Wege Speaker Series Lecture of April 23 is cancelled.

Dear Wege Speaker friends,

COVID-19 (coronavirus) continues to present challenges to organizations and communities across the country, and we are all beginning to feel its effects.

In accordance with Governor Whitmer’s latest recommendations and our own desire to limited any potential future impact of COVID-19, we are canceling this year’s Wege Speaker lecture with Favianna Rodriguez scheduled for April 23 at the Aquinas College Performing Arts Center.

While you’re sequestering, you may wish to view some of Favianna’s past interviews and presentations at https://www.favianna.com/media/videos.

We hope that wherever you are, you and your loved ones are taking care of each other and staying as safe and healthy as possible in these turbulent times.


Blandford Nature Center
Grand Rapids Public Schools
Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities
Latina Network of West Michigan
Sierra Club Michigan Chapter
West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology
West Michigan Environmental Action Council

Kids’ Food Basket: Growing Direct Food Access and Urban Agriculture in Grand Rapids

Written content by Amanda St. Pierre • Videographer/photographer by Bryan Esler.

The Wege Foundation was pleased to support the construction of the new Kids’ Food Basket headquarters and its sustainable urban farm program.

Kids’ Food Basket was founded in 2002. Each weekday throughout the school year and summer, the organization provides equitable access to a healthy, balanced evening meal, called a sack supper, to local elementary children (ages 3-12) who live in food-insecure households. They currently serve 8,600 children across four counties in West Michigan.

The organization’s new headquarters and urban farm is located on Plymouth Avenue near Leonard Street on Grand Rapids’ northeast side.

Each day during the growing season, student groups and volunteers from the area come to the 10-acre chemical-free, sustainably-grown farm to learn about cultivating, harvesting, and providing fresh fruits and vegetables for our community.

Developing Urban Agriculture in Grand Rapids

Kids’ Food Basket’s urban farm and brand new LEED-designed headquarters was only a dream four years ago. As the organization began to consider how to best deliver on its mission to nourish children to reach their full potential, they began looking around the country to see what other organizations were doing.

“We learned that the most successful organizations were combining direct access to food, like our sack supper program, with education. We need to teach kids where food comes from and how to make life-long healthy food choices. We decided that this is how we would continue to grow,” said Bridget Clark Whitney, Founding CEO of Kids’ Food Basket.

Up until this point, Kids’ Food Basket had rented its facility. In the organization’s 17-year history, it had moved five times to accommodate growth in response to community needs.

They saw an opportunity to change this with the property at Plymouth and Leonard—the last remaining farmland in the City of Grand Rapids. After being farmed for over 100 years, the lot was vacant and for sale. In addition to land for farming, space was also available for a new Kids’ Food Basket headquarters. It was serendipitous.

“We embarked on our Feeding Our Future Campaign three years ago. The Wege Foundation’s grant was the first gift to this campaign. They stepped up and said we believe in what you are doing, and we want to get behind you,” said Afton DeVos, Kids’ Food Basket Chief Operating Officer.

In its first full growing season, Kids’ Food Basket served 87,000 servings of fresh fruit and vegetables from the farm. Another five tons were donated to local nonprofits, including Feeding America. Totals from 2019’s harvest are still being calculated as the farm continues to produce.

Growing Environmental Sustainability

“We know that kids are born with a sense of wonder and an affinity for nature. If properly cultivated, those values can mature into ecological literacy and ultimately into sustainable patterns of living,” Bridget said. “We’re so grateful for the leadership of the Wege Foundation in this space. From them, we’ve learned about environmental sustainability and the kind of organization we want to be. They’ve made us better.”

Sunflowers on the farm are great for the bees and other pollinators. They will eventually breakdown to add organic matter and nutrients to the soil. They also make great gifts for Kids’ Food Basket friends.
Troy Vos, Kids’ Food Basket Youth Engagement Manager with students from Allendale Middle School

International Student Design Competition’s Largest Field To-Date Reflects a World Ready to Work Together for a Better Future

Wege Prize 2020 draws field representing 24 countries, 64 academic institutions, and 100 academic disciplines; inspires student teams to collaborate across boundaries and help accelerate the global transition to a circular economy

Grand Rapids, Mich. November 22, 2019 – Everywhere we look, the dominant narrative seems to be one of divisiveness and polarization. But, one group of college and university students from around the globe is proof positive that the spirit of collaboration is alive and well.

