GSIF Week Four: Design Processes

Based on your life experience, skills and interests, what would a design process that is both uniquely yours and effective look like?

  1. Empathize: People are exposed to an existing issue or system that brings them dissatisfaction or empathy towards the situation. People involved start to build up a desire and passion to take action in order to make an impactful change on the existing system in hopes of a better situation.
    • The plastic waste problem is global and even here in the United States, you can’t walk down the street without seeing an empty soda bottle tossed to the side or a plastic bag caught in a tree. This, as well as our group’s passion for encouraging a more sustainable society, sparked the passion we have for this project.
  2. Explore: People investigate the current issue in-depth to see the big picture. People gain an understanding of the five Ws & H(who, what,  when, where, why, and how) towards the situation.
    • We are currently in this stage of the project where we are reaching out to our contacts in the Philippines and trying to better understand the role that plastic waste plays in their society. We are also conducting research on companies who are already profiting from re-purposing recycled plastic.
  3. Define: People pinpoint and clearly define the problem that resulted in the existence of the current situation.
    • The global plastic waste issue is too big for our team to tackle alone. However, in the Philippines, plastic is often recycled and sorted, but ends up in a landfill which spills over into the ocean. Our team has defined this mishandling of already recycled plastics as the key problem that our project will try to address.
  4. Ideate/Research: Develop initial ideas to combat the problem. Conduct research to determine whether or not similar problems exist(ed) in other areas and determine whether an existing solution has been applied. Develop a finalized solution to tackle the problem with initial ideas and information gathered from research.
    • In the initial stages of our project, our team believes that building machines that can manufacture a suite of products, such as plastic bricks that can lock up a large volume of plastic waste, is a solution worth pursuing further. There are several companies that already produce building bricks from plastic, so we are hoping to scale this to be viable in Filipino communities.
  5. Prototype: Develop a prototype of the solution. Document and take note of any issue that arises from the production process.
    • We have a team with diverse skill-sets, which will allow us to develop a prototype while taking into account many factors. Susan, Andy, and Ellie are all mechanical engineers, but each with different interests. Kelly has experience in supply chain, and I am experienced with polymer processing and material properties.
  6. Test: Conduct a trail of the solution in a small scale setting. Get the community involved in the trial for feedbacks. Make adjustments and changes according to the feedback. Repeat steps five and six as needed.
    • This step will come into play as we conduct field work this summer.
  7. Implementation: Implement the solution at full scale. Make minor adjustments as needed.
    • This will hopefully come several years down the line if our project is successful and spreads to the barangays of Manila.
  8. Feedback: Generate feedback from the community on the solution implemented. Look for improvement opportunities on the solution that was implemented. Communicate problems and solutions online for other communities to reference

Identify your three most important stakeholders and list five UNIQUE attributes for each one of them.

  • Entrepreneurs/Junk Shops
    1. Demographics: Filipino, small business owners
    2. Socio-Economics: Lower class, low income
    3. Geographic: Philippines, rainy and windy climates, 1.78 million people in Manila
    4. Psychological Variable: Sees value in trash
    5. Behavioral: Buys trash from people
  • Nanays
    1. Demographics: Middle-age married Filipino
    2. Socio-Economic: Unemployed low income class
    3. Geographic: Philippines, rainy and windy climates, 1.78 million people in Manila
    4. Psychological Variables: Middle-age women who have fulfilled their parental roles and are seeking employment to improve quality of life
    5. Behavioral: Purchase sachets due to low income
  • NGOs
    1. Demographics: Filipinos of all occupations
    2. Socio-Economic: People from all classes and income level
    3. Geographic: Philippines, rainy and windy climates, 1.78 million people in Manila
    4. Psychological Variables: Banding together in pursuit of achieving a common goal such as diverting plastic from the environment
    5. Behavioral: Reducing plastic usage in day-to-day life

Identify three ways in which you will validate your project concept, technology, usability, and business model.

  • Conduct experimentation to determine the allowable contamination level in recycled plastics for building blocks 
  • Determine whether or not the junk shop business and market are willing to invest in our injection molding machinery for the production of recycled plastic products through research
  • Create prototypes of building blocks designs to test whether they are secure and sturdy. Utilizes plastic’s flexible properties.

Give three examples of something very interesting you learned from a friend that was a completely alien concept to you.

