Designing engineering ideas for Africa

At the top floor of Rotterdam’s energy company Stedin, a group of 25 professional engineers collaborated in teams to address challenges for sustainable development in Africa during the Engineers without Borders Netherlands (EWB-NL) 2019 Design Challenge. Each challenge was brought in by a partnering non-profit organization, which also supported the volunteers helping to find their solutions.

At the end of the day, all of the teams pitched their solutions and a jury selected the winning concept. The winning team was invited to develop their concept and implement the solution in the future.

A man doing a presentation

Energized by Stedin

The event was sponsored by the Jong Stedin Groep, the organization for young professionals within Stedin. David Peters, Chief Transition Officer of Stedin, proudly opened the event and could relate with the challenges in Africa: “I was born in Rwanda and my parents met each other over there. My father built a water plant to generate energy for Rwanda. Even though the country has not always been that stable, the plant has always been there. It’s the projects you work on today that will make real impact!”

Woman talking to a group of people in a room

The four challenges

  1. Mini grids
    The first challenge was presented by Aleksandra Radwanska and Lara Depla, two students representing JVE International during the Design Challenge. “We have been looking for villages in Togo to design a mini grid for, and we selected Kodje. It’s located quite remote and they are not connected to the national electrification plan. Can you design a mini grid without excessively oversizing the system with important appliances such as mills?” Two teams worked on this challenge.
  2. Banana waste valorization
    For the next challenge, Africa in Motion (AiM) teamed up with EWB-NL to explore the ways of using banana by-products for giving life to new products. Max Koffi from AiM: “We are linking to Dutch businesses to invest in Africa. The idea of this challenge is to build a modern processing unit to create more profit and more jobs for Rwanda.” Two teams worked on this challenge.
  3. Sustainable lighting
    The remaining two challenges belonged to OAN, which mainly works for Nikki- a rural community in Benin. OAN was not present at Stedin, as they are located in Spain. Therefore, Milou Derks from EWB-NL presented their cases. “OAN will be available by video call to answer your questions.” The first challenge by OAN seeks to find a solution for an alternative source of lighting, made of local materials. “For us it’s normal to have light everywhere, but for the people of Nikki light can improve their lives a lot.” One team worked on this challenge.
  4. Rainwater collection
    The other OAN-challenge focused on collecting rainwater. There is a need in Nikki for a more improved rainwater harvesting system. Two teams worked on this challenge.

Teams tackle the challenges

After the introduction, the participants divided into their teams. Each team worked for over 4 hours on a specific challenge. During the lunch break, a storytelling workshop was given by Petra Beris, Chair of EWB-NL. “The nicest part of the Design Challenge was the storytelling workshop, as I saw this knowledge being used in all the pitches,” explained participant Daniel Tekelenburg.

Group of four people sitting in a table discussing ideas

And the winner is…
At the end of the day, each team pitched their solution in front of the whole group. The jury and each participant voted on the best solution and the best pitch. The banana challenge teams grouped together and won the prize for the best pitch. They proposed the idea to turn banana waste into fashionable bags. The public’s vote went to the Benin Water 2 team, which presented a solution to harvest and store rainwater.