They’re the latest crop of young leaders drawn to Wege Prize (wegeprize.org), an international student design competition that inspires collaboration across institutional, disciplinary, and cultural boundaries to solve persistent real-world problems and rethink the way economies work. Wege Prize 2020 has drawn a field of 29 teams of five, each required to represent different academic institutions and disciplines. These 145 students represent 24 countries, 64 academic institutions, and 100 unique academic disciplines—the largest and most diverse field in the competition’s seven-year history. See a complete breakdown of 2020 teams.

Each team has identified a complex, systemic problem (also known as a “wicked” problem) they’re interested in addressing, and has begun building a foundation of research to identify where the best opportunities for intervention exist. Over the next six months, they’ll grow that research into a product, service, business, nonprofit organization, or other solution that solves the problem through the lens of the circular economy, a rapidly emerging economic model that emphasizes designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.

Along the way, teams are guided by feedback from Wege Prize Judges, a diverse and accomplished group of professionals whose collective expertise spans the circular economy, sustainable business, green chemistry, industrial design, UX/UI design, digital fabrication, biomimicry, public policy, education, and more. In addition to this intellectual and professional growth, teams have the opportunity to win a share of over $30,000 USD in total cash prizes to help move their project forward.

“Wege Prize is a space where education meets action,” says Gayle DeBruyn, a professor of Collaborative Design at Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD), which organizes the competition with the support of The Wege Foundation. “We’re empowering young people to actively learn how to approach problems from multiple perspectives and how to solve them by collaborating with others whose expertise and experiences differ from their own, but we’re also giving them support and resources to understand how they can make their ideas a reality.”

Past Wege Prize winners have developed a sustainable, circular online tourism platform for indigenous communities in Mexico, designed a system to convert harmful waste byproducts from cocoa bean farming into powerful and affordable organic fertilizers, and created an on-site waste treatment system for hospitals that minimizes environmental impact while maximizing the potential for resource recovery, among many other innovative solutions.

Wege Prize 2020 teams are tackling a wide variety of issues, from reducing dependence on single-use plastic by turning an abundant invasive water weed into bioplastic, to using big data to help homeless individuals in Brazil make a positive transition back into society, to reimagining Detroit as a city of the future through an influx of sustainable infrastructure, and much, much more.

As the competition progresses through its four distinct phases, those teams whose ideas inspire the greatest hope for real-world success will advance, while others will carry the constructive feedback they’ve received from the judges into their future problem-solving efforts, and more broadly, their personal and professional lives.

Follow along with Wege Prize 2020 on Facebook (@wegeprize)Twitter (@wegeprize), and at wegeprize.org, where competition updates are posted regularly.

About Wege Prize:
Wege Prize, organized by Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University’s (KCAD’s) Wege Center for Sustainable Design with the support of The Wege Foundation, is an annual competition that ignites game-changing solutions for the future by inspiring college/university students around the world to collaborate across institutional, disciplinary, and cultural boundaries to redesign the way economies work. To learn more, go to wegeprize.org.

About The Wege Foundation:
Planting seeds that develop leaders in economicology, health, education, and arts, and enhance the lives of people in West Michigan and around the world. For more information, please visit wegefoundation.org.

About KCAD:
As a college within Ferris State University, Kendall College of Art and Design prepares students for leadership in the visual arts, design, art history, and art education; provides innovative, collaborative education that fosters intellectual growth and individual creativity; and promotes the ethical and civic responsibilities of artists and designers, locally and globally. For more information, please visit kcad.edu.


WMCAT – Trout Unlimited and the Rogue River Watershed

Trout Unlimited is a cold water conservation organization that works on a national level conserving and protecting cold water fisheries and watersheds around the country. The
organization partnered with Rockford Public Schools in 2016 and the surrounding communities to analyze the rivers and test the waters to see how it affects the Rogue River watershed.