  1. I came from a predominantly Christian town, but a lot of my friends here at Lehigh are Jewish. I’ve learned a lot about a different religion and how it has shaped my friends’ world views.
  2. Sort of an odd discovery, but nobody in my family uses toaster ovens, we all have upright toasters that are only good for bread and bagels. It was’t until I moved in with my friends at school that I came to appreciate the versatility of a toaster oven.
  3. One of my friends that I lived with this past summer was biracial and she taught us a dance that her family always does at parties.


GSIF Week Three: Theory of Change

List the top 20 questions your team needs to answer to advance the venture forward. Categorize the questions if necessary.

  1. Why are we impacting?
  2. Why should we care?
  3. What impact?
  4. Which groups of people?
  5. Are we making a positive or negative impact?
  6. Do the people want us involved?
  7. What do we need to learn first?
  8. Who else should be involved?
  9. How do we apply what we learned to help others?
  10. What challenges will we face?
  11. How will we know we were successful?
  12. Are we addressing the right problem?
  13. What is the problem?
  14. Should we be the ones to solve the problem?
  15. What’s our timeline?
  16. How do we sustain the impact?
  17. Is it our job to maintain the project?
  18. What’s the first step?
  19. What other experience can we draw on?
  20. What is the scale?

The three questions our group identified as being the most important are listed below:

  • Why are we doing this?
  • What do we need to learn first?
  • What challenges will we face?

Develop and Visualize the Theory of Change (Logic Model) for your venture.

  • time
  • pounds of solid waste diverted
  • eliminate plastic pollution from the oceans and landfills
  • skills, experience, and knowledge
  • number of products made from recycled plastics
  • generate reliable and self-sustaining income opportunities
  • decrease female unemployment rate from 2.53% to 2.4%
  • boost the Philippine economy

GSIF Week Two: Sustainable Development and Cultural Issues that Affect Design

This week, our focus was on sustainable development and cultural issues that may affect design. Most people have a very limited understanding of the world we live in, sometimes without even realizing it. We subconsciously form friendships with people who look like us and have similar backgrounds. No matter how “adventurous” we consider ourselves, I think many of us feel anxious when we have to leave our comfort zone. This limited sphere of existence can leave us ignorant to the most important aspects of the problems we are trying to solve. In my capstone lecture, Professor Jedlicka shared the story of a failed engineering project: A researcher was working to design a compound that would improve water retention in soil in dryer parts of the nation so crops could still be grown. The intention was to decrease irrigation and improve crop yield. The researcher spent twenty years developing this compound and finally released it to farmers for use; within one week, the researcher received complaints from the farmers that rabbits had destroyed their lettuce crops because the compound was sugar-based. The researcher had spent twenty years working in a lab, but had failed to connect with the farmers to truly understand their situation and find an effective solution. The lesson to be learned here is that you can’t truly solve a problem that you do not understand.

The PlasTech Ventures project aims to constructively combat the plastic waste crisis in the Philippines in a manner that provides steady income opportunities to Filipinos in poverty. Below is an exercise that attempts to create a preliminary understanding of the cultural issues that will be important to consider when moving forward with our project.

“Give three compelling examples of how cultural issues affect your project.”

  1. In speaking with members of my group that traveled to the Philippines last summer, I learned that due to the high rates of poverty, it is typical for toiletries and food to be sold in individual packets called sachets because they are more affordable for someone living on day-to-day income. This practice has become so ingrained in their culture that even those that can afford to buy full-size items still purchase sachets. This creates a lot of plastic waste and because of the typical foil lining found in these packets, they are hard to recycle.
  2. From what I understand, the Filipino perception of time seems to be more relaxed. The American cliche “time is money” is not a shared mindset in many other countries. Understanding this ahead of time will be important for ensuring that we are still able to make productive use of our time in the field.
  3. Additionally, the concept of “Pakikisama” is important to the Filipino culture. My understanding is that this is a tendency to avoid confrontation and overlook differences in opinion for the sake of keeping the peace. In American culture, disagreement is viewed as valuable, especially when working on projects such as this. An important part of innovation is critiques from knowledgeable peers, so we may run into some difficulty in the trial-and-error stage once we are in the Philippines.

“Have you experienced or observed any of these social situations at home? Describe at least three such situations.”

