Business Spotlight

Young Innovators Spearhead Green Tech Solutions To Tackle Social Issues

Preethi, a class eight student of Atal Bihari Vajpayee Residential School (ABVRS) in Doddahalli of Pavagada taluk aims to build a robot to end scavenging! - Thanks to Quest Alliance

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Students working on basic skills such as casting, welding, etc, needed to develop their prototype at the Quest Alliance Advanced Inter-School Hackathon.
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The image of manual scavengers working at a pit, with dark coloured night soil smeared on their clothes and body, haunted her for a long time, making her wonder why humans are required do this inhuman work even today. 

Preethi, a class eight student of Atal Bihari Vajpayee Residential School (ABVRS) in Doddahalli of Pavagada taluk, shared her agonising thoughts with her classmates, who too empathized and sympathised with the plight of manual scavengers in their village.

The five-day Advanced Hackathon organised by Quest Alliance, a leading non-profit organisation, gave them the much-needed platform to explore some solutions to manual scavenging.

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To end scavenging and aid safai karmacharis to work with dignity, her team decided to build a robot that is a touch-sensor embedded, remote-controlled device that is linked to a server motor with 3D wood-cut wheels. 

Preethi is one of 13 students who participated in the Advanced Inter-School Hackathon held recently. Her teammate, Varun S, the vocal firebrand of the group, says he saw the plight of manual scavengers when he saw a protest in the news four years ago.

Students acquired skills like digital fabrication, casting, mold making, carpentry, and welding which will help them build working prototypes such as robots and other devices. Hackathons are exploratory spaces for young students, especially girls, to gain skills to disrupt the status quo and explore different solutions to a single problem. Overall, they empower students with 21st-century skills, a STEM mindset, and the curiosity to become future-ready.

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A study by Quest Alliance pointed out that more girls felt comfortable tinkering in the kitchen with ingredients like soda, turmeric, lemon, yeast, etc. to see how they behaved. Hence, the kitchen was the only area where female students (81.8%) outnumbered male students (71.9%) in taking risks and tinkering. When utilizing drills, pickaxes, shovels, hammers, and screwdrivers, boys fared 12 % better than girls (82.6% and 78.8 %, respectively). Suggesting that fewer women were able to recognize tools, apply them, and create solutions that addressed their issues. 

For another group of six girls — stray animals rummaging through soiled plates, leftover food, and rotting flowers outside a temple in Hoskote became the inspiration to design an Automated Compost Bin (ACB) that streamlined the process of composting biodegradable waste. The ACB regulates the moisture content of the organic waste by automatically supplying water, ensuring an optimal environment for composting.

Bheemamma H., Poojana, Mouna, Karuna Shalu, Rohini, and Priyashree of Government Girls High School (GGHS) built the ACB. They felt braver in voicing their ideas and taking calculated risks to bring out the best in their team.

Eighth grader, Kushboo Kumari and her group created a prototype that recycled pulped, waste paper using a battery-driven grinder. "The smoke from burning waste paper and stationery on our school ground suffocated us. This paper recycling model intends to combat air pollution."

The team from the Think Happy Everyday WORKSHOP who were co-facilitating the Hackathon observed phenomenal growth among the students in voicing ideas, resolving differences, and computational thinking. Additionally, the cohort affirmed that they could now fix wires, door hinges, nails, and do basic handiwork. 

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Taking a cue from the workshop, Bheemamma hopes to help her father in his construction work. "He uses several machines that I got to work with, so I have seen them in action. He can teach me other skills, like designing a house and plastering wall."

Like Bheemamma, Poojana hails from a family where her father is the sole breadwinner. Quest Alliance's impact came through in Poojana's words and aspirations, "I am optimistic about expanding my father's carpentry per diem service to a lucrative furniture business. The unique and sophisticated designs will target a niche market and ensure financial stability." Quest Alliance's parent engagement program creates a supportive environment at home for the girls to pursue their aspirations.

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Aparna Balakrishnan, Quest Alliance's Senior Program Manager (Schools), says, "We need more girls in STEM. They produce localized solutions relevant to their gender and communities. The underrepresentation of women eclipses their problems and presence in the industry. Additionally, STEM careers also empower women financially." 

She also added that involving women in design thinking can address gender-specific ergonomic gaps, like creating public spaces that prioritize women's comfort, safety, and accessibility which also expands their freedom and mobility.

Students will pitch their prototypes in the upcoming Hackathon round in March 2024 — marking their first entrepreneurial step. For grassroots change, Quest Alliance will create avenues where these ideas will be presented to local governments, schools, district authorities, and other funding partners of Quest Alliance.

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Quest Alliance's STEM work in Karnataka's government schools is supported by multiple funders including Kantar India Foundation and others.

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