Trout Unlimited worked specifically with Parkside Elementary and their students to install a rain garden. During the process the kids were able to research rain gardens and learn how they can help divert water from storm drains that feed into the Rogue River. The students put an action plan together and presented their findings and suggestions to the school board for approval to start the creation of the rain garden.

The rain garden at Parkside Elementary is still up and running and consists of native plants from the area. Students of all ages participate by helping to keep it clean and to weed it, as needed.

Students who attended Parkside Elementary and participated in the project said that it was very beneficial and a completely new experience for them. The project also helped them realize the difference it was making on the Great Lakes as well as the rivers around them. Tara Dzirbowis, a teacher at Parkside Elementary explained, “It gives the kids a real world experience in doing the research and informs them on how projects like these can help the rivers and the community.”

The rain garden project has had a huge impact on the community and the students involved by informing them about rain gardens and giving them insight on what they can do to
help their rivers. Trout Unlimited has also worked on other projects throughout the community by turning areas that used to be lawns near storm drains into an area where native plants can grow.

Nichol Demol, who is a part of Trout Unlimited shared, “Over the course of nine years we have been spreading the word about stormwater practices in Rockford and have seen how it has affected the local government’s way of seeing the river and its tributaries.” Nichol encourages those interested in helping conserve local watersheds or streams to research watershed organizations in their local communities. Many offer various volunteering opportunities such as spring and fall stream clean-ups, and ways to invest in protecting local streams and rivers.

Trout Unlimited Project Student Names 

  • Article by Arieal Jackson
  • Photography by Dagan McClure-Sikkema
  • Videography and editing by Tris Cunningham, Micah Garmon, Arieal Jackson, Elias Vandyke-Titus, and Mike Saunders

WMCAT – Restoration and Rehabilitation of The Highlands

The Highlands can be remembered as a pesticide and fertilizer-filled golf course. “It was a very manicured land with short grass just over two years ago,” said the Stewardship Director at the Land Conservancy of West Michigan, Justin Heslinga. Over the course of two-and-a-half years, the Land Conservancy has focused on renewing the land back to its original state and giving way for wildlife and habitat to flourish.

Joe Engel, the Executive Director of the Land Conservancy of West Michigan said: “Not every day you get an opportunity to have a ‘redo’ on a piece of land that once was a 100-year-old golf course.” He shared that it will be a laboratory for today’s kids and for generations to come.

During the end of phase one, which was restoration, community members came to speak about the process and how it has benefited them, as well as the overall community. One community member, Bill Faber, shared that he runs on the property a lot. The Highlands provides access to the community for exercise purposes as well as educational purposes for students.

The Highlands is the Land Conservancy’s first major project in the City of Grand Rapids. The majority of their projects are in rural areas that are not accessible by public transportation. However, now, one can simply take The Rapid’s Route 7 bus line to The Highlands.

Not only is The Highlands accessible to the whole community but it is now a home for wildlife. Mary Jane Dockeray, the founder of Blandford Nature Center told how she can now hear the bird songs that she once could not hear in her own backyard.

Phase one is only the beginning of the restoration of The Highlands. It has already been a big accomplishment and future phases promise an even greater benefit to the whole community. More importantly, it will benefit the environment.

Highlands Project Student Names

  • Article by Arieal Jackson
  • Photography by Dagan McClure-Sikkema
  • Videography and editing by Tris Cunningham, Micah Garmon, Arieal Jackson, Elias Vandyke-Titus, and Mike Saunders

Wege Prize 2019 Winners

Now in its sixth year, Wege Prize is organized by Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University’s (KCAD’s) Wege Center for Sustainable Design with the support of The Wege Foundation. Beginning in August of 2018, Wege Prize 2019 challenged participating teams to develop a product, service, business/nonprofit model, or other solution that could help spur a transition from our current linear economic model—in which we take, make, and dispose—to a circular economy, an economic model that’s restorative and regenerative by design.

The five finalist teams in Wege Prize 2019 presented their solutions to a judging panel of leading practitioners and advocates of design thinking and sustainability at the 2019 Wege Prize Awards, held on May 31 at KCAD in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA. Teams’ solutions were evaluated on factors such as depth of research, technological and financial feasibility, alignment with circular economic principles, and potential for successful real-world implementation.


