U21 & PwC Innovation Challenge - Past Winners Report From Dubai

In times of rapid international change, the ability to innovate is becoming more critical than ever. So what better skill set to place at the heart of learning for today's graduates?

U21 and PwC had this intention in mind when the Innovation Challenge was launched. The competition aims to create worldwide networks of talent, where students at U21 member universities have the opportunity to be exposed to global work opportunities and work alongside fellow students from other countries to propose new solutions to real-world dilemmas. With the opportunity to make valuable connections, receive career coaching and connect on an international scale, the challenge enhances workplace skills that are extremely valuable to both students and employers.

In 2019/2020, three talented students beat a total of 44 entrants to win the top prize of a week-long, all-expenses-paid trip to PwC Middle East in Dubai for bespoke careers coaching, plus sessions with the PwC Academy. No one could have anticipated at the time that the Covid-19 pandemic would shortly grip the globe, forcing all international travel to shut down.

Now that restrictions have eased, our 2019/2020 winners have finally been able to take their trip and have been reflecting on their experiences. James Tait and Christopher Girardi from the University of Melbourne and Daniel Student from the University of California, Davis have just returned after having to wait two years to claim their well-deserved prize.

Commented Christopher Girardi: "My biggest takeaway from visiting Dubai was the fascinating regulatory challenges that arise in a region that is a melting pot of different cultures and beliefs. In particular, it was great to understand more about how PwC leverages new technologies to drive innovative solutions while still remaining sensitive to the regulatory and cultural contexts in which those solutions will operate."

Entrants to the 2019/2020 competition were asked to respond to the following question: ‘How can universities help individuals gain a broader perspective on the long-term impact and consequences of their day-to-day actions on people, society and the environment? What types of jobs will an environmentally sensitive economy need, and what is the best way to prepare students for them?’. 

What emerged was a fascinating deep dive into the perspective of current students facing the challenges of climate change face on.

Yomna Nassar, Manager at PwC Middle East (Government & Public Sector Consulting - Education & Skills), commented at the time: ‘I was really impressed by the great selection of videos and high participants’ turnout in this year’s innovation challenge. The ideas presented were innovative, clearly framed and supported by solid research. There certainly isn't a better time to reflect on the impact of our day to day actions on people, society and the environment.’ 

Christopher Girardi

Christopher Girardi

After completing his placement with PwC Middle East, Christopher has had time to reflect on the future direction he would like to take. He continues: "Having focussed much of my studies on the intersection between emerging technologies and the law, I’ve come to realise just how important that human-centred approach is to driving change that is responsive to people and organisation’s unique needs. I’m looking forward to taking practical examples from Dubai with me to help continue doing this both in my work in government this year, and as I move to private legal practice next year. 

I’m so grateful to PwC – and, in particular, Salah Helmy – for hosting us and making this trip happen despite the challenging circumstances of the past few years. Thanks as well to U21 for their continued work to connect and engage universities and students across the world."

The videos submitted for the current 2022 U21 PwC Innovation Challenge are now live - see what you think of this year's talent! News of the finalists will be released this month.