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College Resident Tutor showcases plastic circular economy concept for refugees at United Nations

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News | 7 Nov 2018

Australian social entrepreneur and St John’s College Resident Tutor, William Chan, recently presented his innovative plastic upcycling project for youth in refugee camps at the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly in New York. William intends to share his experience with students at St John’s College and inspire them to adopt environmentally sustainable practices.

William shared his social design initiative at the High Level Meeting on Social Business, Youth and Technology to an esteemed panel of global leaders including Nobel Peace Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus and MIT Professor of Practice, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Rajesh Nair.

The event brought together government and business leaders, social entrepreneurs, civil society leaders and inspiring young thinkers to apply the methodology of social business, harness the creativity of youth and the power of rapidly changing technology to commit young people to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

William’s initiative aims to build refugees’ capacity in life-shaping skills for the 21st Century, specifically in design-based problem solving and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education. The project was developed while he was an executive education and innovation Fellow of the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE).

“By advocating the use of design and emerging technologies, we can inspire and educate refugee communities to be innovative architects of their lives and their environment,” explained William.

In addressing young leaders like William working towards achieving the SDGs, Professor Yunus said, “Imagination is the path. Let your imagination go out – as wild as you can get. So that you can design a world of your own imagination. Once you have done that, let’s say how to make the road to get there. Imagination doesn’t cost you money, it doesn’t cost you anything. But it is a very powerful thing for you.”

“Build a new civilisation – a civilisation based on empathy, a civilisation based on co-existence and peace. That’s the civilisation you have to build. It’s your task now.”

In Greece, the problem of plastic waste in the Skaramagas and Eleonas refugee camps was identified with the community. Co-created with the refugee youth, the response to this problem ws the development of a program to enable plastic waste to be upcycled, through refining and extruding the plastic into 3D-printing filament material. In partnership with local Greek architects and engineers, the team successfully produced filament from discarded plastic bottles found from the Eleonas refugee camp in Athens. This means a limitless possibility of useful items to be 3D-printed to improve the built Environment from recycled plastic.

An accompanying educational curriculum toolkit assists the beneficiaries in integrating with the host community and in employment opportunities as they develop problem solving, entrepreneurship and digital literacy skills through the program. The initiative addresses the UN’s 2030 Agenda through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on education, innovation, sustainable cities and communities, and responsible consumption and production.

William, a UNICEF Australia Young Ambassador during the 25th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, also represented young people at the UN General Assembly in launching the UN Youth 2030 Strategy and UNICEF’s global educational and training partnership, ‘Generation Unlimited’. Unveiled by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, the strategy reflected the UN’s new commitment to working with and for young people to “ensure that every young person is in education, learning, training or employment by 2030.”

William’s previous experiences working on sustainability and urban inclusion projects in the informal settlements of South Africa, India and Colombia has shaped his creative development in the refugee camp context and in youth engagement.

He believes that, “Refugee camps around the world should no longer be viewed as temporary settlements but as our future cities. We need to design these communities with dignity at the core so that refugee camps become hubs of innovation.”

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