1st Place – $15,000
Team name: REDENT

  • Priscilla Oluwakemi Badusi – Chemistry, Wellesley College
  • Aisha Muhammed Balogun – Computer Engineering, University of Wyoming
  • Mukhtar Hamzat – Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Ashesi University
  • Fatimah Owolabi – Entrepreneurship, African Leadership University
  • Ohagwu Collins Patrick – Agricultural Sciences, EARTH University

Solution: Redent proposed a system in which cocoa pod husks, a byproduct of cocoa bean production, can be upcycled into organic fertilizer. The system, designed to be waste-free and both economically and environmentally sustainable, also aims to inspire cocoa farmers toward sustainable farm practices while giving them access to additional income streams.

Currently, many cocoa bean farmers in the team’s native Nigeria leave the cocoa pod husks in their fields to rot, which not only gives rise to pests and disease but fails to extract any value at all from the waste. At the same time, the low annual supply quantity and high cost of traditional fertilizer in the country poses significant cost and yield challenges for farmers. Redent’s solution addresses both issues by transforming the crop’s waste byproduct into powerful and affordable organic fertilizer.

“The judges were very impressed by how, in the midst of a large systemic issue such as waste, Redent honed in on a specific waste source and a specific solution for extracting maximum value from that waste; the elegance of that is very commendable,” said judge Alysia Garmulewicz, an associate professor of high tech entrepreneurship at the University of Santiago in Chile and an associate fellow at Oxford University and the Institute for Science Innovation and Society.

Moving forward, the members of Redent plan to continue refining their product through further testing and engaging potential customers through demonstration plots where farmers can see the performance of the fertilizer firsthand.

2nd Place – $10,000

  • Jack Cottrell – Biology, University of Toronto
  • Joe Dunaske – Collaborative Design/Furniture Design, Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University
  • Kate Hyman – Furniture Design, Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University
  • Sydney Johnson – Architecture, Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University
  • Lindsey Maner – Furniture Design, Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University

Solution: Considered Furniture proposed a service model furniture company that shifts end-of-life responsibility of bulk furniture waste from the user to the manufacturer, responding to a need for effective waste return channels, capturing waste value, and directing that value towards new revenue streams.

The company targets cost and environmentally-conscious millennials with low-cost furniture that’s designed for disassembly and re-use. Once furniture reaches the end of its life cycle, Considered Furniture’s business model enables it to be returned to the company for remanufacturing into smaller piece of furniture or, ultimately, conversion into sawdust that can be combined with other organic materials for agricultural use.

“Considered Furniture developed a sophisticated solution that requires sophisticated thinking and problem solving,” said judge Michael Werner, an environmental program manager and lead for safer chemistry at Google. “The team had to deal with raw materials, distribution, reverse logistics, waste in supply chains, and more; that’s really complicated. We appreciated the lengths they went to in prototyping potential products, securing customer validation, and entering a market that deals with emotion and style in addition to other factors.”

Moving forward, the team plans to continue developing furniture prototypes, refining its business model, promoting its company through social media channels, and securing relationships with material suppliers, storage and transportation companies, and furniture retailers.

3rd Place – $5,000
Team name: WET TECHNIK

  • Melissa Mukama Buzabo – Industrial and Fine Arts, Makerere University School of Art and Technology
  • Mark Musinguzi – Mechanical Engineering, Makerere University School of Engineering
  • Emmanuel Musumba – Mechanical Engineering, Makerere University School of Engineering
  • Shatsi Mwebesa – Quantity Surveying, Makerere University School of Built Environment
  • Dennis Ssekimpi – Civil Engineering, Makerere University School of Engineering

Solution: Wet Technik proposed to a solution to address Uganda’s water shortage and wastewater treatment issues by designing a system that can upcycle grey water using a mix of constructed wetlands and filtration bio carriers made from repurposed plastic bottle caps. The system aims to reduce the costs of water usage while minimizing environmental pollution from hazardous wastewater.

The team conducted extensive research on-site at two boarding schools in Uganda, identifying key sources of grey water as well as potential uses for the grey water once treated, such as cleaning floors and flushing toilets, that currently require use of expensive fresh water from municipal supply lines. In addition to reducing overall water usage, the team’s solution also mitigates the risk of disease from improper wastewater disposal.

