In the Philippines, many homes along the coastline are built on bamboo stilts to protect them from incoming tides. But the stilts are there for another reason, too: homes without them not only flood, but become filled with the garbage that floats in on the waves.
This waste, mostly plastic, is a huge health concern. And it’s not just in the water, but on land—impromptu landfills are a common sight. Mathu Jeyaloganathan, portfolio manager, says many of them formed because a single person threw trash on the ground, “and then more people threw trash there, and then all of a sudden it looks like a landfill, so everyone thinks they can throw trash there.”
But there’s a growing unrest about the issue of garbage in the city of Iloilo and its barangays, and a strong appetite to find solutions both at the grassroots level and across various levels of government, says Antoinette Marie, Social Innovation Challenge lead.
This year, World Vision Canada’s Social Innovation Challenge is working more closely than ever with the community it aims to serve. During the shortlisting process, WVC and community leaders in Iloilo worked together to pick the five finalists for each challenge (along with the waste challenge, U.S. teams are working on a challenge about clean water).
The community perspectives challenged Jeyaloganathan to rethink her assumptions about which teams had submitted the best proposals.
“That was the biggest shock for me,” she says. “I don’t think anyone on our side would have gotten to the same conclusions.”
Our innovation challenge takes a human-centered design approach, which means that the ideas that seem viable on paper are quickly prototyped and tested in the community; fast, successive iterations are key to refining the idea so that it works in “real life” conditions. Using this approach, we tested the five ideas on the 2019 Canadian shortlist: two alternatives to plastic packaging, a bulk store, a waste processing system and a process for “upcycling” plastic waste.
“The kind of traction that we got while in the field was really exciting,” Marie says. “Local government officials were asking [some teams] to present the ideas to city council meetings, and we had to continually remind people that this was just an idea, that this was just a prototype!”
Even if not all the prototypes are viable, and although only one idea will win the Social Innovation Challenge, the process of engaging with the community, of testing and tinkering and talking with stakeholders, “opens doors to conversations,” Marie says.
This dialogue is one of the most inspiring aspects of the innovation challenge. After all, if one piece of waste can start a landfill, who’s to say that one creative idea can’t spark a cleanup?