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Essay: Reflecting on my thoughts throughout the course of a project (alleviating poverty)

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  • Reflecting on my thoughts throughout the course of a project (alleviating poverty)
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“Formulation of a wicked problem is the problem.” (Rittel, H. and Webber, M, 1973).

This is a philosophy that captures the spirit of configuring most social problems in our economy, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goal #1 of Eradicating Poverty. While it’s this challenge that’s been knocking our doorstep all year-round, our group has resolutely unpacked this issue with the belief that ‘the process of formulating the problem and of conceiving a solution are identical”. (Rittel, H. and Webber, M, 1973)

This led us to indulge in scholarly articles, academic literature and an in-depth investigation on the issue and its prevalent resolutions, offered by the United Nations, various NGO’s and private-sector firms. On evaluating our market, we realised that we were oscillating on the vertical axis of “Kirk’s Space” between the ‘bottom left’ and the ‘top left’ regions. These were posing questions on our problem, investigating our root-causes and clarifying our vision ahead for discovering solutions. (Ingenuity in Practice, 2011).

Indeed, by the end of the first semester, we successfully established the root-cause of our wicked problem with geographic-specificity. While we could have plunged into an array of possibilities to alleviate poverty, we chose to discover opportunities in fields of crisis, as it is suggested that crisis and opportunity often go together (Lecture). Accordingly, we targeted sub-Saharan Africa, a land submerged in poverty crisis and food insecurity. On further analysis, we narrowed down our search to tackle impoverishment in Malawi, that was existent due to the economic instability in their primary sector. This aggregated to 83.55 per cent (Stat 2016) residing in the rural districts of Malawi with 50.7 per cent of that population living below the poverty line and 25 per cent living in extreme poverty (STAT).

This instantly motivated us to “challenge the right hemisphere of our brains” (Ingenuity in Practice, 2011) and we plunged into discovering the likely solutions to introduce smart agricultural techniques that could transition subsistence agriculture to more diversified, commercial agriculture. Hence, at the beginning of the second semester, we invariably investigated the “Why?” and “How”? to every possibility that could uncover solutions to this vicious cycle of poverty.

From Micro-financing, digital learning to a crop sustaining modifier, we discarded multiple ideas due to their inability to ensure sustainability. It was overwhelming to constantly meet roadblocks, but we traced back to Schumpeter’s wisdom,” Nothing avails against the creative response, it changes social and economic outcomes in a country”(—-) and began again. I can now declare, with absolute conviction that we’ve finally arrived at our solution.

And, here’s presenting our journey from Defining to Determining.


GROUP MEETING I: (Week 2) – Recovery & Review

“Lack of knowledge concerning all the factors and the failure to include them in our integral imposes false conclusion” (Buckminster Fuller, 1975).

This is a profound thought that describes our stage of recovery and review.

Interestingly, before the first seminar, our group scheduled to interact and prepare for upcoming challenges. Knowing that “this is an iterative process” (Ingenuity in Practice,2011) encouraged us to reinstate our problem, rationalise root-causes and our strengthen our reasoning towards choosing Malawi. Through the guidance of our presentation in the previous semester and numerous research files, we gathered all our ideas together and performed an engaging activity to review our knowledge through a pop quiz. This was on the different statistics and facts that we deduced during semester one. This was instrumental in identifying the “so what?” to every answer in the pop-quiz and constructive in ensuring productive idea generation for the upcoming seminar. At this stage, we were oblivious of the possibilities ahead and almost anxious that we weren’t capable of devising a creative solution to target such a widely affected country. Nevertheless, we were awaiting the guidance lying ahead of us.

SEMINAR 1: (Week 3) Discovery

Within twenty minutes of our first seminar of the semester, our mindset uniquely shifted from anxiety and curiosity to a Google document projecting over 37 ideas, within half an hour. It was unbelievable to imagine the countless possibilities that interested us. While I understand that many of them were almost inconceivable or exceedingly large-scaled to operationalise, it was satisfying to prove the concept that,

“Production of ideas runs on a production line” (Ingenuity in Practice, 2011).

Moreover, individually, I believed, that “every wicked problem is a symptom of another problem” (Rittel, H. and Webber, M, 1973). This principle was constantly compelling me to continue exploring, especially when I stumbled upon misinterpretations of our solutions. On sharing this thought with my group, we decided to narrow our search to more possible, and often predictable answers. This proved to be a difficulty because, while we grew actively committed in our quest of alleviating Poverty in Malawi, we often deviated from the central challenge into other sub-sections, such as water crisis, chronic malnutrition or political instability. Soon, this began to create uncertainty towards the specific incremental innovation we were looking to produce.

