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International Student Competition Highlights Sustainable Solutions for 2021 — Five Finalist Teams Include African and South American Teams

International Student Competition Highlights Sustainable Solutions for 2021 — Five Finalist Teams Include African and South American Teams

Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD)
Announces Finalists in Wege Prize 2021 Design Competition

Student teams from Tanzania, Ghana, Uganda, Malawi and Chile present innovative approaches to address global problems in ways that transform the economy.

Grand Rapids, Michigan,

 With much at stake as nations worldwide contend with a global pandemic, climate control, waste, hunger, and injustice, bright-minded students have stepped up with innovative approaches to address the multitude of issues facing the world today.

Wege Prize, the international student design competition to create solutions for “wicked problems,” is an agent of change for these lofty ambitions.

For its 2021 edition, Wege Prize—organized by Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD)—has announced the final five interdisciplinary student teams from around the world that emerged from the largest and most diverse field in the competition’s eight-year history, including an initial field of 175 participants from 35 teams that represent 29 countries, 88 academic institutions, and 114 unique academic disciplines.

Guided by direct feedback from the competition’s panel of expert judges – including entrepreneur Nathan Shedroff and circular economy expert Carrie Snyder — participating teams refine their solutions over the course of three distinct phases, with the scope and complexity of the challenge growing at each phase. Ultimately, five teams earn the opportunity to compete for $30,000 USD in total cash prizes, awarded annually to those whose ideas spark the brightest hope for real world implementation and success. This year’s five teams of promising future innovators and change-makers were selected from among 11 semifinalist groups.

“We are excited by the record-breaking number of students who participated in the 2021 contest, and by their commitment to developing real-world solutions that address complex problems,” says Gayle DeBruyn, IIDA, LEED AP, sustainability officer at KCAD and an organizer of Wege Prize. “Every team presented a thoughtful and creative approach for helping transition our linear economy of taking, making and disposing, into a circular one that’s restorative by design. Ultimately, the final five teams have demonstrated the best of a collaborative and cross-disciplinary nature through their meaningful and actionable proposals.”

Reflecting Wege Prize’s expanding international presence, four of the finalist teams are from African countries, and one is from South America. Of the total, one group has addressed noise pollution, with the remaining four teams focused on food or agricultural problems facing the world today.

Wege Prize was established in 2013 to solve complex, layered problems and to encourage students in higher education to take a diverse, collaborative approach in developing new, tangible solutions to produce and consume essential goods in sustainable ways that are applied and used after the competition’s conclusion.

Many Wege Prize competitors have built their ideas into successful ventures. Examples from recent Wege Prize iterations include Rutopia, whose 2019 concepts for eco-sensitive tourism have got the attention of top editors at Forbes, among others. Another is the 2020 Wege Prize winner Hya Bioplastics, which created a process for blending dried water hyacinth fibers and boiled cassava starch to produce a biodegradable raw material used to make disposable food packaging. The venture’s cofounders have been accepted into a prestigious incubator and have advanced their business.

This year, a free livestream of the finalist teams, the 2021 Wege Prize Awards  — Game-Changing Solutions to Wicked Problems — will be held on May 21, 2021, when the top groups will present and defend their bold ideas in front of expert judges and a global online audience. Event details and registration can be found at https://wegeprize2021.eventbrite.com.

The five final teams competing for Wege Prize 2021 are:

Agritrade Hub

Addressing the wicked problem of increased logging in Ghana creating wood waste and sawdust – about 97,000 metric tons annually – and the mismanagement of waste disposal, the team’s solution proposes transforming wood waste into nutrient-based substrates for mushroom production, leading to mushroom compost for use in fertilizing and growing forest and ornamental trees, thereby eliminating all forms of wood waste and mitigating environmental impacts.

Agritrade Hub’s team members are all from Ghana. These students attend Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, University of Energy and Natural Resources, University of Ghana, and Earth University in Costa Rica.


Synthetic pesticides are a wicked problem the world over, extremely harmful to health and the environment. In Tanzania, pesticide residues have been detected in the samples of irrigation water, and this team is devising a closed-circle production system for tomatoes using organic pesticides from the Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia Diversifolia)

Sutote’s team members are from Tanzania and Malawi. These students attend Earth University in Costa Rica, Nkhoma University in Malawi, Hubert Kairuki Memorial University and the Water Institute in Tanzania.

Banga Na

With the high-waste problem of cashew apples causing bugs, environmental, and economic problems for local farmers in Ghana, this wicked problem may be addressed by a solution of adding value to cashew apples by converting the fruit to wine, juice, and organic fertilizer, generating income and employment from waste and improving food security and economic growth in the country.

Banga Na’s team members are from Ghana and Tanzania. These students attend University of Seoul in South Korea, Zhejiang Normal University in China, University of Professional Studies and University of Ghana.

The Chilensis

With overcrowding already a wicked problem in Santiago, Chile, the pandemic has aggravated the impact. The Chilensis is developing sound isolators using discarded palm leaves waste to improve the quality of life by providing privacy. Old palm leaves are treated as waste, but they have significant sound isolation properties and help address the challenge while creating a circular economic opportunity.

The Chilensis’ team members are all from Chile. These students attend Pontifical Catholic University of Chile and University of Santiago de Chile.


Using wood to fuel stoves for cooking has contributed to more than 80% of biomass fuels and deforestation in Uganda, making it a real wicked problem. This team has created a stove using solar power and water to fuel cooking, eliminating the need for wood fuel and helping reduce deforestation in Uganda. In addition, their solution includes a model to buy or repair used stoves to reuse raw materials.

Musana’s team members are all from Uganda. These students attend Makerere University, Kyambogo University, and Ndejje University.

More information about the teams could be found here.

Thanks to the continuing financial support of The Wege Foundation, Wege Prize 2021 has opened these unique opportunities for undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate students around the world and has helped advance the ideas and solutions behind the circular economy.

More details about Wege Prize 2021 will be revealed in the coming weeks on wegeprize.org.