Out and About | 16-Apr-2018

Making Ideas Work

One of the defining characteristics of the UTS student body is a desire to make a tangible, meaningful difference in the world. Test scores, athletic achievements and artistic exhibitions and performances may be measures of short-term success, but effecting global change is where so many of our students will make their lasting legacies.

Judging by their showing at the Global Ideas Institute Final Symposium, they're already well on their way.

The Global Ideas Institute is a collaborative initiative from University of Toronto entities the Munk School of Global Affairs, the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), and the Rotman School of Management I-Think program, as well as UTS and World Vision Canada. Working together, these partners offer high school participants the chance to develop solutions to real-world problems,building on knowledge gained through monthly expert lectures, mentorship from graduate students, research packages and stakeholder engagement. Student groups put in several months of work before presenting a final pitch to a team of experts at a day-long Final Symposium event.

This year's Global Ideas Institute Final Symposium was hosted at UTS, OISE and Munk School of Global Affairs locations on Friday, April 13. Participants were welcomed with a keynote speech from Dr. Stanley Zlotkin, whose professional achievements include the invention of Sprinkles, a micronutrient powder that can be added to food to boost the health of malnourished children. Dr. Zlotkin set the tone by relating the inspiration, ingenuity and hard work required to bring a transformative idea to life.

From there, it was time for the teams representing several Toronto-area schools to deliver their five-minute videos pitching ideas designed to alleviate food insecurity. Using video and verbal arguments, the teams made the case for how and why their ideas would address the problem, as well as overcome challenges associated with financing and implementation. The ideas presented by each school team demonstrated remarkable creativity and a dedication to detail.

"We wanted to create an opportunity for high school students to get a university-level experience," says Joseph Wong, Vice-Provost and Associate Vice-President at the University of Toronto, the Ralph and Roz Halbert Professor of Innovation at the Munk School of Global Affairs and a co-founder of the Global Ideas Institute. "We have professors giving seminars to the students, who are doing university-level research.

"What's impressed me about these student projects is that they're really driven by a sense of curiosity and audacity, so you have these fantastically creative solutions. Even the ones that aren't particularly feasible right now have the kernel of something that could be pathbreaking down the road."

The UTS team, comprised of S5/Grade 11 students Sam Ford, Evan Kanter, Malhaar Moharir, Vikita Mehta and Mateo Huegel, proposed an app entitled "Ripple," which would keep track of perishable items in users' refrigerators, as well as grocery receipts, and tell users when items are close to expiry. The app would also feature recipes and tips on how to use items before they had to be thrown out, and offer users loyalty points for existing merchant loyalty programs.

"The goal is to create a simple way to reduce the amount of food that a given household wastes," Evan explains. 

Throughout the year, UTS teacher Rebecca Levere worked with the team, offering suggestions for their research and the building of their presentation. And, as with each team that presented, the UTS group received honest and challenging, yet ultimately inspiring, feedback from the expert panelists who heard their pitch. "The experience of pitching and hearing from authorities on this topic has been really helpful," says Sam.

Her teammates agreed, noting that much of the feedback, and the value of the experience generally, was learning about the less glamourous work needed to get an idea off the ground. "The idea's really one of the easier parts," says Mateo. "The real complexity is in everything that comes after that, as far as implementation."

Having been through the challenge of presenting at the Global Ideas Institute Final Symposium, UTS students have gained a real-world perspective of the challenges of innovation, while further tapping into the curiosity, audacity and creativity that drives them to pursue it.

"The scope of solutions and ideas out there is really interesting," says Malhaar. "We've gotten exposure to hundreds of ideas."

And with that exposure, the tools to turn their own ideas into global solutions.