“We can do more than talk about the greatest problems facing our world, we will set the course to solve them”

The innovationXchange recently partnered with MIT SOLVE and The Atlassian Foundation on a global challenge to find solutions to support disadvantaged youth to develop the skills they need for the workforce of the future. Solve-a-thons have already been held in 9 locations across the Indo-Pacific region, with the aim of workshopping solutions to the problem statement, “How can disadvantaged youth learn the skills they need to prepare them for the workforce of the future and thrive in the 21st century?” Maria Ronna Luna Pastorizo-Sekiguchi attended the Solve-a-thon in Suva, Fiji.

Maria Ronna Luna Pastorizo-Sekiguchi
 

As a female entrepreneur running a Fiji-based creative communications studio, I am in the business of continuously coming up with ideas that convey messages with impact. So when an inaugural Solve-a-thon event to be held in Fiji came up on my radar, needless to say, I couldn’t register fast enough. My company’s mantra is “inspiring change,” and this is completely aligned with an afternoon of ideation with a diverse group of local change-makers, designed to find innovative solutions to our region’s problems.

I was the first eager participant who sat on one of the chairs located in the front middle table. I sat front and centre because I like to think that I stopped being shy when I was perhaps six years old! Soon, a Colorado native who is currently volunteering in Fiji, sat next to me. We had some animated discussion about education and shared our excitement for the event about to commence. By start time, we were joined by five more, all of them students from The University of the South Pacific (USP). There was a Biology student; a young woman studying Law and Economics; another who is majoring in Mechanical Engineering but moving to do English Literature instead; and lastly, two Accounting and Economics majors.

The usual formalities ensued before we tackled the main SOLVE Challenge of the day which centred on the question, “How can disadvantaged youth learn the skills they need to prepare them for the workforce of the future and thrive in the 21st century?” Sara Monteabaro of MIT SOLVE dropped the most memorable line for me in her introduction about Academics being good at identifying problems but not necessarily good at solving them. As a businesswoman, overcoming challenges and barriers is part of my everyday language. To survive in business, it is a must to walk the talk, and it was encouraging to hear the very words of the MIT President about SOLVE being created so “we can do more than talk about the greatest problems facing our world, we will set the course to solve them.”

They say that beginnings are always the hardest, and this cliché was especially true for our team. As each individual in our group made sense on how we could function well together, we slowly sputtered like an engine that is just waking up after a long, cold slumber. We could not finish the first worksheet, which asked the question, “Who are we designing for?” You could call it teething problems but we had some difficulty as we stumbled even to the next part of the session, which involved writing all possible solutions that popped into our heads on post-it notes. When we started sharing our ideas in a circle to cluster them into groups, our team finally managed to find some genuine flow. We gained momentum as we bounced our ideas off each other. By the time we were discussing our solution’s design details and preparing our pitch, we were soaring sky-high.

The ideation process in action.

Our team created a persona based on the 10-year-old son of the only male in our group. Nacanieli is a young Fijian boy whose vision is severely impaired from birth, and he lives in a village all the way in the interior, up in the Fijian highlands. His family is ashamed to have a child with a disability, and they do not have the resources to send their son to a special school which are few and far in between even in the nation’s capital of Suva. The biggest problem we believed that needed to be addressed was the stigma that surrounds families who have children with a disability.

By prioritizing the range of ideas we had as a team, we were able to pinpoint which one would greatly help solve this problem. The Sigavou Centre is a centrally located, one-stop centre for families who have children with a disability, where they can seek family counseling, attend social activities, use accessible resources and materials as well as participate in arts, music and drama learning sessions. Sigavou means “a new dawn” in iTaukei (Fijian language), and we felt that it was a fitting name for a safe place of hope, learning and belonging where the solution is family and community-focused.

Our pitch was well received. In retrospect, who would have thought that all five teams could come up with so many ideas and pitch the best one to an imaginative audience of investors within three hours? But that is what we did. The important thing now is what we do next. August 1 is the deadline to submit viable pitches to SOLVE, and the chosen ideas will benefit from a total of $2 million generously funded by DFAT’s innovationXchange and The Atlassian Foundation.

So, where do I go from here? I think holding mini and internal Solve-a-thon events to fortify particular ideas with action plans would be an obvious next step. I can do this with my company in partnership with organisations that have similar values.

Together we can develop a compelling pitch to deal with a nationwide or Pacific-wide problem by the August deadline.

How about you? If you were given the opportunity to help solve one of the greatest problems of our time, what would you do?

About the author:

Maria Ronna Luna Pastorizo-Sekiguchi is the Founder and Managing and Creative Director of The Greenhouse Studio, a multidisciplinary creative design and communications studio based in Fiji that was started with the philosophy that finding creative solutions can inspire real change in the world.

Ronna has participated in a number of programs including the 2016 Global Ambassador Program – a Vital Voices and Bank of America partnership, and the East-West Centre’s Changing Faces Leadership Seminar: Women as Innovators and Entrepreneurs held in Hawai’i in 2014. She is also the Vice-President of Graduate Women (Fiji) which focuses on empowering women and girls through education.

You can connect with Ronna on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram or Vimeo.

Main image:
The Phoenix Team at the Solve-a-thon held at Holiday Inn, Suva. From left: Ili, Jodi, Ronna, Maggie and Naca.

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