  1. While slightly different, American purchasing habits have also been influenced by poverty in a way that has altered culture. The example that comes to mind right away is food. Processed “junk” food is less expensive than produce and whole foods, so many impoverished Americans eat a diet consisting mostly of inexpensive pre-packaged food.
  2. My bestfriend and my dad share a similar relaxed mindset when it comes to time. If my bestfriend tell me to meet her at 5:30, I typically plan to be there no earlier than 5:35. This difference can be frustrating, but understanding and accepting that my dad will never be on time allows me to plan accordingly and avoid negative feelings.
  3. I have experienced this to an extent in American culture. Personally, I have a tendency to avoid confrontation, but I know many others who are the opposite. Sometimes I do find myself biting my tongue just to avoid an argument, but when I do have an opinion to share, I typically don’t feel afraid to disagree.

“Give three examples of cultural practices that can be leveraged to addressed community / market problems.”

  1. In the Philippines, nipa huts are a common structure. Our group hopes to manufacture components typically used to build these huts from recycled plastic.
  2. Another very important practice in the Philippines that our team hopes to leverage is the government mandate that requires villages to implement a waste management system that separates out recyclable materials. The fact that this system is already in place will simplify the process for sourcing raw material for manufacturing, which is recycled plastic.
  3. Family also seems to be a very important part of the Filipino culture. This may mean that children would be willing to help their families by bringing plastic to be recycled to one of the facilities we hope to design in exchange for building materials or something else their family may need. This would streamline our supply chain.

GSIF Week One: Why GSIF?

Hello! My name is Laura Marsiglio, and I am a junior in the Integrated Engineering and Arts & Sciences program here at Lehigh. My concentrations are in Materials Science & Engineering, Environmental Studies, and Economics. I have rather diverse interests, and programs like IDEAS and GSIF allow me to integrate my passions in unconventional ways. I believe that my varied academic background allows me to approach problem solving with a unique perspective because I understand the technical aspects, as well as the potential for societal and environmental impact.

My kindergarten science fair project was entitled “What Kind of Birdseed Do Birds Like Best”, and my passions for science and the environment have only grown from there. When exploring colleges, I was interested in engineering, even though I wasn’t quite sure what engineering really entailed. When I toured Lehigh, the IDEAS program stood out to me as an opportunity to pursue my passions, but also earn a technical engineering degree. Throughout my journey here at Lehigh, I’ve come to understand that engineering is really just a way of thinking. I’ve been able to develop this engineering mindset and now hope to apply it to bigger issues our society is facing.

As a part of the PlasTech Ventures team, I hope to further develop my technical engineering skills, as well as broaden my world view. I enrolled in GSIF because I feel we have a lot to learn when we leave our comfort zones. We have so much to learn from people different than ourselves, and I think GSIF is unique in that it allows students to do work that will impact global communities. This project will allow students and faculty from opposite sides of the planet to join forces and tackle the plastic waste and recycling problems that perplex global communities, while empowering local ones.

I think this class will benefit me as a student because often times in the classroom, we are only presented with problems to which the solution is already known. The nature of this GSIF project will force me to compile all of my previous learning to address a problem the whole world is looking to solve because plastic waste is not a problem unique to the United States or the Philippines.

“The World Health Organization estimates that over one billion people who need
eyeglasses do not have access to them. The vast majority of these people live in
developing countries like Kenya where there is barely one optometrist per one
million people. Given the high poverty levels, access to eyeglasses is almost nonexistent. Lack of proper eyeglasses severely impacts people and their livelihoods
by decreasing their productivity at work, limiting or eliminating new
opportunities, affecting their quality of life, deteriorating their general health and
possibly leading to (preventable) blindness.”

When beginning to solve a problem like this, there are so many things to consider. As someone who has worn glasses for over half of my life, I understand how difficult it would be to survive without them; however, this empathy isn’t a solution. My first thought when I read this was a program run by an organization in my hometown that collects used glasses. Once people get new frames, or a new prescription, and no longer have a use for their old pair, they can donate them to this program. This would alleviate some of the cost, but then the problem of distribution must be addressed. The glasses must be shipped from the United States, or another country, to Kenya and other developing countries. Funds for this could potentially be provided by a non-profit, but this could present issues in the long term. From there, those in need must be identified and provided with the appropriate prescription. Training locals to recognize the symptoms of those who are in need of glasses would provide some jobs, and help with autonomization of the program. Education would be an essential step in truly solving this problem. The saying “give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime” is really applicable to many of the big problems our world faces today. By involving local clinics and establishing programs to perform routine vision checks, these communities can become self-sufficient in their handling of the problem. A more long term solution may require an inexpensive and easy way to manufacture glasses at clinics, eliminating the need for donations and shipping costs. Problems like this are multi-faceted and hard to “solve” at first glance, but it is important to start somewhere.