“Wet Technik impressed the judges with the low startup costs of their idea and the solid field research that underpinned it,” said judge Christopher Carter, an educator, a seasoned animator/story board artist, and a nationally-known and highly regarded sculptor of reclaimed and re-purposed found materials. “They clearly illustrated how this idea could work in the real world, and beyond that proved that they have what it takes to follow through.”

Moving forward, the team will undertake a three-month internship that will enable them to deepen their research while continuing to develop a fully functional prototype of their filtration system.

The other two finalist teams—Nkunim and Norena Group—were each honored with a $1,000 Finalist Award.

Nkunim, comprised of students studying at different universities in Ghana, addressed Ghana’s widespread plastic waste problem by designing a sanitation-focused mobile application that integrates with a circular economy-inspired plastic waste management system.

Norena Group, a team of students from Ivory Coast, Gabon, and Togo studying at universities in Costa Rica, Kenya, South Korea, and the United States, proposed a solution to upcycle food waste into multiple useful products for consumers, including animal feed, plant fertilizers, clothing and other goods.

“The leadership, passion, and insight displayed by Wege Prize 2019 teams have been both remarkable and inspiring,” said KCAD President Leslie Bellavance. “By empowering both current and future generations of problem solvers to explore new ways of thinking, seeing, and working with one another, this competition proves that when we strive for collective intelligence, shared value, and social equity, we can solve any problem, on any scale, anywhere in the world.”

Wege Prize teams are required to represent different institutions of higher education and different fields of study, giving them an intentionally broad perspective with which to address the kinds of layered and systemic “wicked” problems perpetuated by a linear economic model. Nine teams entered Wege Prize 2019, representing 14 countries, 21 academic institutions, and 40 unique academic disciplines while including both undergraduate and graduate students.

Wege Prize was conceived as a regional competition before rapidly expanding to a national, then international level, with the field of teams growing significantly in geographical diversity each year. In 2017, the competition was opened up to graduate students, having previously only been open to undergraduate students.

Thanks to the continuing financial support of The Wege Foundation, Wege Prize 2020 will again be open to any undergraduate or graduate student in the world and will be focused on developing a circular economy.

Team registration will open in August 2019, but interested faculty, students and professionals are encouraged to begin now by signing up for the Wege Prize mailing list, following Wege Prize on Facebook, and connecting on the Wege Prize Facebook Group. More details about Wege Prize 2020 will be revealed in the coming weeks on wegeprize.org.


*Above photo: Christiana Figueres, the moving force behind the Paris Climate agreement, delivers the 2019 Peter M. Wege Lecture on Sustainability at the University of Michigan. 

Christiana Figueres, the woman recognized worldwide as the “architect” of the Paris Climate Agreement, gave this year’s Peter M. Wege Lecture on Sustainability at the University of Michigan March 14. What this enthusiastic Costa Rican calls her own “stubborn optimism” enabled her to bring leaders of 196 countries together for the Paris Climate Conference in 2015. The outcome was the Paris Climate Agreement to keep global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius.

Disappointed as Figueres is that President Trump has announced the United States’ intent to pull out of the Paris Agreement, this dynamic leader remains hopeful. “Climate change must be approached with a positive attitude,” she told the full house audience in the Michigan League’s auditorium.

This daughter of a former Costa Rica president supported her optimism by noting that while China often gets blamed for its air pollution, the fact is the Chinese government has already exceeded its promised Paris Agreement goal. And India, with the world’s second highest population, has committed to having all electric vehicles within three to five years.

Figueres noted that the patent office is a good place to look at the future. And new patents applications are coming in for innovations related to electric and solar energy, not fossil fuels. As for America’s expensive electric Tesla cars, the 2019 Wege Lecturer said the company “is on the right track.” But the need is to build more affordable electric automobiles.

She offered five easy things all Americans can do to fight climate change. Cut back on eating beef. Buy local foods that don’t require fossil fuel to transport. Sell any high-carbon stocks you own and use the proceeds to buy into renewable-energy companies. “For heaven’s sake VOTE!” And support the student strike that happened the next day on the Michigan campus as they did around the world to support global carbon neutrality.

