In the USA our culture permeates with competition. Most of us grew up with sports being a very integral part of our youth. Many school activities are turned into competitions with 1st, 2nd and 3rd places for best science fair project, highest attendance, summa and cum laude, etc. For US students this often adds a little extra drive and motivation for the student or athlete when participating in their fair or sporting event. We at Future Scientist thought to bring this philosophy to Portobelo to see if the students in Colón would respond in kind. This August we finished the Design For Impact Charla Series and Competition and we were finally able to see the fruits of ours and the students’ labors from the last two and a half months.
It was a busy and exciting month for us in Portobelo. With the last few weeks of the charla series as well as the competition on August 23rd, the students’ ideas were beginning to take form. We came into the month having talked about, generated, and picked ideas for the projects that the students wanted to use as the solution to their problem that had established from the first few weeks. The first charla of the month dealt with the Canvas Business Model. This charla was important in putting the students’ ideas to paper and mapping out what was necessary to make their idea a reality. I pointed out to them that this Business Model could be used beyond the classroom doors and that it is a useful tool for any type of endeavor; be it communal, entrepreneurial, or academic. This tool is also important to seeing how feasible the idea is and to understand what you lack and what you have for the project or start-up. The students worked hard that day drawing up their maps for their projects and I think they gained useful knowledge for inside, and outside, the classroom.
As we got closer to the competition day it was time to begin thinking about more physical models and more serious advances in the development of their projects. The following week was prototyping week. The students whose solutions were more physical built models of their projects. Those who had more service or organizational solutions chose to write storyboards and show how their project would work step by step. I was impressed by the students ability to make these working models with little more than some cardboard, tape, paper, and markers. One group drew a blueprint of an experimental agriculture vehicle to be used by campesinos to plant and harvest more crops more efficiently. The idea was inspired from their agriculture classes and the difficulties they had seen with campesinos and their lack of mobility when planting their crops. Another drew a storyboard about how they will organize the community for weekly trash clean-ups. They illustrated how the community is affected by the constant presence of trash that is thrown in the streets and how it can be easily collected and disposed of properly. The third group made a trash clean-up rewards card to be used in stores and restaurants. The card is much like a punch-out card where for every item purchased and its packaging properly disposed of rewards the user with a sticker or a punch and once a certain amount is accumulated, the user receives a prize or a free item from the store or restaurant. With their prototypes in hand it was time to learn how to sell their ideas and appeal to their audience.
The final week before the competition the students needed to learn how to sell their ideas and to form a solid elevator pitch. They learned the six most important pieces of a good pitch:
They also learned about one of the most useful sales tools in the market: The Golden Circle. This idea comes from Simon Sinek, a now motivational speaker. He argues that people who are inspirational inspire by not selling the “what” but the “why”. They sell their beliefs and personal philosophies, and their products or services are simply an extension of these beliefs and philosophies. The Golden Circle are three inlaying circles. The innermost circle is “why”. Working outward the second circle is “how” and the outermost circle is “what”. He challenges us to begin with “why” and not with “what”. So I challenged the students to do the same. I told them to write down the why, how, and what of their projects and to use that when coming up with their pitches.
Finally the day of competition had arrived. The day before I had brought the school cooks all the food necessary to feed all the participants and judges, and a large portion of the other students in the school. I was hoping the day would go along without a hitch but then the water went out from the Portobelo system. We turned on the emergency dam system we had made but it wasn’t working either. I quickly put on my work clothes and went up to investigate. It turned out that a section of tubing had disconnected and without that water the cooks wouldn’t be able to keep the food going. Luckily I was able to fix it all just in time and the cooks were able to finish lunch. I then rushed to begin the competition. I gathered my judges, one teacher from each degree: agriculture, information technologies, and tourism. The criteria for the judges was the following: level of comprehension of the problem and appropriation, grade of innovation, applicability potential, and effort and motivation. The students arrived with their prototypes and their pitches and so we began. Each of the three groups went and presented their projects. As they presented the judges graded them according to the criteria given with numerical values from 1-10, with comments in each criteria section. After careful deliberation the judges chose the group with the weekly community trash clean-ups. As the winners, the four students won a trip to Panama City to participate in a weekend science fair put on by SENACYT (Secretaría Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología) called Feria del Ingenio Juvenil (Fair of the Young Genius). They will spend a weekend in the five star hotel where the fair will be held and will present a science project of their choosing, whether it be a new project or the one they worked on for the 11 weeks of the Charla Series. At the end of the competition and the winner announcement I handed out completion certificates to the students who had attended the majority of the charlas. And with that the 11 weeks of our first Design for Impact Charla Series and Competition was over. We have begun looking for more opportunities to continue doing the series in other locations and with other audiences.
This September and October Future Scientist will be doing some self-analysis of who we want to connect with and how. We are beginning a refocus of the mediums through which we want to connect with our two audiences, our donors and the people we are trying to help. We will be assessing potential future projects outside of Portobelo as well as potential future collaborators. We will be investigating becoming a legitimate legal entity in Panama so that our collaboration can be more united with Panamanian institutions. Stay tuned for updates in the weeks to come!