This year, Solve the SDGs brought together almost 300 participants in Finland, along with around 50 in both Uganda and Tanzania. Five of those participants — Andrea Tauber, Anne Mensing, Adam Cowen, Enzo James and Raiza Salam — came to the hackathon with very different expectations and backgrounds. Despite the initial differences, they found each other not only as team members but also as friends.
Three of them — Andrea, Anne and Adam — come from Germany, Raiza is from India and Enzo was born in Italy to a French-British family. Their backgrounds vary from sustainable management and information systems to environmental engineering, film and design. This variance in know-how is one of the reasons they formed the team in the first place; after meeting each other by chance and chatting, they realized they would complement each other well. They were not wrong.
We spent half of the whole hackathon just talking about the problem.
After forming the team, the group faced the biggest challenge of their hackathon experience: choosing which problem to solve. “We formed the team before we even knew what challenge to pick,” they say. The team eventually landed on the “Packing up the future” challenge by VTT Future Food Packaging, but they needed to narrow it down a lot to come up with a concrete problem to solve. “I think we spent half of the whole hackathon just talking about the problem and possible solutions before we actually started to work on anything,” Enzo says.
On the second day, they started to feel a bit stressed — they still didn’t have anything concrete to work with. They talked with mentors from both VTT and other partners, looked at the problem from different angles, and really focused on forming the right question rather than coming up with an answer to the wrong one. At some point, Raiza was explaining how in India, when she lived with her grandparents, they bought all their groceries from vendors who came outside their house with fresh products. That’s when it hit them: could something like that work in a modern context? “It was like magic. We were getting desperate, and I was even starting to question our team. But when we had the idea, things just started working by themselves,” Raiza explains. Everyone fell into roles that fit them perfectly, and in no time at all, the first concept for Wasteless Wanderers was created.
We want to empower people to become part of the change and do things themselves.
The goal of the solution is to make zero-waste grocery products available for everyone. Zero-waste stores exist, but they’re few and far between and not very accessible to many people. Wasteless Wanderers proposes a network of electric vans that would deliver dry goods and seasonal produce without single-use packaging to people’s doorstep with the click of an app. Their franchising-based business model helps in scaling without hiring their own drivers and other significant expenses. “We want to empower people to become part of the change and do things themselves. With this model, people can choose what to sell, pick local products and be personal,” the team explains.
Raiza’s experience in filmmaking helped bring the idea to life, and it resonated well with the judges and the other participants — Wasteless Wanderers won both the VTT Future Food Packaging challenge and was voted the best project of Solve the SDGs 2023.
The win was a total surprise to the team, who, save for Enzo, had no experience in hackathons and mostly came to Solve the SDGs to see what it’s like and enjoy the atmosphere. After seeing how big the event was, some of them got a bit worried at first but soon relaxed after settling in with their team. “We had a good balance of competitiveness and chill in the team. I think we managed to do a lot without stressing too much,” Anne says, and Andrea continues: “We just hoped Enzo didn’t want to stay all night.” Enzo, who admits to being on the more competitive side, thinks the hackathon was well-balanced. “It was more serious than I thought, but the atmosphere was nice, and the workshops provided a good distraction,” he says.
The product is good, but the best outcome is our team.
Something that made Solve the SDGs stand out this year was that it was organized simultaneously in three countries: Finland, Tanzania and Uganda. While the other hubs weren’t too visible for the Finland hub participants during the hackathon, the team still thinks it provided value. “I liked the idea of connecting the Global North and Global South, as the context of the hackathon was sustainable development,” Adam says.
The next step for the team is a call with VTT and assessing if this is something that could become a real thing. Whether Wasteless Wanderers will see the light of day or not, the team is more than happy with their hackathon experience and what came out of it. “The product is good, but the best outcome is our team,” Enzo says. Even if Solve the SDGs is over for now, their team is not finished — we’ll see what they come up with next in Junction 2023.