Friday March 15 young students in some 100 countries around the globe left their classrooms in a common march to save their futures from the disastrous consequences of climate change. These protesters on the Diag at the University of Michigan were some of the 300-plus people who joined the Ann Arbor protest.

The speaker with the bullhorn in this photograph from the protest on the Diag against climate change confirms the youthfulness of this global movement on March 15. It was started by 16-year-old Swedish student Greta Thunberg. One of their signs reads: Why Go To Class When The World Is Burning?

– All Photos Credited to: Dave Brenner


The Senior Vice President for the Hip Hop Caucus will address environmental justice issues on Thursday, April 11, 2019

Grand Rapids, Michigan – February 21, 2019 – The Wege Foundation (www.wegefoundation.org) will host the 23rd Wege Speaker Series (www.wegespeakerseries.com) on Thursday, April 11 at 4pm at the Aquinas College Performing Arts Center.

This year’s speaker is Dr. Mustafa Santiago Ali, Senior Vice President of Climate, Environmental Justice & Community Revitalization for the Hip Hop Caucus and former leader at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He will present about how to elevate environmental justice issues and strengthen environmental justice policies, programs and initiatives.

“This lecture will focus on a new 21st century paradigm,” said Dr. Ali. “It’s one that embraces community power by honoring the transformative abilities of culture to build bridges, by educating in non-traditional ways and by creating authentic collaborative partnerships that support our most vulnerable communities as they move from surviving to thriving.”

“Ali is one of America’s environmental justice leaders and currently focuses on using the arts in addressing pressing issues such as climate change,” said Mark Van Putten, President of The Wege Foundation.

Dr. Ali has appeared on MSNBC, CNN, VICE, and Democracy NOW, as well as being featured and cited in over 250 news publications including GQ, New Republic, Ebony, The Guardian, The Root, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post. He has worked in over 500 communities both domestically and internationally, as well as been a guest lecturer at over 100 colleges and universities including Howard, Harvard, Yale, George Washington, Georgetown and Spelman.

Prior to joining the Hip Hop Caucus, Ali worked 24 years at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). He began working on Social Justice issues at the age of 16 and joined the EPA as a student, becoming a founding member of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ). Currently he is a board member of the National Wildlife Federation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Union of Concerned Scientists, TREE and Climate Hawks Vote.

Partners for the 23rd Wege Speaker Series event include:

  • All of the Above Hip Hop Academy
  • Aquinas College
  • City of Grand Rapids
  • Grand Rapids Public Schools
  • Grand Rapids Urban League
  • Latina Network of West Michigan
  • NAACP Greater Grand Rapids Branch
  • Sierra Club Michigan Chapter
  • West Michigan Environmental Action Council

The Aquinas College Performing Arts Center is located at 1703 Robinson Road S.E. in Grand Rapids. The public is invited and the event is free. Limited seating, please register soon at aquinas.edu/wegespeaker

About Aquinas College
Aquinas College is a Catholic liberal arts college founded in 1886 by the Dominican Sisters-Grand Rapids. The wooded, 117-acre campus is located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. With 1,900 students and more than 60 academic programs, Aquinas College is an inclusive educational community that emphasizes career preparation, leadership, service to others and lifelong learning. Learn more at aquinas.edu

About the Wege Foundation
Founded in 1967 by Peter M. Wege, The Wege Foundation focuses on enhancing the lives of the people and preserving the health of the environment in West Michigan. The Wege Foundation’s Five Pillars, or areas of interest, are: education, environment, arts & culture, health care, and human services. For more information, go to wegefoundation.org

Wege Prize 2018 Winners

Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University’s (KCAD’s) Wege Center for Sustainable Design has announced the winners of Wege Prize 2018, the fifth iteration of the annual design competition challenging teams of undergraduate and graduate students from around the world to collaborate across institutional, disciplinary, and cultural boundaries and redesign the way economies work.

Participating teams—each composed of five students representing different academic institutions and majors of study—were challenged to collaboratively design and propose a product, service, business, non-profit organization, or other solution to a “wicked problem” of their choosing. Specifically, teams pursued solutions that could function within and help create a paradigm shift towards a circular economy, a rapidly-emerging economic model that focuses on system-wide innovation and aims to be restorative and regenerative by design.

