The Engineering for People Design Challenge, our flagship programme run in collaboration with Engineers Without Borders South Africa, is more than a competition; it’s a transformative learning experience. For over a decade, this award-winning challenge has empowered students to harness their engineering skills for the betterment of people and the planet. 

Last week, on Friday 21 June, student finalist teams from across the UK and Ireland met at Stoller Hall, Manchester, for the much-anticipated Grand Finals.

A glimpse into the challenge

The challenge has been a key part of engineering education at 46 universities worldwide, with participation from over 80,000 students to date. This year’s brief focuses on the rural village of Pu Ngaol in Mondulkiri Province, Cambodia. With the aid of a new interactive map and video interviews of those living within the area, students are tasked with developing engineering solutions that resonate with the local community’s needs and aspirations.

Sai Rupa Dev, Challenge Program Lead at this year’s community partner organisation, Engineers Without Borders Australia, highlights the unique approach this year: 

“The new interactive map will give students an opportunity to take a place-based approach to their designs and better understand the environment in which the community lives, while the recorded interviews with both Pu Ngaol residents and our team will support students to develop an understanding of the community’s concerns, challenges, and aspirations.”

The Grand Finals

Last week, the top 36 student teams and their educators gathered at Stoller Hall for an exciting day of competition and collaboration.

The day began with pitching presentations, where the student teams presented their designs to a panel of expert judges. These judges assessed the projects based on their social, ethical, environmental, and economic impacts. Teams also participated in an interactive workshop and engaged in networking activities to exchange ideas and foster professional connections.

In the afternoon, the top six teams from the morning pitches took to the stage to present their solutions. They also heard a keynote address from Student Champion, Ellie Carey, who provided valuable insights into how individuals can drive change in engineering, setting the tone for the event’s conclusion and the announcement of the winners.

Introducing this year’s winners

First place

Winning the challenge was Team 43 from University College Dublin whose solution, SIPS – a solar-powered water filtration system, wowed the judges through its deep consideration of the local context.

SIPS works in two steps, with water passing through a particle filter before being transferred to recycled bottles for purification on corrugated iron sheets. Solar disinfection has been found to have a 99.99% reduction of bacteria in just 30 minutes.

The objective? To ensure the efficient purification of Pu Ngaol’s water supply using repurposed materials and a user-friendly assembly process.

Speaking on their experience of the challenge, the team shared:

“We started the programme back in September. We were put into a random group […] and none of us knew each other. I don’t think any of us would think that this many months later we’d be standing on this stage after winning the Grand Finals. We’re very proud of our design, we put a lot of hours into this and a lot of work. So we’re very proud of ourselves.”

The team also shared their top tips for future participants:

“Consider every idea. I don’t think when you’re brainstorming there’s such thing as bad idea […]. Throw everything out and get it all on the table.

And don’t forget to have fun – it’s not just about the work, it’s about friendship.”

University College Dublin take home first prize.
Second place

Taking second place was Team 82 from University College London, whose innovative rice husk briquetting machine utilises waste by-products to provide less-polluting cooking fuel.

Given the abundant supply of rice husks from rice cultivation, this solution holds promise and could be extended to other rice-growing communities across the globe. 

The People’s Prize

The People’s Prize Award invites the public to vote for the design that best addresses social, economic, and environmental impacts. 

Stealing the hearts of the public was Team 32 from Heriot-Watt University, whose solution – Terraform – tackles the erosion of dirt roads using a sustainably sourced Geocell system.

Explore all of this year’s innovative solutions on CrowdSolve.

Over a decade of impact

The Grand Finals of the Engineering for People Design Challenge is more than just a culmination of months of hard work. It’s a testament to the power of engineering education to create socially conscious engineers who are prepared to tackle real-world problems. 

During the event, we proudly shared insights from our newly released Impact Report. This comprehensive document underscores the transformative influence of the challenge over the past 13 years, showcasing the positive outcomes and far-reaching effects on students, educators, and the wider engineering curriculum. Get a sneak peek of some of our findings in the video below.

Download the Impact Report

To learn more about how your university can get involved in this transformative programme, head to the Engineering for People Design Challenge page and get in touch.

With thanks to our partners