International Conference Participants Reveal Real-World Environmental Solutions

At Collegiate School’s 9th Annual International Emerging Leaders Conference (IELC) this week, 41 international high school students and 13 Collegiate seniors teamed up to create solutions to real-world environmental issues facing their countries.  
During each day of the conference, in order to solve their team’s assigned problem, students used the process of design thinking and its five steps: discovery, interpretation, ideation, experimentation and evolution. The process encourages communicating and understanding the issue at hand instead of immediate solution-seeking.
The week’s activities and intensive participation in the design thinking process led to last evening’s DesignPitch, held in Oates Theater and Sharp Academic Commons. The event showcased the student groups’ creative ideas as they presented them to the Collegiate community and the general public.
Students were tasked, for example, with solving the issues of sewage disposal in the Jukskei River in South Africa, global warming and its impact on tides in Italy, impact of forest fires in Kazakhstan, illegal gold mining in Ghana, bike graveyards in China and mismanagement of municipal solid waste in Morocco.
Prior to the pitches, students and the audience heard from keynote speaker Hannah Dehradunwala, co-founder and CEO of Transfernation, a logistics company focused on building tech-based, integrated food rescue systems for cities. Ms. Dehradunwala has been recognized by L’Oréal Paris as a Women of Worth Honoree in 2018, NYU’s inaugural list of Alumni Changemakers and the Jefferson Awards Foundation. Her work has been profiled by the Huffington Post, USA Today, Wall Street Journal and Martha Stewart Living, among others.
Ms. Dehradunwala expressed her excitement at speaking to those in attendance. 
“I love when different countries get together in the same room,” she said.
She told the audience that it took years to get her idea off the ground. She believes success happened because she recognized that food waste was an opportunity. She encouraged the students in the audience to believe in their ideas.
“I had none of the necessary skills to do this,” she said. “You can learn anything on the job. You have to be willing to put in the time.”
She closed her speech saying she hoped students were “jazzed” about their futures.
“Your potential is as large or as far as you want it to be,” she said. “Your ideas are worth something.”
After Ms. Dehradunwala’s remarks, the audience headed to Sharp Academic Commons to watch the students’ presentations. Each student group had five minutes to pitch their idea to spectators, with time allowed for questions at the end. Attendees engaged in the process by listening to five different product pitches of their choice, voting with their “DesignPitch Dollars” (to “invest” in the ideas) and taking part in discussions with students.
Collegiate senior Mac Hester and his team worked to combat an issue caused by illegal gold mining in Ghana. The group created H2woah!, a combination playground equipment-water purifier, that would make a safer environment for a child who lived near a mine. 
Although it took a bit of time for the team members to feel comfortable with each other during the week of IELC, he felt proud of their end result.
“We have some quiet personalities but everyone has contributed in their own way,” he said. “It’s been really rewarding.” 
Ghita Chibarte from Morocco and her team came up with BOKS to eliminate the problem of unused shared bikes littering China. The bikes would be melted down to create reusable, insulated food delivery boxes. She agreed with Mac’s assessment of the conference. 
“It’s been a really great experience,” Ghita said. “I’ve gotten to meet people from every part of the world. And even though English is not the first language for some of us, we are all still able to communicate.”
Collegiate senior Roxy Sawyer’s team product GRIND aimed to solve the mismanagement of municipal solid waste in Morocco. The concept was to redesign the interior of trash trucks into three compartments for recycling, landfill and compost. The trucks would also include grinders to make it easier to pack waste into landfills. 
Participating in IELC, which is school done differently, completely changed her, she says.
“I have had a brilliant time,” Roxy said. “IELC has been an eye-opening experience. It has stretched my mind in so many ways. It’s the real world and it shows us that we have the capabilities to do real things.”
To close the conference, the international delegates will visit students in their JK-12 classrooms on Friday morning. They also will participate in a Civil Discourse International Forum, which will feature a student-led discussion of the climate crisis as experienced by countries participating in IELC. Later in the afternoon, students will demonstrate aspects of their country’s heritage in a Cultural Fair for 3rd and 4th Grade students and their families before they head home on Sept. 29.