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UEA entrepreneurs create sustainable solutions in ‘Social Storm’

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Devising a way for a Kenyan community to build sustainable housing and earn a living has won three University of East Anglia (UEA) students this year’s global Social Storm competition.

Part of Global Entrepreneurship Week, which runs until 20 November, the competition challenged students from 20 universities in eight countries to find a solution to one of the United Nation’s Global Goals of food security and sustainable housing – in just 24 hours.

UEA’s students formed a team with Edinburgh and Aston university students, using virtual communications technology to develop, test and deliver their project in the form of a viable business case and video.

“I’m from Kenya and understand the need for improved, sustainable housing, as the mud buildings commonly used are damaged by the heat and rain,” said Philosophy, Politics and Economics student Muqaddam Malik. “I had the idea of building an eco-village – but the huge challenge was working as a new, virtual team to develop it into a workable concept over such a short and intense period of time.”

James Page, who’s studying Intercultural Communication and Business Management, recognised the potential of using hemp to construct the houses, replacing the existing mud huts with homes built from hempcrete, a low-cost and sustainable alternative to concrete, and other environmentally-friendly materials such as bamboo. The villagers could grow the hemp and also use it to generate an income by creating and selling products such as paper and textiles.

“I’d seen hemp growing in fields here in Norfolk and knew it could be used in many different ways,” he said. “Luckily, we had the right set of skills in our team to develop the idea.”

Joshua Loftus, also an Intercultural Communication and Business Management student, added: “By taking part in social storm, I learned that I’m capable of being involved in potentially changing people’s lives around the world. This has inspired me to set my goals high as, with hard work and dedication, they are achievable.”

Finbarr Carter, UEA’s Enterprise Development Officer and one of the Social Storm founders, said: “The competition is in line with our ethos of encouraging sustainable development and entrepreneurship and we’re very proud of our winners, as well as the 39 other competitors who took part. They worked under extreme pressure and generated some exciting ideas – demonstrating the power of combining technology and motivated people to solve big problems in a small amount of time.

“Muqaddam, James and Joshua, along with their teammates, identified a real issue and demonstrated deep understanding in creating a solution, even consulting a local NGO to assess its viability.

Their concept has genuine potential to build a revenue stream for the community, rather than simply paying for an initiative that isn’t sustainable in the longer term. Our next step is to support them in turning it into a reality.”