It’s been said that it is by acts and not by ideas that people live. But even though that is true, it’s important to remember the words of famous actor Robin Williams on the subject: “No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.” At SP, all second-year students take the Social Innovation Project (SIP) module, where they examine a real-life social problem with the Design Thinking methodology. They form teams with fellow students from other schools and come up with fresh ideas to solve it. SPIRIT finds out what two groups learnt about Singapore’s social problems, and whether they have a SIP that can change the world.
DA BAO 2.0
In polys and universities, takeaway containers and styrofoam boxes are commonly used. Students who can’t find seats in food courts will just da bao (which means “takeaway” in Chinese) meals, sometimes consuming them just a few metres from the food court.
Singapore as a whole generates about 6.9 million tons of waste yearly, with each person generating 1,330kg on average. The top three waste types are plastics (23 per cent of all waste), food (21 per cent) and paper and cardboard (21 per cent). Da bao-ing plays a significant part in this, yet most people can’t do without the convenience of it, despite wanting to help the environment.
These facts and attitudes were researched by the team behind Da Bao 2.0, a takeaway container that improves on current da bao practices. The team’s design uses biodegradable materials (wastewater sludge, a by-product of paper manufacturing). It also comes with a handle to remove the need for a plastic carrier, and has a latch to hold a fork and spoon.
Although they had other environmentally-friendly ideas at first, the team methodically narrowed the list down to Da Bao 2.0. Says teammate Arix Phua (Diploma in Information Technology – DIT), “We had to fulfil several criteria in order to meet the needs of our user profile – people who want to help the environment while still having the freedom to take away their food. We couldn’t freely just ‘dream up a product’. We had to think about the user experience and choose our concept carefully.”
Guiding that process along was Design Thinking, a methodology emphasising creative thinking tools and a deep understanding of a client or product user’s situation and needs. “I think Design Thinking helped me greatly in learning about the potential users of my product. I believe it’s a great tool for school projects, work life, and just understanding others in general,” says Muhd Mubaarak Bin Abdul Salam (Diploma in Aeronautical Engineering – DARE).
The team hopes that ideas like theirs will not just reduce waste build-up statistics, but also create an attitude change. “Convenience has set into our culture today, so much so that it is only natural for the younger generation,” says Tan Xin Ru (Diploma in Tourism and Resort Management – DTRM). “Wouldn’t it be great to start from scratch on a new piece of canvas, and plant seeds for a new generation to have a greater concern for the environment?”
“Something that might interest many is the fact that recycling is still the least effective of the three Rs,” adds Mubaarak. “It should be practiced last after reduce and reuse. This is what is needed for greater reduction of waste overall.”
The population in Singapore is aging, just like in many developed cities around the world. With less young people caring for the elderly, dementia is now a chief problem, a broad category of brain diseases that causes a gradual decrease in a person’s ability to think and remember things.
Elderly people with dementia have problems taking medication. They are often required to consume many types of medicine at different times of the day, but some cannot remember which to eat. And they don’t always have their children looking after them. Some young adults admit that they forget to remind their parents about their medication because they are busy at work.
This situation was studied by Koh Shao Wen and Ng Shi Hui (both from the Diploma in Business Administration – DBA), and Lee Wei Chen (Diploma in Clean Energy – DCEG), who interviewed several families to learn more about their struggles in caring for family members stricken with dementia.
Their response to the issue is Ga-Cha-Med, a specialised medicine dispenser. The project’s name is inspired by Gachapon, a popular vending machine that dispenses toys contained inside capsules. Similarly, the Ga-Cha-Med unit dispenses medicine in a capsule, but at pre-programmed times with a signal to alert the users to take their pills. “We hope to lessen the burdens of families that need to constantly remind elders to take the correct medication at the right time. This allows the children to worry less about their parents, especially when they’re working.”
A camera is installed in the Ga-Cha-Med unit so that children can monitor if their parents have taken their medicine on time. Other useful features include a touch screen which allows users to save important phone contacts, listen to songs and the radio, and look at photos in the photo gallery section. This makes it a one-stop, multi-function device for its elderly user. Shao Wen feels that the project has showed her more about the importance of family. “The elderly are constantly facing difficulties in their life, such as eating the right amount of medicine regularly. Their family plays a crucial role in ensuring that their burdens are eased and that they can live more happily each day.”