Group Meeting II (Week 4) – Screening

“For usually discovery is beyond the reach of reason” (——)

Now, almost frustrated with our array of probabilities, and our inability to browse through them and agree upon their feasibility, we decided to devise a strategy to chose the optimal solution. Without any further negotiation, we elected the Business Model canvas, PESTEL and a cost-benefit analysis to do the trick. Essentially, we screened our top 10 ideas through PESTEL analysis to judge their likely legal, technological and environmental hinderances. Only narrowing down to 7 ideas, each of us noted a cost-benefit analysis and eliminated two more ideas that projected more costs than benefits. Finally, we employed the BMC and accommodated our top five ideas into each category to establish their expediency.

For example, we began by judging the possible distribution of nutritional tablets sufficient in Vitamin-A, Vitamin-C and Vitamin-B 12. We realised that there is a lack of acceptance towards unprescribed drugs, legal requirements to address the trade, and the possible discontinuity of the project in the long-run due to high projected costs. So, we progressed to other ideas that were seemingly more accepted and directly acknowledged the problem of poverty, instead of malnutrition. Later, we examined a range of possibilities from vaccinations, water-cleansing tubes, monthly-sanitation services to creation of dams, until we found our desirable solution that appropriately satisfied all criteria with absolute rationality, and logic.

SEMINAR 2: (Week 5) Determine –

“All the reasons pro and con are not present to the mind at the same time” (—-)

It’s at this stage that we recognised that the prime area to direct our efforts towards is developing the primary sector of Malawi. Until now, we concentrated on controlling the indirect possibilities that induce poverty in the nation, however on further in-depth research, we deduced that agriculture aggregates the backbone of the Malawian economy. Therefore, it is likely that agricultural performance has more significant implications for economic growth and poverty eradication than intervention in any other sector. (REF)

This was our thought-provoking moment, in the last half hour of the seminar. We were finally developing upon our ideas and channelising them into the most productive region that could prove to be a step forward in reducing poverty.

Within no time, we designed Feteleza, a service intervention administered in the agricultural districts of Malawi. We decided that the project would train the population invested in agriculture on the science of transforming industrial waste to manure.
By accumulating waste from the populated cities of Malawi and modifying it into manure, the farmers would produce fertilisers. This would improve their crop yield and further add the nutrients that essentially suffered due to climate-induced shocks. This would result in them charging the market price for the crop, without price extortion, leading to an increase in their income and standard of living.

This was our ‘Eureka’ moment! We had finally accepted the problem domain and discovered a solution that suitably clarified all our doubts.

SEMINAR 3: (Week 9) Determine – (Exchange with other groups)

The most original minds borrow from one another – Voltaire (1694-1778)

We were almost nearing the end of our project, with a feeling of satisfaction and fulfilment until we discovered that similar ideas were run by the Enactus Nottingham in Ghana. It was discouraging to know that we didn’t have the first-mover advantage with Ferteleza. However, when addressing this with another group at the seminar, we noticed that maximum ideas were developed on the foundation of a pre-existing design. And, as the Ingenuity process affirms, “There is a degree of predictability about the exploration of successful innovations – it is to be expected that one discovery will lead to another”. (—-) With this understanding and additional discussions with our mentors at the seminar, we decided to modify their pre-existing idea when marketing it at Malawi.

However, before any modifications, we were encouraged to associate our project with other groups achieving the same goal. Consequently, we exchanged our ideas with another group hoping to lower poverty levels in Somalia. The similar features in our ideas highlighted a summary of our key points that would facilitate empathy within our audiences when pitching our projects, such as the vicious poverty cycle that generates a multiplier effect of poverty on education, health, sanitation, infant mortality and average life expectancy.


Wrap-up time!

Finally putting the pieces of the puzzle together, and producing a visual display of our research and reflection into designing Feteleza with hopes that this paves way for discoveries to aid Malawi and other less economically developed countries.

Honestly, this section of the project was relatively relaxed as we were now equipped with our individual data, ready to compile it together in the BMC and poster. Supporting specialisation of tasks, each of us served our set divisions on the BMC and later concluded with an appealing poster that incorporated advice from seminars, statistics from research, and our BMC.


It’s been a rollercoaster to delve into selecting different aspects of our project, such as the agricultural districts to target, the optimal waste-transformation process and the sustainable source of finance. But, guidance from mentors during seminars and research into development agencies, such as the UNDP and the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has convinced us of the achievability of our project.

Truthfully, I’d like to conclude by reflecting on my thoughts throughout the course of this project, for instance, an important concern raised by Nikola Tesla that preoccupied me during the defining stage was, “They become engrossed in details instead of the central idea and get results but sacrifice quality”. I remember scribbling this in my notes during our second seminar to remind our group to ensure that our project fulfils the core purpose of moving a step forward in eradicating obdurate poverty for the long-run.

In conclusion, the transition has been a collection of surprises with new elements of knowledge and undeniably a leap of faith in our group dynamics to present our beliefs and research gracefully. Admittedly, team working has been rewarding beyond the bubble. I’m actually surprised by our results, and irrespective of our hurdles, it’s been a beneficial, and rewarding experience.


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