Q|N X Columbia University Ideation Lab

In the beginning of April we collaborated with Columbia University’s Innovation Lab to bring to life their first ever Ideation Lab. The hackathon brought together students and young professionals from across all disciplines and schools for a weekend of creativity, expertise, and passion, to find market- driven solutions to Nepal’s sanitation issues exacerbated by the April 2015 earthquake. Below, Anjali Chandrashekar, who works in our New York office, shares highlights from this experience.

“Today some of the best ideas come out of weekend long hackathons and day long design sprints as they tap into some of the brightest minds and also harness the power of collaborative thinking and problem solving. What I love about this way of generating solutions is that no idea is discounted and the design thinking process really pushes people to not only think critically but also creatively. From April 8–10, Columbia University in New York hosted their first Ideation Lab and Social Enterprise Hackathon to find solutions to the water and sanitation crisis in Nepal post their 2015 Earthquakes.

April 25th, 2016 marks a year since the Nepal Earthquakes that killed nearly 9,000 people and left millions more homeless. While Nepal’s devastating earthquake was a disaster experts knew was coming, little were the people prepared for the aftermath. Reconstructing lives after the earthquake raised numerous questions for people living across multiple geographies of Nepal. This included the plains, mountains, cities and earthquake epicenters.

A big question I asked myself going into this challenge was- why should we care about this problem? How can we develop empathy for issues we are not directly affected by by and how do we solve these problems remotely? Going beyond mere google searches, I tried to take the time to talk to as many Nepali participants at the workshop as I could. Listening to first hand accounts were bone chilling but helped me get a cultural understanding and provided me with tools to do deep research, gain insights and identify opportunity spaces within different problem realms.

In Nepal, people lost their temples, history and places where they grew up and these are consequences shared by any city that has faced the wrath of a natural disaster. Design thinking however facilitates the journey of ideation by bridging gaps and opened up exciting possibilities for social enterprise solutions.

One of the biggest problems identified was the problem of open defecation in Nepal. At the onset, this topic was unpleasant and taboo but this challenge changed my perception of it. Convincing communities about the need for toilets and making hygiene a priority was an issue that permeated different geographies. While being divided into teams based on regions — the Cities team, designed Info Toilet — an interactive kiosk that allows people to identify toilets in the area and assess their maintenance quality. They strove to use this as a tool to expand the conversation about sanitation, connecting stakeholders, and improving access to hygienic toilets. This tangible solution was successful in identifying a critical need gap.

Another team, the Plains team, developed an integrated training and sanitation program focused on women and children. The group’s keen understanding of Nepal-specific communities, and the opportunity they identified to engage these demographics stood out as many sanitation programs would otherwise neglect it.

And this is just the beginning. While there are eye opening pieces like these that talk about the scary reality of the aftermath-lack of infrastructure, relief and governmental support, I feel positive. Looking at what strong, young and creative minds can do over one weekend I have come to understand that no problem can be tackled in isolation.

Collaborating with people from different backgrounds of study and specializations made me open minded, immersive and even accountable to do my part as a designer to address these issues in the best way I could. And so a year on, Nepal has been more resilient than ever. With efforts like these from around the world, Nepal can harness this collective creativity into actionable results”.

Sources/additional articles : http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-36102058

Anjali Chandrashekar
Innovation and Design