Youth design solutions to big issues
24 January 2020

Youth design solutions to big issues

Should our youth help solve some of society’s most pressing problems, including mental health, unemployment and climate change?

This rhetorical question was considered by the City of Onkaparinga last year, reasoning that while these issues affect everyone, young people will be impacted the most.

“It’s their future, they have an interest in making it a promising one,” said Wilson Ndung’u, Youth Community Development Officer, who was tasked with coordinating the pilot youth program. “They’re also creative thinkers, not restrained by protocol and if given the right tools, they could add something valuable to the discussion.”

An expression of interest was circulated and so began a project that delivered more than expected, with nine teams taking up the Onkaparinga Innovation Challenge. The teams comprised students aged between 14 and 19 years with each choosing a topic of interest, then over five weeks they developed an innovative solution in partnership with educators, industry experts and the council.

The collaboration gave teams the skills to tackle complex issues using design thinking methodology that helped to turbo-charge problem solving ideas. These were then pitched to a panel of stakeholders at the inaugural event, Innovators on the Couch, at the Hopgood Theatre on 22 November.

Participating schools included Cardijn College (four teams), Christies Beach High School Flow Program, Seaford Secondary College, Wirreanda Secondary School, and Woodcroft College (two teams).

Youth design solutions to big issues

The pitches

Bad news bombards us every time we consume print and digital media. Why is that? The answer — as the Sun and Stars team discovered — is because it sells. But an Instagram account packed with uplifting and meaningful content would reverse the problem, they pitched.

The Mind Works team set out to intercept triggers for anxiety and depression through a high school website that provides fast facts about symptoms and a portal for professional help.

Stress Busters also addressed mental health by converting school spaces into a wellness hub that’s inclusive and imparts a sense of belonging.

Beez Knees saw regional biodiversity as an essential step towards addressing climate change. Plants attract bees, which pollinate our crops and help put food on our plates, so a fundraiser would buy plants, with local schools invited to participate in a working bee.

The Geeks’ idea was to create an app that connects job seekers with employers by dissolving bias and other barriers experienced by unemployed youth. Focus group research was key to their app design.

Construction of Cardijn College’s innovation centre inspired the following pitches:

The Good Company looked at ways to ensure the running costs were minimal, which included using renewable energy as well as skylights to reflect heat yet filter natural light into the classrooms.

Youth design solutions to big issues

Sky Design found concrete tilt-up walls were environmentally responsible and plants and grass bordering the building would cool the complex and be aesthetically pleasing.

Solo Ride pitched a large scale solar panel installation. Renewable energy is both environmentally and economically efficient, convincing the panel that the college would “never have to pay an electricity bill again”.

Student Construction Company aims to relieve stress, stimulate learning, and foster community through open spaces and a communal water feature.

The panel

These pitches were presented to a panel comprising representatives from Innovation and Enterprise Program at Flinders University; Natural Resources Management (Southern), Headspace Noarlunga, Australian Centre for Social Innovation, and a former Wall Street advisor.

Youth design solutions to big issues

How did the teams go?

Exceptional, the panel said, commending teams for pitching ideas based on in-depth research, creative problem-solving skills, and empathy. “Congratulations, you are tackling big issues and we don’t want you to stop.

“Think big, make an impact and go out and decide the future,” said Innovation and Enterprise director, Margaret Ledwith.

The final word went to guest speaker, Onkaparinga’s youngest innovator and the world’s youngest NASA ambassador, Megha Wijewardanez: “Keep innovating; life is like a physics equation — if you go straight to the answer it will be hard, but if you break it down into smaller parts it will be easier,” the nine-year-old said.


Cardijn College students Angel, Bayley, Charlotte and Karl; a design in progress; Innovators on the Couch; guest speaker Megha Wijewardanez.

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