Building a Better Business
(Part 2 of Business, Computing, and the Circular Economy)
What is a circular economy and how is it different from a linear one? Read Part 1:From Lines to Circles
On August 19 and 20, we invited the faculty of Benilde School of Management and Information Technology (SMIT) to come to the The Maker Space of Benilde PDGii, commonly known as the HiFi Campus to think about ways to solve one of the most pressing issues today: food waste.
Benilde SMIT, a Center for Excellence stepped up to the challenge by having their whole faculty pool composed of a mix of academics, industry executives, and business owners go through a crash course on Design Thinking and Systems Thinking. The 2-day event was hosted by Benilde Hub of Innovation for Inclusion (HiFi) and was co-facilitated by HiFi’s Director Ms. Abi Cabanilla, Stephanie Choo, Director of Tandemic and founder of award-winning Singaporean impact business Eden+Elie, and Mr. Leon Toh, Executive Director of Singaporean Impact Investment Firm Damson Capital.
The group received this design challenge: “How might we make the food system more circular?”
To contextualize the value chain of food, Stephanie, Leon and Abi shared with the group a brief explanation of the circular economy, as compared to the current prevailing system linear economy.
Resource persons from different backgrounds were invited to provide first-hand stories to the participants. Mr. Robbie del Rosario of Uproot Urban Farms gave his point of view as an urban farmer; Mr. Keb Cuevas of Tagani.ph as a techno-agriculturist; Chef Rotsen Kyle Real of Achievers Food and Chef Kesiah Jacinto, mentor of Meal Amigo and Cornerstone as chefs; Mr. Rommel Ng of The Resto Coach as a restauranteur; and Engr. Aaron Lim and Mr. Tyler Buan as consumers. The resource speakers were divided into 2 groups with whom the workshop participants did a round of empathy work through interviews.
After their interviews, the participants interpreted the interviewee’s stories to form cohesive theme clusters. The themes articulated not just the surface-level need of the interviewees, but also their underlying desires that motivate their behaviours and actions. Some of the note-worthy thoughts and insights that came up were:
- Agriculture has changed the lives of many agriculturists/farmers; and limiting its accessibility and viability to a few does not benefit the many.
- Offering healthy food can be a challenge for some households because healthier food does not keep for as long as the one packed with preservatives.
- To make fresh produce more affordable, one has to buy in bigger quantities. But because of their short shelf, a lot are unused and go to waste.
- Resource maximization is the best option for restaurants but they have difficulty looking for talents who are trained to be innovative enough to maximize their ingredients and equipment.
Working with these insights, the participants wrote specific design challenges that they will brainstorm solutions for. Here are a couple of design challenges that were developed:
“How might we empower homecooks to observe proper food portioning in order to reduce food waste?”
“How might we engage households to produce their own food in order to increase the supply of organic vegetables and make it more affordable and accessible?”
And with these design challenges, they went to shop and brainstormed different possible ideas. The participants went through a fast thinking activity in which they were pushed to produce 80 new ideas as group in under 10 minutes. This fast thinking activity motivated them to focus more on idea production and less on option-sharing.
The next challenge for the participants was to turn their ideas into a circular system of solutions. This meant participants collapsed some concepts into single products, tweaking some ideas to make sense and contribute to the value chain they were developing, and abandoning ideas that were not essential. The activity resulted to 6 products with circular value chains.
Usually, our story of design development ends here. We’ve helped the 30+ faculty of Benilde SMIT think of ideas. The ideas are there, and thus concludes the workshop. But ideas must be shared and must at least be built. So, they went through the last phase of the session: prototyping.
Prototyping helps designers identify specific aspects of their idea they wish to test. By forcing designers to use the least materials to develop their products within a very limited time, they are able to pinpoint specific points of interest to exhibit. Low-fidelity prototyping is quick and focused on the experience design instead of its aesthetics; thereby helping designers make quick fixes immediately. As they say: fail fast, learn fast.
Using only rudimentary materials like papers, pens, cardboards and the “5 things they from home they can go home without” they made their ideas concrete, albeit low-fi. The types of prototypes developed were: a user experience skit, a user interface paper prototype, and a prototype of a restaurant space and service.
By the end of the 2-day workshop, 2 themes emerged from the variety of solutions proposed by the teams: prevention, and mitigation.
Preventions pertain to the interventions that can be done before creating waste happens. These include: training and eduction of restaurant staff to develop new products that make use of trimmings; or guides for correct food portioning and grocery planning. By preventing users to buy and cook more than they can consume before the food spoil, food waste will be limited if not, completely prevented at home.
Mitigations are solutions that limit the severity of the food waste, or intervene just right before wastage happens. These include solutions such as Food Hero which incentivizes restaurant diners who bring food containers to take home their extra food; and Food Clutch that serve as a platform for people with extra ingredients or food to meet up and share, sell or barter with others.
The 2-day workshop on food waste and the circular economy definitely is too short to cover all bases exhaustively, but it served as the first step for social innovation ideas to be institutionalized. With the arrival of the 4th Industrial Revolution, we are even more challenged to reassess what it means to be human, and what we can do to preserve the only place where our species can survive. Needless to say, education plays a major part of this endeavor not just because of our ability to teach (robots might replace some teachers as early as 2027), but because of our ability to empathize and relate with each others’ human experiences.
And if we look at our ecosystem, it is circular.