The five finalist teams in Wege Prize 2018 presented their solutions to a judging panel of leading practitioners and advocates of design thinking and sustainability at the Wege Prize 2018 Final Presentation and Awards Event, held on May 18 at KCAD in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA. Teams’ solutions were evaluated on factors such as depth of research, technological and financial feasibility, alignment with circular economic principles, and potential for successful real-world implementation.

1st Place – $15,000
Team name: Circular Tourism Mexico

 Emiliano Iturriaga (left) of Circular Tourism Mexico representing his team at the Wege Prize 2018 Final Presentation and Awards Event

Emiliano Iturriaga (left) of Circular Tourism Mexico representing his team at the Wege Prize 2018 Final Presentation and Awards Event

Emiliano Iturriaga – Engineering in Sustainable Development (Social Innovation), Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education School of Engineering

Diego Espinoza Siliceo – Engineering in Sustainable Development, Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education School of Engineering

Irene Heras de Hoyos – Graphic Communication Design, Metropolitan Autonomous University of Mexico City

Eduardo Maass Rueda – Actuarial Sciences/Financial Management, Autonomous Institute of Technology of Mexico

Sebastián Muñoz Amezcua – Industrial Design, Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education School of Design

Solution: Circular Tourism Mexico proposed Rutopia, an online platform that facilitates the transition to a fair, sustainable, and circular tourism system for indigenous communities in Mexico. The platform connects indigenous-run community tourism initiatives directly to their target audiences and offers them the tools they need to overcome obstacles that prevent them from competing in the ecotourism marketplace. At the same time, it ensures travelers will be able to enjoy genuine experiences while benefitting both indigenous communities and the environment.

 Circular Tourism Mexico solution excerpt

Circular Tourism Mexico solution excerpt

Moving forward, the team plans to use their prize money to finish building out their online platform and begin real-world testing in collaboration with the indigenous communities with which they’ve been working throughout the course of Wege Prize 2018.

“We really appreciated the social and cultural elements being integral to Circular Tourism Mexico’s solution; they weren’t just add-ons,” says judge Nathan Shedroff, an associate professor at California College of the Arts and founder of the school’s ground-breaking MBA in Design Strategy program. “Their co-op model is particularly well-suited to solve the problems they identified, because they’re truly involving locals in co-design and co-building, which honors culture and keeps money local. The judges see this as a solution that can revitalize communities that are struggling, and we really appreciate that.”

2nd Place – $10,000
Team name: Sabon Sake

 Audrey S-Darko of Sabon Sake representing her team at the Wege Prize 2018 Final Presentation and Awards Event

Audrey S-Darko of Sabon Sake representing her team at the Wege Prize 2018 Final Presentation and Awards Event

Opunabo Eli – Management Information Systems, Ashesi University

Audrey Marigold S-Darko – Business Administration, Ashesi University

Sasha Ofori – Computer Science, Ashesi University

Kelvin Degbotse – Computer Science, Ashesi University

Emmanuel Asamoah – Administration (Marketing Option), University of Ghana

Solution: Sabon Sake proposed the use of biotechnology and web-based technology to transform bagasse, the main waste byproduct of sugarcane farming, into bio-compost fertilizer, increasing accessibility to the larger sugarcane market for rural farmers in Ghana’s Volta Region and helping them achieve greater yields, reduce crop losses and ultimately, overcome poverty. The team has designed a composting system that uses liquid bio-inoculants and vermicomposting to extract maximum value from the bagasse while negating the harmful environmental impacts of burning it, the method by which it is currently disposed.

 Sabon Sake solution excerpt

Sabon Sake solution excerpt

The team plans to spend the next year building on their existing prototype by continuing to work with sugarcane farmers in Ghana to begin implementing their system throughout the Volta Region, and from there, will pursue translating the system to other crops as well.

“The judges were deeply impressed with the enthusiasm, honesty, and passion with which Sabon Sake approaches its project. It was great to see their idea evolve in response to our feedback, resulting in a solution that thoughtfully and effectively addresses a very unsustainable practice in the burning of bagasse,” says judge Michael Werner, environmental program manager and lead for safer chemistry at Google. “They had a strong prototype, a clear implementation plan, and most importantly, clear thoughts on how to scale their process up. That took a local issue and created a solution that can grow beyond that.”

