them to work towards that,” said Deniz Edwards, director, internal, Morrissette Entrepreneurship. “It’s such a valuable experience to see students developing entrepreneurial mindsets while thinking about how to solve global challenges.”
Each member of the winning team this year will receive $1,000 and an invitation to participate in the World’s Challenge Challenge global final, where they will compete against counterparts from around the world. This global competition is hosted by Western in June, with the final winning team receiving $30,000.
Here are the top 10 Western teams selected to compete in the finals on March 22 from 4 to 7 p.m. in the Thames Hall Atrium. The event is open to the community.
Azadir Oral Care
World challenge: Poor oral care and unsustainable oral care products in Cameroon affect the lives and livelihood of communities there.
Solution: A socially driven for-profit company that sells oral care products made of Neem trees in Cameroon. Besides being environmentally friendly, they dedicate 25 per cent of their proceeds towards improving oral care in that country.
Inspiration: The team members grew up in countries where chew sticks are used as a method of maintaining oral health. The use of different tree branches and the benefits associated with them inspired the team to form Azadir Oral Care.
Why it’s important: Oral health is an issue lowering the quality of life in Cameroon. Addressing it in a way that would help boost economic activity and production is a sustainable approach to improving the quality of life in the country.
Team members: Saron Teferra, fourth-year double major in biology and psychology at Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, and Zainab Fathi, fourth-year student in the interdisciplinary medical sciences program at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry.
World challenge: Among the Rohingya refugee population in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, lack of hygiene and sanitation led to a diphtheria outbreak of more than 7,000 cases in 2017-19. Such illnesses emerge in refugee camps or areas with similar circumstances. Although other aid agencies have created declines in transmission, the CASE team targets an obvious but overlooked contributor to illness: low community involvement (that is, aid is one-way) that prevents informed practices from persisting.
Solution: Refugee aid has historically failed to give dignity to the people it attempts to serve. The CASE response uses a behavioural and community-involved model to change hygiene and sanitation practices. This model encourages community-centred education programs and tools to decrease illness transmission while reducing the health-care burden on the government.
Inspiration: After taking a class on global health and health-care aid throughout history, the team decided to explore common drawbacks in aid projects, particularly those in refugee camps. They discovered the case of the refugee camp in Bangladesh. The CASE team was inspired to create a behaviour-focused aid project that would adequately involve the community, give them authority over their health, and create tools for education and sanitation.
Why it’s important: SDGs created by the UN address a common goal: health-care and equity for all. The team believes with the resources available, it is part of their moral responsibility to help those impeded from accessing health-care due to their circumstances. Although refugee populations require aid, they are not any less deserving of respect and dignity and CASE hopes to create aid that preserves these fundamentals.
Team members: Nicole Roytman, Simran Samra and Marlaine Ramoodith are third-year health sciences students, while Shahreen Rahman is a fourth-year student in the same program.
World challenge: Those in rural communities around the world often have limited access to essential health-care services, including pharmacists and necessary medication. In Ontario alone, an estimated 1.3 million residents lack access to a local pharmacist, contributing to poor health outcomes and shorter life expectancies.
Solution: A virtual pharmacy that utilizes medication dispensing machines to provide convenient access to prescription and over-the-counter medications to those in rural communities. Patients will be able to complete virtual consultations with pharmacists through the machines, who will then provide an authentication code to access the prescribed medication.
Inspiration: The team recognized the health disparities and barriers faced by rural communities, and wanted to address these issues with a more effective and sustainable solution. As the team members learned about these challenges during their public health program, they also identified the limitations of the Canadian government’s responses, which often focus on short-term, band-aid solutions rather than addressing the root causes of the problem.
Why it’s important: Increasing accessibility to timely medications has significant impacts on individuals’ health outcomes and the health-care system. When individuals are unable to access necessary medications in a timely manner, it can lead to negative health complications, higher mortality rates and increased difficulties in managing chronic conditions. Additionally, the high cost of health-care resulting from inadequate access to medications can lead to financial strain on individuals, families and health-care systems.
Team members: Daria Tai, Arisha Makhani and Ron Tagne Kamga are first-year master’s in public health students at the Schulich Medicine & Dentistry.
World challenge: The team focussed on UNSDG no. 6, which says: “Ensure clean water and sanitation for all.” Target 6. (b) of this goal says: “Support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management.”
Solution: A filtration and sanitation device that will create safe drinking water from contaminated sources. According to the team, the device can produce four litres of drinking water for five people every day. The device will take approximately two hours to obtain totally clean drinking water.
Inspiration: The team said that clean water is taken for granted in Canada while at the same time, 20 per cent of Canadians do not have access to clean drinking water. Their goal is to ensure everyone can access it.
Why it’s important: As populations continues to increase, the number of people without clean drinking water will also continue to increase if there is not a plan in place to solve this issue.
Team members: Adam Frisani and Riley MacLeod are third-year students in the integrated engineering mechanical with biomedical engineering program at the Faculty of Engineering. Kevin Shi and Jessica Braverman are third-year HBA students at the Ivey Business School.
World challenge: According to the World Health Organisation, there are almost 250 million cases of malaria every year, and more than 700,000 deaths; the vast majority are children under five. Combatting this epidemic is one of the principal tasks underlying UNSDG no. 3: “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.”
Solution: By combining Fourier ptychographic microscopy, which enables high-quality image capture through inexpensive optical equipment, with remote diagnosis enhanced by machine learning, the team is making reliable malaria diagnostics accessible in low-resource settings.
Inspiration: Through a connection in Academics Without Borders, the group met a professor of computer science at a Ugandan university. After having a conversation about challenges in his local community, the professor informed the team about the need for an accessible, low-cost microscope to diagnose malaria. Having done prior research into the Fourier ptychography algorithm, they immediately noticed the opportunity to combine these technologies.
