Finding our focus

This project initially started when we, five master’s students from Aalto University, got accepted on the Sustainable Global Technologies Studio -course back in October 2018. We had our first official meeting with our mentor in December and since then it has been busy!

The background

Sustainable Global Technologies Studio is a course where multidisciplinary student teams work on sustainability related development projects with partners in other countries, and travel to the countries for field work. Our project in Uganda is under the PBL East Africa program that is facilitated by Aalto Global Impact and funded by the HEI ICI program of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland. In this project, we work together with two student teams from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. We keep closely in touch with the student teams in Makerere by messaging, video calling and sharing documents before and after the field trip, but of course the most intensive period of working together happens during the three weeks we spend in Uganda in February 2019!

The student teams in Makerere are working on two projects: constructed wetlands as a wastewater treatment method, and a filter to produce safe drinking water. We started to define our project and possibilities for working together based on these two topics. We quickly realized that in our team, we lack the technical knowledge about these specific water related projects, but have some expertise that complements both of them. We wanted to have social sustainability as the main focus of our project, and started to define the way we will go from there.

Defining our project

In the messages and Skype calls with our partner student teams in Uganda, we shared our goals and expectations from each other. The other two teams were busy with the technical aspects of their projects, and asked for our contribution with the business, community engagement, landscape design and overall sustainability aspects of their projects. In addition to this, we found out that they find it challenging to find a role in the multidisciplinary team for everyone, and the communication between professors and students is more hierarchical than what we’re used to in Aalto. Combining these findings, we came up with an idea of how we can work together and support each other.

Skype call with all the PBL East Africa Uganda teams this year!

Brainstorming project objectives.

We decided to start exploring the concept of a creative co-working space where students from different backgrounds can feel encouraged to share their ideas and promote innovation among the students of Makerere University. The space consists of the physical space which means the actual physical setting of a co-working space: an outdoor sitting area, a designated room in the library or perhaps a building dedicated to innovation activities such as workshops, group meetings and counseling sessions.

What is the ideal physical setting for co-working? What kind of facilities are needed? What kind of locations inspire and motivate people?

The other aspect of the space is the non-physical space which means the feeling, the atmosphere where people feel inspired and motivated, and where innovation can flourish. This can include for example consciously adopting specific ways of working when entering the space: welcoming all ideas without questioning, respecting and listening to everyone’s ideas regardless of their background or expertise, and avoiding distractions such as social media when working.

When do you feel encouraged to say your opinion out loud? What inspires you? When do you feel valued and welcome?

These kinds of questions are part of our research when we explored the culture of co-working in Makerere University and Kampala. To define the characteristics that are needed for creative co-working, we interview and observe our fellow PBL students, other students on campus, teachers, local community leaders and existing co-working initiatives on campus and around Kampala. In addition to the interviews, we want to test our findings by hosting workshops with the PBL students and collecting feedback. The workshop topics will be decided together with the Makerere PBL teams to complement their projects.

Project taking shape in one of the course workshops.

Let’s make it simple!

Why? To bring together people from different disciplines and promote creative co-working and innovation in Makerere University.

What? Exploring the co-working culture in Makerere and Kampala and using our findings to define and start developing a space where people want to work together and share their ideas.

How? Collecting data by observations and interviews on campus and in Kampala, testing our findings in workshops together with Makerere PBL teams and other students.

This is the starting point of our journey and we’re excited to see how the project develops on the way. We can’t wait to share our learning points, ups and downs and of course the friendships and connections we will make during this project course!

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