U21 and PwC Middle East announce the 2022 winners of their Innovation Challenge

Rocket taking off from launch pad

Can bright young minds working together across borders be the key to taking on some of the global challenges society faces?

That’s the hope behind the U21 and PwC Innovation Challenge, which brings together graduate students from across U21’s membership network of 28 universities across the world. Originally set up to encourage post-graduate students to engage with real-world challenges, the 2022 competition asked students to examine sustainability in business practices. Now in its fourth year, the Innovation Challenge aims to encourage international collaboration in higher education and to provide students just embarking on their careers with a global networking opportunity.

Open to all graduate students across the U21 network, this year's challenge asked the participants: “To what extent should governments support the private sector in managing and prioritizing their Environmental, Societal and Governance agenda?”

Research conducted by international business consultancy PwC found that strategy among CEOs is still driven primarily by business metrics that are often at odds with sustainability. Innovation Challenge students were asked to evaluate the extent to which they thought governments should support the private sector in address environmental and societal concerns.

Sally Jeffery, Global Education & Skills Network Leader for PwC Middle East and a founder of the Innovation Challenge, commented: “We were really pleased with the innovative responses to the important challenge set to the students this year. With COP27 taking place in Egypt, followed by the next COP conference in Dubai, it felt timely for us here at PwC Middle East to address these complex questions with students through the Innovation Challenge. I would say to the students that we live in a very complex world where it is important to have an opinion and to be courageous about that opinion. And above all, stay curious.”

The U21 and PwC Innovation Challenge has two parts. The first is made up of an individual question that participating students must tackle and distil into a three-minute video response for the judging panel. Successful finalists from phase one were then grouped into international teams and given further tasks before pitching a team response back to the panel.

The winning team included: Sarah Arsalan of McMaster University in Canada, Yuqing Liu from the National University of Singapore, Olaoluwa Ogunseun of the University of Connecticut in the United States and Likitha Silapurem of the University of Melbourne in Australia.

Their insightful response looked at factors that could be used to support positive change such as creating an internationally-agreed standard of data collection to inform decisions on climate change, governments holding corporations accountable by strengthening regulation on labels such as ‘carbon-neutral’ and cracking down on misuse, linking COP goals with incentives such as favourable business rates for low-emissions companies and a greater focus on supporting climate-positive infrastructure.

Judges were hugely impressed with the creative and considered responses from participants and commended the teams on their ability to break down complex topics into a comprehensive but digestible response.

Winning team member Sarah Arsalan commented: “It’s something new to me to work with a team from so many different subject disciplines. I’ve never had the chance before to work with such an international team.”

Olaoluwa Ogunseun added – “The diversity and balance of the team was a big advantage. We all had different opinions and so that research and experience from daily life was brought into the project and let us include many different perspectives.”

The creativity and collaboration shown in the course of the challenge was truly inspiring to our judging panel, who hope the competition has given participants an international network of peers. The winning team will receive bespoke careers coaching with PwC.

Students interested in taking part in next years’ Innovation Challenge should sign up to the U21 Connect newsletter for the latest updates or visit: https://universitas21.com/get-involved/u21-global-student/u21pwc-innovation-challenge.