Why it’s important: Despite international progress in reducing malaria cases and deaths, Africa continues to bear the heaviest burden, and the disease remains the leading cause of childhood mortality in many sub-Saharan nations. Malaria significantly hinders the continent’s progress in achieving other development goals as well; children who survive often miss significant school or work, exacerbating existing economic issues and perpetuating the cycle of poverty. Effective efforts to combat it are crucial for improving the lives of millions.
Team members: Robin Cunningham is a fourth year dual-degree student in BESc mechatronic systems and BSc medical biophysics at the Faculty of Engineering and Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, respectively. Justin Yang is a fourth-year student in the BMSc medical biophysics program at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. Sammy Farnum is a third-year student in the HBA program at Ivey Business School.
World challenge: One of the leading contributors to food insecurity is produce going to waste. UNSDG no. 2 says: “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.”
Solution: The team’s solution aims to reduce food waste by repurposing wasted produce from local grocers into a cheaper freeze-dried alternative. This alternative will serve to aid people struggling with food insecurity.
Inspiration: The team was inspired to work on this problem due to their personal struggles with obtaining healthy food options because of the increasing costs of produce.
Why it’s important: Despite increasing numbers of people being unable to access nutritious food, grocery stores in Canada continue to produce substantial food waste.
Team members: Elliot Kachan is a third-year student in the global development studies program at Huron University College. Lily Faragher is a third-year political science student, while Kavya Nalan is a third-year software engineering student.
World challenge: UNSDG no. 12 is to ensure “responsible consumption and production patterns” with specific targets of “effective waste and chemical management to reduce their impacts on the environment and human health” and “reduce, recycle and reuse to reduce waste”. Improper disposal of pharmaceutical waste contributes to increased contamination of our water.
Solution: The team proposes a mobile application that has three main purposes: education, donation and medication disposal. The donations will create a social equity medication pool for people who cannot afford their prescription medication.
Inspiration: One of the group members worked in a pharmacy for many years and expressed concern about medication being thrown out and that some people could not afford prescription medication. Other team members considered what they could do with untouched boxes of medication at home.
Why it’s important: Pharmaceutical waste has long-standing effects on the environment. The team also felt that there is also a dire need for equity in the pharmaceutical sector. Medication donations (untouched, blister form) will help increase access to pharmaceutical treatments and improve global health. Moreover, the downstream impact of addressing pharmaceutical waste is vast, creating a holistic outcome.
Team members: Visva Shah, Reeya Kothari, Rachel Baran and Paulina Rudziak are master’s students in the MMASc global health systems program at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry.
World challenge: UNSDG no. 11, which involves making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
Solution: Increase accessibility and independence for people with visual impairments by making it easier for them to navigate physical environments. This can be achieved by providing audio descriptions of building spaces using AI object recognition and text-to-speech software through smart glasses in order to promote social equality for people who require visual aids.
Inspiration: Elderly relatives of team members are experiencing vision loss and find small, everyday tasks and navigation to be difficult. When the team conducted research into visual impairment, they discovered the number of people over the age of 60 is predicted to increase to 2.1 billion by 2050, which strengthens the importance of addressing this issue.
Why it’s important: The prevalence of age-related eye conditions will only continue to rise, as our population increases and ages. Visual impairments can have severe consequences on an individual’s well-being and independence, making them more susceptible to injury and reliant on others for help.
Team members: Shree Dey is a fourth-year biology student and Christine Bautista is a second-year computer science student.
World challenge: Water supply problems are severe in refugee camps across the world. The team specifically focused on this problem at Shatila Refugee Camp in Beirut, Lebanon.
Solution: Through Association Najdeh, a women-led organization in Beirut, the team hopes to provide new energy and water filtration equipment to an existing water distribution system in the Shatila refugee community. Energy will be provided through solar panels with the water filtration system consisting of a chlorine stage to disinfect the water, and an activated charcoal stage to cleanse the water.
Inspiration: The team members were each interested in unique topics, from renewable energy to gender equality to health accessibility. They also hoped to target an issue that had not received much publicity. They wanted to clearly define the problem to propose a local solution that could be adapted globally. After conducting some research, the team zeroed in on the water crisis at Shatila. They had the opportunity to speak with local stakeholders and were intrigued and curious about the economic and political climate in the country. Their hope is by addressing this issue, they can make an impact and show it is possible to tackle global issues by providing local solutions.
Why it’s important: Refugee camps are vital structures for people displaced from their countries or communities. When refugee camps lack access to clean water it promotes the spread of waterborne diseases affecting the refugees’ quality of life.
Team members: Koami Hayibo is a second-year PhD electrical and computer engineering student; Ankit Ray is a second-year medical sciences student, and Emily Liu is a second-year DAN management and organizational studies student.
World challenge: The use of technology for entertainment and education purposes, exposes children to electromagnetic radiation frequencies. The team’s solution to this is addressed by UNSDG no. 3: “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.”
Solution: WearWave develops radiation-free headphones for children aged 6-12. The headphones eliminate 98 per cent of the radiation that typical headphones transmit to the head.
Inspiration: When a team member began volunteering for Canadians for Safe Technology, they realized radio frequencies emitted by headphones and modern devices can be detrimental . That led the team to found WearWave.
Why it’s important: The brain of a child absorbs more radiation than the brain of an adult, which also leads to sleep disruption, lower visuomotor coordination and other problems.
Team members: Masumi Vyas is a second-year mechanical engineering student, Carol Xu is a first-year economics student and Lecia Cheng is a first-year computer science student.