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IDRN Development Challenge
Of ten, three teams advanced to the final stages and won cash prizes during the International Development Research Network (IDRN) Development Challenge in spring 2012.
Spring 2012 marked the inaugural International Development Research Network (IDRN) Development Challenge, in which teams submitted detailed proposals outlining suggestions for addressing a specific development challenge affecting a less-developed region. Ten teams had to pass through two stages of competition in order to be eligible for the cash rewards that would allow them to begin implementation of their projects.

The preliminary stage took place from the beginning of February to mid-March, and required participants to submit a ‘Team and Challenge Statement’ that outlined their team members, their chosen development challenge, and their selection process for both. Each team was required to have at least one UBC graduate student, and was encouraged to strive for team members from diverse backgrounds and specializations in order to effectively and creatively find a solution to their challenge.

Judges reviewed these statements and granted $200 operating budgets to teams progressing to the next stage of competition. Teams then had until May 15 to submit their ‘Development Action Proposal’; a detailed document that outlined plans and suggestions for solving their selected development issue. The competition concluded at a final event on May 22 at which teams presented their proposals to a panel of judges, and three finalists were selected to receive the prize money.

1st Place – Integrated Solution: Solid Waste Management, GHG Reduction and Energy Production in Bangladesh

Of the many innovative and resourceful plans, the judges selected the proposal submitted by Abdul Baset (Sami) Muqeet & Nuheen Khan as the winner. Their project was based on the idea of improving waste collection and management through developing a system that uses human waste as the primary biomass input to generate electricity. This system would better protect water resources, reduce GHG emissions, and address the problem of energy production in the country.

Although human waste is not the most effective raw material for producing biogas, the fact that the majority of Bangladeshis use a manual emptier to dispose of faeces and that many sewage systems discharge into open water demonstrates how faecel matter is a prime source for addressing both energy and sanitation issues. The electricity produced by the methane-rich biogas would be in high demand given the supply shortage in the region, and the nutrient rich digestate produced from the remaining solid material could be sold to local farmers as fertilizer.

Muqeet and Khan’s familiarity with Bangladesh was one of their primary motivations in selecting the country to establish their Landfill Gas (LFG) Utilization facility. They proposed a 5 year pilot project to test feasibility, estimating that with their system, a landfill serving 150,000 people could reduce GHG emissions by 82,343 tonnes, and that a facility constructed in 2012 could produce enough gas to power a 540kW reciprocating engine by the year 2016.

Aiming for a ‘social business project’, they plan to create an economically and financially self-sufficient model, which after repaying initial investments would use profits to expand and improve its services. The social benefits are extensive, including better waste treatment and sanitation, increasing crop yield, and developing a sustainable energy source. When combined with carbon credit sale revenues estimated at $2.75 million over 30 years, as well as the income from electricity and fertilizer sales, the pair is well on their way toward meeting their goal.

Muqeet and Khan are currently collaborating with Grameen Shakti, the leading renewable energy institution in Bangladesh, on the pilot phase of their project. They have also applied for funding of $100,000 through Grand Challenges Canada’s Stars in Global Health program, which aims to support bold ideas with big impact in addressing the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. Public votes decide the winner of the funding, so if you are interested in finding out more about this program, their project, and to vote for Muqeet and Khan’s project, please visit:

 2nd Place – Improving livelihoods of smallholder coffee growers in Rwanda through farmer exchanges

The runner-up proposal by Sara Elder and Tanya Smith aims to create a farmer exchange program - promoting cooperation and communication between individuals, coffee cooperatives and enterprises, leading to improved efficiency in rural coffee production and distribution in Rwanda, and increased incomes for smallholder farmers.

The coffee sector accounted for a third of Rwandan export revenues in 2009 and has potential for development through establishing specialty coffee markets linked with strong and cohesive farmer groups. Previous ventures into the global market were successful, and with increasing international demand and improving quality of coffee in Rwanda, there is room for the sector to expand.

Elder and Smith hope to cooperate with various existing development projects in the region, emphasizing the importance of their proposed farmer exchange program. The program would not only seek to strengthen existing cooperatives, but also encourage female labor market participation - promoting gender equality and allowing for an expanded market through Fair Trade certification. By fostering trust and cooperation, the program also has the potential to reduce inter-group conflict in the region.

3rd Place – Skills Bank for Development: Be Inspired, Be Inspiring

Third place winners Isabelle Almeida, Natalia Carrillo Botero & Regiane Alves Garcia outlined an approach to address Brazil’s challenges of unequal access to less formal comprehensive education (life/soft skills) and the brain-drain suffered by the nation as the educated young move abroad.

The proposed e-Mentoring program utilizes the skills of Brazilians in Vancouver to mentor young underprivileged Brazilians to develop interpersonal, emotional and communication skills so that they may have success in the labor force and support their own local communities. They propose the creation of a ‘Skills Bank’, made up of senior students and professionals who donate a few hours each week for virtual mentoring sessions with a youth leader in Brazil. 

The group aims to develop a virtual platform with integrated video, chat, email, and file sharing capabilities, as well as the ability to assess the needs of the mentees in Brazil, and to help the mentors in Vancouver to address those needs. With an initial 6 month pilot program that hosts two mentorships, they will track and monitor its progress to determine its limitations and enhance its utility.

Download the PDF here.


Abdul Baset (Sami) Muqeet completed a Bachelor of Applied Science in Geological Engineering at UBC in 2010.

Nuheen Khan completed a BA in Economics (Honours) at UBC in 2010, and completed his masters in the same department in August 2012.

Sara Elder completed a BA in International Relations at UBC in 2004, a MA in Resource Management & Environmental Studies at UBC in 2010, and is currently a PhD student at the Institute for Resources, Environment & Sustainability at UBC.

Tanya Smith completed a BAH in International Political Economy and Administrative Change at University of Guelph in 2008, and a MSc in Development Studies at the London School of Economics in 2011.

Isabelle Almeida began her studies at Fundação Getulio Vargas in Brazil, and is currently studying Business at Langara College (Vancouver).

Natalia Carrillo Botero completed a BA in Anthropology and History at Los Andres University (Bogota) and a MA in Latin American studies at University of Paris III: Sorbonne Nouvelle.

Regiane Alves Garcia holds an LL.M. from University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law, and is currently a PhD student at UBC’s Faculty of Law.

For more information, please contact:

IDRN Steering Committee

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