UN-led open design challenge held in Beijing to showcase how tech innovation can tackle social development challenges in China

Apr 25, 2017

25 April, Beijing – China’s first ever UN-led open design challenge concluded today in Beijing’s 798 Art District, with 10 finalists showcasing innovative tech solutions designed to find solutions for pressing development challenges in China.

The Geek for Good Open Design Challenge was co-hosted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and technology giant Baidu, encouraging people across the country to put forward their innovative concepts, and providing a unique platform for combining advanced technology with the innovative power of Chinese community-led groups. Across the world, prize challenges are designed to galvanize individuals, inspire ambition and provide a platform for innovative solutions. Leveraging on cutting-edge technology and the UN’s development expertise, “Geek-For-Good” was the first to focus specifically on promoting sustainable development in China.

“This initiative reflects the power of innovation in the technology arena for creating new ideas that can help solve critical development issues.” Said Agi Veres, Country Director of UNDP China. “By working with Baidu to create a platform where community groups can showcase their ideas, this event clearly highlights a depth of creativity, and the potential innovation has for promoting sustainable development in China.”

The solutions were required to utilize new technologies and provide innovative methods for addressing challenges in four focus areas: poverty, transport, disaster management and environment. The challenge attracted 2075 applications that were narrowed down to 10 finalists though a two-stage selection process. These finalists pitched their solutions in front of a top-notch judge panel comprised of renowned international and national experts from the technology, investment, and development world at the final competition.

“Innovation has no boundaries, and responsibility extends to everyone. We initiated this plan with UNDP to create more opportunities for social development, and we are thrilled to be able to contribute Baidu's technological expertise and abilities to support innovators, helping them realize their potential and help people in the process.” Said Zhang Yaqin, President of Baidu.

The Geek for Good Open Design Challenge showed a wide span in terms of age, ranging from 15 to 63. The finalists’ innovations were themselves diverse, ranging from the mechanical spider Arachnobot, deployable in disaster situations where human lives would be at risk, to Smart Med, a cheap, scalable alternative for early identification of lung cancer. By fostering creativity among community-led and youth groups, Geek for Good provides a template for future initiatives that can place innovation and technology at the heart of sustainable development.

"I never imagined my project could be incubated from such an inadvertent idea!" Said Yupeng Zhang, a college student whose submission, SharedPark, provides parking solutions for users to quickly locate parking spaces in the city. "The first time I came across "Geek for Good" was at the workshop held in the United Nations compound in January. During the workshop, my idea of ​​a sharing app for parking spaces had great responses from the audience. This gave me the confidence to go back to school and begin working with my friends and technical partners. Geek for Good is a great way to help people build their ideas, and I am very thankful to have this opportunity!”

Scientist Zhang Weili and her team from Harvest Genius introduced a mobile based fertilization technology communications platform, easily accessible by farmers working across China, aiming to solve issues with fertilizer overuse that often lead to pollution. She shared her feelings from the competition, “Innovation not only needs creative ideas, but also the experience and expertise to implement. Experienced professionals have a rich network of knowledge, which is a clear advantage for scaling. However, I am very honoured to work and communicate with these young people, as it is a process of learning for me. I can now see that the future of Chinese innovation lies in the ability of platforms such as Geek for Good to proliferate creative ideas”.

An expert panel discussion also took place during the event, engaging influential people from the technology, academic and development practitioners to share their insights on how tech-based responsible innovation can transform the society and generate public goods.

For more information about the competition and the winning teams, please click here, or visit: innovation.baidu.com

Contact information

Ms. ZHANG Wei, Chief Communications Officer, and UNDP China Tel: +8610 8532 0715, Email: wei.zhang@undp.org