3rd Place – $5,000
Team name: Booming Babies

 Melissa Mazzeo (left) of Booming Babies representing her team at the Wege Prize 2018 Final Presentation  and Awards Event

Melissa Mazzeo (left) of Booming Babies representing her team at the Wege Prize 2018 Final Presentation  and Awards Event

Jatin Batra – Business Administration/Public Policy, Yale University/Princeton University

Cyndi Chen – Business Administration, Yale University

Melissa Mazzeo – Business Administration, Yale University

Daniel Moccia-Field – Business Administration/Environmental Management, Yale University

Christopher Chen – Computer Science, Michigan State University

Solution: Booming Babies proposed an online secondhand children’s clothing subscription service that builds a community of dedicated users while scaling adoption with mobile technology and RFID tagging. The team’s solution also plans to upcycle clothing that has reached the end of its life cycle through aggregation and remanufacturing by partnering with fabric dissolving/melting firms to create new fabric durable enough for extended use and soft enough for babies to wear comfortably.

 Booming Babies solution excerpt

Booming Babies solution excerpt

Following their success in Wege Prize 2018, the team plans to launch their business, Hand Me Up, which offers subscribers seasonal packages of second children’s clothing specific to the child’s age, physical size, and gender. They will launch the business in cooperation with Merry Go Rounds, a children’s consignment boutique in Massachusetts.

“The judges loved this idea. You don’t need to be a parent to understand the value of this kind of service, where you always have a steady supply of clothes at the size you need without breaking the bank,” said judge Colin Webster, who works to spread the idea of the circular economy as an education content manager with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. “The team’s understanding of the circular economy really impressed us, not just in their business model, but in the ways in which they proposed to use emerging remanufacturing technologies as well.”

The other two finalist teams—CarpeJur and Greener Haven—were each honored with a $1,000 Finalist Award.

CarpeJur, composed of students from American University of Armenia, Armenian National Agrarian University, and Yerevan State Medical University of Armenia, proposed a closed-loop aquaculture system wherein freshwater fish are raised for human consumption while the system’s natural byproducts are upcycled to create additional value. Algae raised alongside the fish act as a biofilter, cleaning the water so that it can be recirculated into the system. Oil extracted from the algae is used in the production of biodiesel fuel, while the algae are used to create animal feed and the organic “sludge” left over becomes natural fertilizer.

 CarpeJur solution excerpt

CarpeJur solution excerpt

Greener Haven, composed of students from Yale University’s School of Architecture, School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, and School of Management, proposed to resolve the information asymmetries of the residential housing construction market to connect those who need building materials with those who have materials to sell. The team developed a mobile/web platform combining geolocation and image hosting services to enable crowd-sourced aggregation and sharing of data on materials newly harvested from demolished structures. The platform also provides educational tools to guide users on how to harvest these materials from the waste stream and unlock their potential for reuse.

 Greener Haven solution excerpt

Greener Haven solution excerpt

“As in previous years, the invigorating ideas, global perspectives, and passionate optimism that this year’s teams have brought to Wege Prize have been both remarkable and inspiring,” said KCAD President Leslie Bellavance. “It is my hope that all of our participants will translate their experiences in this competition into forward momentum. I challenge them to build on their existing ideas and to always stay curious about what lies ahead.”

The five finalist teams were chosen out of an original field of 17 teams representing 63 unique academic disciplines and 36 different academic institutions from 12 countries around the world. Over the course of seven months, teams developed their ideas from a one-page proposal into a multifaceted design solution informed by their own research, ideation, and experimentation as well as direct feedback from the judges, culminating in the final presentations on May 18.

Thanks to the continuing financial support of The Wege Foundation, Wege Prize 2019 will again be open to any undergraduate or graduate student in the world and will be focused on developing a circular economy.

Team registration will open in August 2018, but interested faculty, students and professionals are encouraged to begin now by signing up for the Wege Prize mailing list, following Wege Prize on Facebook, and connecting on the Wege Prize Facebook Group.

More details about Wege Prize 2019 will be revealed in the coming weeks on wegeprize.org.