Design for Social Impact: Three Young Innovators Bag DOST-7 Sibol Awards

Cebu City, Philippines. The recent Sibol Awards of the Department of Science and Technology Central Visayas (or DOST-7) gathered some of the region’s finest designers at the Waterfront Cebu City Hotel. Here are the stories of three of its young innovators who wielded design to interrogate social issues, uncover pain points, and arrive at viable solutions.

1. Mariz Ehmele Pino, Wan

“Follow your passion. If you do, nothing can stop you,” says Mariz Ehmele Pino.

Her words come at the end of a design journey fraught with obstacles. The panel who evaluated her initial plans doubted the feasibility of her project. An industry expert declared her idea would never work. When she pushed forward nonetheless, technical problems cropped up day in and out.

What kept Mariz going was the desire to make a meaningful impact in the lives of people in the countryside.

When Mariz found herself in the hills of Barangay Guba, she was appalled by the difficulty of access to as basic a resource as water. Upon closer investigation, she learned that out of over a thousand households in the barangay, only sixty had piped water. Those who could spare the cash, bought water from those who had it. Those who could not, needed to trek up and down a steep trail to a stream at the far edge of the barangay, every day.

On returning to the city, Mariz sat down to find a solution. The Philippines receives anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 milliliters of rain every year. Yet to Mariz, no one seemed to care enough to use this to solve the water crisis in the barangays.

Mariz sketched out what she christened as “Wan” — from the Cebuano word for “rain” or “uwan” — a flatpack and standalone rainwater catcher. “Flatpack” means that Wan consists of easy-to-assemble pieces that can be packed flat to facilitate transport to far-flung barangays. “Stand-alone” refers to being detached from the roofing system to be able to work with any type of roof or even independently of it.

From the sketches, Mariz inched forward — dealing with one obstacle after another until she was able to publicly demo a working prototype of her project.

Wan garnered the 2nd prize of DOST-7 Sibol Awards 2017 for Outstanding Creative Research in the college category.

2. Marriel Colaljo, Project 2050

Even at the prototype stage, Marriel Colaljo’s Project 2050 has already reaped several awards. These include the 3rd prize of DOST-7 Sibol Awards 2017 for Outstanding Creative Research in the college category, a Best Thesis Award at a state university, as well as features in social media pages organically liked and shared in the thousands.

Perhaps more remarkable, Project 2050 has blossomed into a movement with people from all over the country contributing what they can to the project — donations of plastic bags, offers of cash, or simply words of encouragement and solidarity.

The name “Project 2050” was derived from Ellen MacArthur’s warning that there will be more waste plastic in the sea than fish by 2050. Project 2050 set out to help prevent this grim scenario by promoting the upcycling of used plastic bags.

A machine developed by volunteers of the Japan International Cooperation Agency can heat press plastic bags into sturdy sheets. Project 2050 pioneered the use of the heat press machine to custom-design the look of the sheets and to craft them into a collection of hip accessories including backpacks and handbags.

When asked how Project 2050 began, Marriel explained that being disturbed by the worsening plastic pollution she saw around her was her starting point. But she got going from hearing of the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation — of their stories about marginalized children who had to swim to go to school and of the boats they were building for those children.

Marriel first worked on water-resistant bags for marginalized children to complement what Yellow Boat had been doing. Then she proceeded to mainstream products. The idea was to sell the latter to subsidize the former.

3. Celestine Dionisio, Ylang Luminaires

Celestine Dionisio volunteers for the UP Cebu-Toyo University Spring Workshop for Regional Development Studies a few weeks each year. As part of her job, she brings the workshoppers to depressed barangays to study community needs.

Immersion among the urban poor made Celestine decide to take up the latter’s cause in her product design thesis at the state university. “I was moved by the plight of the families we met. I was inspired by their positive outlook in life despite living in poverty,” Celestine said during the interview.

In the course of her visits to the barangays, Celestine came to know the Kwarta sa Basura Program of Barangay Luz — where villagers upcycle waste like tetra-pak and sticker backing into handicrafts.

Celestine discovered that the craftspeople continued to struggle to make ends meet because of the low profit margins of their products.

In response, Celestine came up with a high-end product line to raise the villagers’ income — Ylang Luminaires. A contemporary lamp collection, Ylang Luminaires took its distinct shape from the ylang-ylang — a native Philippine flower — to showcase the natural attractions of the country and to enrich the floral iconography in local crafts.

Celestine designed the main body of the lamps to be constructed out of wire and rattan hoops then wrapped in a webbing of twine made from discarded sticker backing. She built the prototypes in collaboration with the craftspeople of Barangay Luz.

Of the collection, renowned Cebuano sculptor Raymund L. Fernandez commented, “I was greatly impressed by the forms plus the fact of their sensitivity to green design values.”

Ylang Luminaires won the 1st prize of DOST-7 Sibol Awards 2017 for Outstanding Creative Research in the college category.

Creative Courage

What the Sibol Awards celebrates is the courage to create — the resistance to stand on the sidelines, the refusal to succumb to helplessness in the face of desperate problems, and the overcoming of limits (be they age or lack of experience or meager resources) to create meaningful solutions to society’s problems.

At the end of this assignment, I came to a better appreciation of Ken Robinson’s contention that creativity now should be treated with the same status as literacy. In a world beleaguered by wicked problems, it is not enough to be aware.

We need to be solving.


This article was first published in SunStar Cebu’s ‘ZUP! section of the July 10, 2017 issue. Credits for the photographs belong to the individual designers.