Meet the winner –Tse Uweja
Growing up surrounded by a diversity of cultures has allowed me to appreciate the integral role of design and engineering in solutions for global sustainable development, as well as the importance of diverse thinking and inclusive leadership in problem solving; university has been a great way to dive into and explore this more.
One of the biggest projects I have been involved in while at university is Cascade — a student start-up harnessing the power of individual action to tackle the climate crisis and create a more sustainable world. The idea of Cascade came to me while brushing my teeth and trying to decide whether it would be worth switching to a bamboo toothbrush. An environmental analysis would provide an answer, but this would require hours of number crunching for just the first of many decisions I would make in a day that impact the environment — it would be a lot more convenient to have an app or something that would just tell me the best way to live more sustainably ! Since then, the idea has grown to what is now a 60-strong international team of people working together to change the dynamics of climate change with interest from the United Nations Association. Our unique approach starts by translating leading climate research into practical steps that individuals can take to make a real impact. We then use behavioural science to understand the ways in which we can consistently engage everyday individuals as let’s face it, changing habits is hard. This gets converted into innovative app features that will provide a tailored experience, giving specific suggestions, tracking progress and building a community for users. Key to our approach is the ripple effect — that is the effect of our actions on influencing friends and family. In climate science discourse there exists a false dichotomy between systemic change and individual action; in reality these things are not polar opposites but in fact contribute to each other — we can influence industry by our purchasing decisions and can influence governments and policies by how we communicate our values and beliefs. Cascade captures users’ changing behaviour to use as evidence to drive this more systemic change. Essentially, we make sustainability sustainable by being a credible, easy-to-use tool, to help the average person. We’re currently developing our MVP with hope to start beta-testing in the next few months. To this end we’re looking for interns with 4–12 weeks free in the summer to join us in making this happen. Additionally, we’re looking to collaborate with interested post-graduate students, researchers and experienced entrepreneurs to shape the way we develop to maximise our impact.
The society in which Cascade sits is Impact Through Innovation Cambridge (ITIC) — a university society supporting innovative projects that tackle global challenges. Over the last three years, I have had the pleasure of being involved in this society working on challenges such as homelessness, the plastic pollution problem, and meeting the demand of ventilators during the COVID-19 pandemic — many of which have been supported by the Centre for Global Equality. This year our focus was inspiring careers in impact, hosting events with speakers from the World Bank, WASH government policy advisors, and award winning social entrepreneurs.
Through my roles as a JCR BME Officer and the CUES Diversity Officer, I have had the opportunity to run events and develop schemes to support students from underrepresented backgrounds feel more confident in the university space. Volunteering with Target Oxbridge (the reason I applied to Cambridge) as well as with CAMBassadors at BME Access Events revealed to me that many students are discouraged from applying to Cambridge as they don’t think it’s for people like them. To address this, I set up aim to demystify what it’s like to be from an underrepresented ethnic group at the University of Cambridge and thereby encourage more students to confidently apply to the university. So far we have been able to amass over 1,500 followers on social media and have featured on the BBC. Over this summer we hope to expand aim+ to provide support to international students as well as postgraduate students and are hoping to expand our team to give capacity for this.
Some may think that diversity and education access are on the other end of the social action spectrum to sustainability activism, but to me they go hand in hand: you can’t create a more sustainable, equitable world without all voices at the table. Sustainability goes beyond just the environment, and needs to include the social welfare and justice of all people. This has inspired me to get involved in the projects I have been involved in and drives me to continue to innovate new solutions with people at the centre.
Over the next academic year I am excited to continue to develop Cascade and grow aim as well as embark on new projects such as Embrace Cambridge (who are working to end homelessness in Cambridge) through Just Love.