The What Design Can Do challenge has been going on, and we sat down with Dr. Njoki Ngumi to get a better idea of what the challenge is about, and what you can expect to do for the city of Nairobi if you enter it—and if you win!
Tell us a little about yourself
My name is Dr Njoki Ngumi, and I do learning and development at the Nest Collective and HEVA. That basically means that if there’s a whole lot of things that we need to get done, I help to answer the following questions: how we move from point A to point B, what skills are needed to make things happen and what other elements may be required to move forward. It’s basically part of the strategic arm of what we do.
Where does What Design Can Do fit into the Nest?
WDCD are friends of ours. We connected with them through an agency called Hivos. WDCD work primarily with designers and creatives, so Hivos thought we would be a good fit. We met them and it was great! We attended one of their conferences, and so when they were figuring out the Clean Energy Challenge for Nairobi, they thought us and a couple of other partners would be a good match to make it happen. Those partners are Metta, Purpose and Wibo Culture.
Who or what is WDCD?
They are a bunch of designers who came together because they realized that design is about form meeting function for optimal efficiency and optimal problem solving, and so it is a holistic ideology, not necessarily only linked to art. The skill sets it takes to be a good designer can be applied to multiple sectors in order to solve problems with much more impact. They are interested in getting design thinkers and designers across the world to consider how to solve problems that have deep social impact: problems that cause chaos and make life difficult for large groups of people. WDCD asks the question, what can design do to germinate solutions for these issues or even test these ideas? Will the ideas work, especially on a larger scale? It’s all about understanding what’s new that is coming up versus what’s been done before, and how that existing knowledge can be pushed to create solutions.
WDCD have hosted a bunch of challenges since 2016, and this is the first one that Nairobi has been invited to take part in.
The focus of this year’s challenge is cities and how cities can use energy better. WDCD are working in 5 cities, namely Delhi (India), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Mexico City (Mexico), Amsterdam (The Netherlands) and of course our own Nairobi. When they came to Nairobi, they did some research, and had wide consultations with local stakeholders, and realized that food would be a particularly interesting point to start from. This was for many reasons, including the amount of food wastage in the city, while so many people are still going hungry. There are also so many inefficiencies in how food is transported, stored, the way food comes into the city, which food comes in, who has access to it, how it’s prepared and so much more.
Why food supply?
The supply chain issues for food in Nairobi are real. The income inequalities are so stark, and so many people wonder where they’re going to get their next meal from. One of the groups who are involved in this challenge, Wibo Culture, did a survey asking Nairobians of all walks of life what they eat and how often. They found out that a vast majority of people below a certain income level are functional vegetarians and not by choice. Many people eat one meal a day, and even that not daily. How Nairobians access food is another thing. There are complex credit systems having people in debt to their mama mbogas, who are in turn in debt to mobile loan providers etc. Food is expensive. How it’s transported, stored, sold and used affect the pricing, often negatively, and that’s what design can really play a role in fixing.
Where can people begin?
I think intervening on the side of markets could be a good place to start. The markets people get food from are key to the supply chain, especially in terms of transport, storage and even preservation. Also, changing knowledge, behaviour and attitudes. How do people see food? What do they think about the food they eat? Imagine if a grocery store came out and said that ‘Hey! The browning carrots you keep avoiding are actually okay to eat and don’t need to be thrown away!’. Imagine a design solution that changes people’s mind on how they perceive food?
WDCD are looking for bold, slightly radical, innovative ways that can turn something upside down and get people thinking.
What are the judging criteria?
There are a lot of questions that the judges have to ask, such as: Is the solution a relevant one? Does it have locally brewed insights? Can it impact people, places and systems? Can it be measurable? Is it holistically feasible? Is it scalable and can it grow? Is it a solution that will get people excited? And finally, is the team committed to the idea? Is there a strong team that can see the solution through?
How will the competition work?
People will be judged according to 3 entry tracks. This is because we can’t judge a student the way we would judge a startup, and we can’t judge a startup the way we would judge a professional outfit. The last date of submissions is the 5th of December. Between the 5th of December and the 25th of January 2019, there will be an evaluation process of all the submissions. The submissions are available for public viewing on the What Design Can Do site, and the public will be able to have a look at that and see everything that people submitted for Nairobi and all the other cities.
The nominated teams will then be announced in the 5 cities, and from the 25th of January to to the 10th of February 2019, the teams will hear feedback from the judges and have time to improve their ideas and then re-submit them. Once they do that, an international panel of judges at the WDCD live event in Mexico in March 2019 will review and pick the winners in the categories of student, professional and startup from each city.
Between March and June 2019, the winners will have time to accelerate the ideas, create prototypes and such. Finally, between July 2019 and July 2020, they will get a chance to work towards implementation and plan the marketing of the ideas. That’s where the prize money comes in. Each group is rewarded with money to make the idea happen. Around July 2020, they will then have a chance to pitch the idea to other people such as impact investors, and take it from there.
Any last tips for entrants?
Don’t let it intimidate you—jump in and have fun. You don’t have to be an engineer or a food specialist to submit something cool that can change many lives! It could truly be anything, from a great marketing campaign to change perception, to a new invention. It doesn’t even have to have been prototyped yet. A good idea is enough. Join this network and let your eyes be opened to what people can come up with, even if you’re not involved in food. We’re looking for people and ideas that will change behaviour and make a difference, so go for it!
📢 Creatives, this is the final week of our open call for the #CleanEnergyChallenge! Send in your ideas by 5 Dec to help us and our partners @IKEAFoundation in tackling pressing energy issues in Amsterdam, Delhi, México City, Nairobi & São Paulo → https://t.co/oncmGIQZdl pic.twitter.com/56UtDHOcNN
— What Design Can Do (@WhatDesignCanDo) November 28, 2018