A team of SFU undergraduate students earned first place at the Oxford Global Challenge, an international social innovation competition, earlier this month for their research on reducing medical waste.
The trio — science students Iman Baharmand and Alec Yu, and business student Kimberley Venn — beat out 14 other teams from around the world.
“The experience at the international championships was very encouraging,” said Baharmand, who is in third year biological sciences. “We met individuals from around the world who had passionately devoted time to researching a problem that had impacted their communities.”
The students took home a prize of over $5,000 and tickets to two global conferences from the championship held in Oxford in the United Kingdom on April 30 and May 1.
“Winning first place was so much more than just a prize or a placement for us,” noted Venn, a second year business student. “As it truly represented the hard-work and dedication that so many members of the SFU community and the healthcare community put into our project.”
The trio was already friends prior to deciding to join together to tackle the project.
“Our team formed through an interest about the research focus and because the problem of medical waste is very interdisciplinary we were each able to apply new perspectives to the project,” Baharmand explained.
The team noticed that the vast majority of medical waste produced is non-hazardous and due to hospital overstocking and excessive packaging. They felt compelled to address the issue.
“Our research dug into the roots of these issues and discovered why they were so persistent,” said Yu, a third-year student in biomedical physiology. “We also mapped the current landscape of private and non-profit solutions to this problem, both nationally and internationally, illustrating their strengths and gaps while laying a path for effective new interventions.”
The team achieved the opportunity to represent Canada at the international competition after excelling at the national finals held in Calgary in March. They were encouraged to enter the competition thanks to RADIUS, a Beedie School of Business social change lab. According to Yu, the trio was intrigued by the Global Challenge because, rather than focus on the implementation of a business plan, it offered a rare chance to explore the issue in depth.
“We felt this approach to be especially productive, particularly in the healthcare landscape, as each problem tends to be exceedingly complex with no straightforward cure,” he noted.
Baharmand, Venn, and Yu are looking forward to expanding their research in the future and conducting more studies on the amount of waste produced in the hospital setting.
“In the process of doing field research for this project, we were overwhelmed by the amount of support we received from the healthcare community here in BC,” Yu said. “We hope to […] change public opinion on medical waste, and perhaps even develop interventions with the help of partner physicians.”