June 26, 2018, by Elizabeth Smith
Universitas 21 Challenge 2018
“It was exciting to see participants of Universitas 21 delivering creative solutions to real world problems across a range of different fields.” – George Smith, year 2 Geography student, University of Nottingham (UK)
The pros and cons of participating in the Universitas 21 Challenge*.
*Disclaimer*: we didn’t win
by George Smith.
Universitas 21 is a challenge like no other. Business experience or not (the latter in my case), the project throws you into an international competition which is completed a mere two weeks after it starts. The only requirements are to engage to commit to ten hours of work and produce a three minute video presentation – easy!
The criteria for this year’s project was to identify and solve a problem themed around one or more of the UN Sustainability Development Goals. This could be anything from eradicating hunger to combatting modern slavery, a multitude of opportunities to solve problems which span the world – Universitas 21 really is a global project. Grouped into teams of five people, most of us had not met before. This exposed each of us to different and new perspectives, enabling a nuanced approach to identifying and solving our selected problems.
Goal 12: ‘responsible production and consumption’
Our idea focused on UN Sustainable Development Goal 12: ‘responsible production and consumption ’, specifically the hundreds of thousands of fruit and vegetables rejected by supermarkets and disposed of by farmers in the UK every year. We proposed a solution to buy rejected fruit and vegetables from the farmers, and sell the ‘wonky’ produce at a Portland pop up shop.
Our idea wasn’t particularly sophisticated and has been implemented through slightly different practices across the country before. Perhaps its simplicity was the reason that our group failed to win the challenge, and the complexity of some of the rival ideas was very impressive. Far from being disheartening, however, it was exciting to see participants delivering creative solutions to real world problems across a range of different fields.
Skills development in Universitas 21
Universitas 21 enabled everyone involved to develop a number of key skills individually. For me, working in a team, communicating with new people and meeting a tight deadline gave real value to the competition, and producing a video as the final submission was a welcome alternative to the traditional written coursework you get in most degree modules.
It goes without saying that this wasn’t a smooth and seamless project, and I’m keen not to sugar coat it. Firstly, managing our time and the group dynamic was challenging when people clearly have different priorities! Contributions varied across the team but it’s useful to see how different personalities can work together, a reflection of the real world of work.
Nevertheless, every set-back taught us a new lesson, and with renewed focus, we were able to work together to meet the deadline no matter what. In our case, this challenged us to encourage and maintain communication whilst solving problems as we went along.
Universitas 21 – a highly rewarding challenge
All that being said, I can’t recommend this challenge enough. When else in your life are you able to engage and compete with people around the world? With the possibility of a £500 cash prize for each winner, on top of skills development, the rewards really justify the two week blitz of creative thinking. It’s also worth mentioning for those of you who are financially inclined (aren’t we all, to a certain extent) that each participating member takes home a £20 Amazon voucher. Don’t let that be your motivation, though. You will gain so much by throwing yourself into this challenge and trying something new. Give it a go, you never know what could happen!
George is one of the first students at the University of Nottingham to benefit from the Andrew Witty Scholarship. The Witty Scholarship is open to promising undergraduate student entrepreneurs, from lower-income backgrounds, for up to three years of study. For more information, please visit http://bit.ly/2tADzWQ
If you’d like to learn more and get involved in the next Universitas 21 Challenge, go to http://bit.ly/2K8sgjT for more info.