Friday 13 Jun, 2014

The EF Summit Design Thinking Challenge: Students Help Solve Global and Local Issues with Socially Responsible Business Ideas

In March, over 500 students from the US and China attended EF’s Global Student Leaders Summit in Shanghai. The Summit’s topic, “Social Responsibility in the New Global Economy,” was explored through an immersive tour and a two-day leadership conference. After hearing from world-renowned thought leaders like former ambassador to China Jon Huntsman Jr., and Adam Davidson and Alex Blumberg of NPR’s Planet Money, students collaborated in small international teams to solve a Design Thinking Challenge. The challenge was to build a socially responsible business that helped solve a global and/or local issue. Using the design thinking process (a creative problem-solving method used by companies like Apple and Google), students worked together to develop innovative solutions. They then presented these solutions at the Summit’s Innovation Village.

Students worked on a wide range of solutions, addressing issues such as freedom of speech, bullying, health and education; however just two groups were ultimately selected as winners of the Design Thinking Challenge. I followed up with Max and Makenzie, the presenters from each of the winning teams after they returned from China. We spoke about their group’s business idea and the overall Global Student Leaders Summit experience. Max’s group, who won the judge’s vote, focused their idea on building cost efficient solar powered water purification systems in Africa’s developing countries. Makenzie’s group, who won the popular vote, explored the idea of creating a Bluetooth key chain that disables a connected cell phone from sending and receiving text messages while your car is running.

EF Global Student Leaders Summit Design Thinking Challenge

How did your group originally come up with your business idea? Why was that idea important to your group?
Max: In China we noticed that If you wanted clean water you had to boil it or buy bottled water, so we sought to address the issue of clean drinking water starting with Africa’s developing countries.
Makenzie: We had all recently finished our drivers education or gotten our license. As new drivers we’ve all been told multiple times about the dangers of texting and driving. As teens (and new drivers) we wanted to find a way to help prevent texting and driving, but also fully take away the ability to text and drive.

How did the collaborative summit environment and design thinking process impact your team throughout the project?
Max: The environment made it easy to share simple ideas and have open discussions with each other. We were all sitting at the table drinking Pepsi wondering what object we could use to hold the water. Someone at the table said we could use the shape of the can and we expanded upon that idea.
Makenzie: The environment made it easy to build off of each other’s ideas and provide constructive criticism to help improve our idea. We had a great blend of those who led the discussion, and those who worked behind the scenes and helped move us past challenges we encountered along the way. Our group originally thought we would build a product that prevents bullying. As we worked through the design thinking process we realized that our idea wasn’t fully represented in the form of a physical object. The design thinking process helped us quickly recognize those potential problems and shift our focus and thinking towards the necessary solutions and changes.

In retrospect would you change any part of your project?
Max: Instead of being centered around African countries I would change it so that our idea focuses on a wider variety of developing regions throughout the world.
Makenzie: Looking back, I would change how we managed some of our time. While our idea and prototype were up to our standards, we spent little time on our innovation poster. Our presentation would have been more well-rounded if our poster was neater and provided more information on our product.

How did the Design Thinking Challenge personally impact you? Would you say the design thinking process helped you become a more creative thinker?
Max: I would say that the Design Thinking Challenge helped me realize that some of the best ideas come from group work. This project also helped me realize that creative thinking should have no boundaries.
Makenzie: I now realize that you don’t need to be an adult to help make an impact. Even a group of teenagers who have only known each for a couple days can come together and help solve global challenges. All you need is a common goal and the ability to work together and support one another.

What would you say was the most important lesson you learned at the Global Student Leaders Summit in Shanghai?
Max: That in life you’ll most likely meet people that have more knowledge than you do, and you should engage that person and learn as much from them as you possibly can. I’ve learned that in order to work together (or just meet new people and make new friends) someone has to break the ice. At the summit I tried taking on the role of a polar bear.
Makenzie: I learned that regardless of how much money you have or where you come from we all have the ability to make a difference and be a problem solver.

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