On Friday 3 July we wrapped up this year’s Engineering for People Design Challenge for student teams in the UK and Ireland. Due to the circumstances we celebrated the achievements of the participants virtually, which resulted in the event having an international reach, with audiences from 15 different countries tuning in!

This year 1,025 student teams from the UK and Ireland took part in the Design Challenge which was based in an urban area of Johannesburg, South Africa, known as Makers Valley, where rapid population growth and economic inequality have caused housing shortages, inconsistent access to electricity and water, food scarcity, and problems with waste collection.

Students were tasked to design a solution for a real world challenge in this setting, focusing on one of the following eight areas; built environment, water, sanitation, energy, waste, housing, transport and digital. Imperatively, the teams had to demonstrate consideration of the social/cultural, environment and economic impacts of their idea for the context.

After the initial assessment by academics, our pool of 250 volunteer reviewers from across the world evaluated the remaining 87 reports and whittled the numbers down to just 37. These 37 teams virtually pitched to our panel of judges, who then picked the top six teams to be assessed for the runners up and winning positions to be announced at the Grand Finals on Friday 3 July.

“We had a tremendous response from this year’s Design Challenge with some truly remarkable solutions and ideas that illustrated the students growing understanding of global responsibility in engineering design.”

Emma Crichton, Head of Engineering

We were thrilled to be joined by Chair of Engineers Without Borders UK, Jon Prichard who opened the Grand Finals event by welcoming viewers and congratulating students on their accomplishments, reminding them of the learnings they will have gained from the Design Challenge.

During the event we were also joined by members of the Makers Valley Partnership community who were central to our understanding of this year’s Design Challenge location. Individuals from the community were featured in the design brief, which helped the students deepen their understanding of the area and local culture. On the day, we heard from Simon Sizwe Mayson and Chris Muaku during a Q&A, where they spoke about the impact of innovation on Makers Valley and their personal connection to the area.

“What really excites me about working in Makers Valley is [the] potential for a wellbeing economy, wellbeing is often misinterpreted as being wellness, but wellbeing is really speaking to happiness and a deep sense of joy and happiness with life putting people and the planet over profit. ”

Simon Sizwe Mayson 

During the brief intermission we showcased artwork from students at Imperial College London, who had taken inspiration from the design brief. We then heard from CEO of Engineers Without Borders UK, Katie Cresswell-Maynard who delivered a keynote speech on globally responsible engineering, specifically exploring how to embed the practice in reality, a central theme of the Design Challenge and a key principle to Engineers Without Borders UK’s mission. Katie focused on responsibility and mindset, specifically highlighting the importance of designing with not for and considering the danger of jumping to help before knowing all the facts.

After Katie concluded her impactful speech, we took the opportunity to speak directly to the students representing the top six teams, to learn more about their experience. Many of the participants discussed the development of their team-working abilities, others touched on how the Design Challenge had opened their eyes to misconceptions and assumptions that they had made about the location, and the continent of Africa as a whole.

“We’ve learnt about the importance of empathy and overcoming pre conceptions.”

Luca, Nottingham Trent University 

The event culminated in the announcement of this year’s Grand Prize, Runners Up and People’s Prize winners. The People’s Prize was publicly elected through an online voting system which provided a chance to explore all top 37 designs. We had over 3,123 votes during that time, with Team UK2020-140 from The University of Sheffield wining with their design, Affordable and Sustainable Housing which gained 566 votes!

This year’s Runners Up were Team UK2020-158 from De Montfort University with their design, Water Gathering System. This concept intends to harvest rainwater for greywater use. The system is designed to provide treatment and storage and enable tap water use to be reduced by 40 litres per day, savings of 25% on bills.

The Grand Prize winners were Team UK2020-082 from University College Dublin with their design concept Connectivi-Tree. This idea aims to address the lack of internet available in Makers Valley, the Connectivi-Tree ensures installation of a mesh WiFi network system. Each router would be housed in a ‘Connectivi-Tree’, made by local artists and micro-enterprises. The judges were impressed with this team’s consideration of the community and understanding of the culture of Makers Valley, saying;

“The project is relevant to the ethos of the area and it includes creativity and involvement of micro-businesses, which is fantastic. The Connectivi-Tree has done this whilst addressing a larger issue of limited access to WiFi.”

Congratulations to this year’s award winners, and well done to all participants. Thank you to the academics who run this challenge across universities up and down the country, to the reviewers who volunteered their time to assess the student designs, the judges who gave effective and impactful feedback and to our partners who sponsor the Design Challenge.

Are you a student who is looking to stay involved with Engineers Without Border UK? Contact us at [email protected] to find out if your university has a Chapter or find out how to begin one yourself!

If you are an academic interested in participating in the 2020/21 Engineering for People Design Challenge, find out and sign up here.