Youth Unleash Ideas for a Sustainable Urban Future in Nassau

By Sarah Benton, Nathalie Bethel, and Amanda Marray

On February 1, 2018, over 40 teenagers woke up to an ordinary, bright, sunny day in Nassau. Little did they know what challenge lay ahead. Little did they know that their perspective on life was about to change. For 10 of them, they were about to earn one of the greatest learning and networking opportunities of a lifetime.

On that day, more than 40 students from public and private high schools and the University of The Bahamas were challenged to ideate a sustainable future for Nassau. They participated in an Ideathon, or a rapid idea marathon, which is characterized as a short, intense, brainstorming workshop where students collaborate and propose solutions to critical urban challenges. This Ideathon was facilitated by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab Code Next Lab Director, Dr. Colin “Topper” Carew.

Dr. Carew inspired these young minds to think innovatively, disruptively, and to break away from conventional thinking. He encouraged them to think outside the box and adjust their mindset to make positive change for a sustainable urban future. According to Dr. Carew, by giving youth the tools and knowledge, by building their “mind capacity” and fostering confidence, the possibilities are endless. There can be long-term sustainability and self-reliance in The Bahamas, and to achieve that, it is important to invest in young people and put energy into developing the next generation of disruptors, inventors and innovators.

Mixed groups made up of 10th to 12th graders and University students worked together to brainstorm sustainable solutions for development issues facing the city of Nassau. Each group was tasked with defining solutions to a real-world problem of their choosing in one of the following areas: smart city and the internet of things (IoT), human mobility, water conservation, renewable energy and better use of marine ecosystems.

Dr. Carew, along with Bahamian young entrepreneur Travis Miller, and representatives from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Office of The Prime Minister (OPM) acted as advisors to the students, using MIT Media Lab’s Code Next methodology as a guide for disruptive, innovative, creative thinking. The groups then pitched their ideas to a panel of judges who scored the proposals and provided feedback on how to further develop their ideas. The results of this quick exercise were positively mind-blowing: from submarine taxis and self-managed city parking to smart solarization and smart water-saving apps and devices.

This Ideathon provided a fantastic opportunity for young innovators to unleash their ideas for a better future. Minister for Transport and Local Government, The Hon. Frankie Campbell, opened the event saying, “You have the vision, the energy and the exposure necessary to make a tremendous impact on the way we do business here in The Bahamas.” He told the students, “Despite what my generation may tell you, your impatience can in fact serve you well as you demand action and results at a faster pace than has been traditionally accepted.  I implore you to be curious, innovative and inventive.  Take advantage of the greatest resource you have here at the University of The Bahamas: collective knowledge and creativity, to build the modern Bahamas you want to see.”

The winning group, comprised of three female students, pitched an idea for a marine robot that detects chemical imbalances and underwater pollution.

Coincidentally, MIT Media Lab is currently designing a prototype of a robot to do just that! Shara Jervis, C.C. Sweeting Senior High, Angel Rolle, C.I. Gibson Senior High and Lyric Lightbourn, C.V. Bethel Senior High each won an all-expense paid 2-day trip to the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The 2nd and 3rd place groups won partial monetary awards to be part of the same visit to the Lab.

A total of 10 students representing 7 schools will have the incredible opportunity to go to MIT to learn about state of the art research and pitch their ideas for transforming Nassau’s future to other technology innovators. The team at the IDB’s Country Office is working with OPM to maintain the momentum from this small yet remarkable event and ensure that this cohort of young, disruptive innovators is provided with access to local technical experts that can offer further guidance on incubating their ideas. Now that the seed has been planted, perhaps some of these students will be inspired to pursue careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and design.

Similar Ideathons have been sponsored by the IDB throughout the region. In Costa Rica in 2017, Dr. Carew worked with an all-female cohort of young programmers and systems analysts to solve urban challenges from a gender perspective.

The Ideathon in Nassau was complementary to the launch of the Sustainable Nassau Action Plan, a collaborative effort since 2015 between OPM and IDB under the Emerging and Sustainable Cities Program (ESC). The Action Plan Executive Summary is available online (full text forthcoming, Spring 2018) and highlights 4 strategic areas: resiliency and sustainability; revitalization, inclusion and competitiveness; smart and transparent governance; and empowered people. This Ideathon is but a sample of the ESC’s emphasis on the role of youth and citizen empowerment for a better future in Nassau. The IDB aims to inspire young island citizens to think as mature, global citizens that can solve the urban problems that they will inherit. With these young bright minds looking forward, a sustainable, revitalized urban future in Nassau is possible.


About the authors:

Sarah Benton is an urban planner from the Housing and Urban Development Division of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) since 2015, and supports the Emerging and Sustainable Cities program and the new Cities LAB. Prior to working at the IDB, Sarah obtained a Master’s Degree in Urban and Regional Planning and a Master’s Degree in Latin American Studies, both from the University of Florida. Her specializations were in sustainable development and planning technologies such as GIS. She received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia, where she studied Spanish, Latin American Studies and Urban and Environmental Planning. 

Natalie Bethel is an Operations Analyst based in the Inter-American Development Bank’s Country Office Bahamas. She holds a Bachelor of Art in Development Studies and History from SOAS, University of London. She has Public Procurement Certification (CIPS) in Levels II and III and has experience in areas of project management, research and knowledge products. She has served as a Youth Advisor to the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations, a Youth Leader at the China-CELAC Forum and is a Global Shaper with the World Economic Forum’s Nassau Hub.

Amanda Marray is a Consultant based in the Inter-American Development Bank’s Country Office Bahamas working in operations, knowledge and communications. Amanda has extensive experience in offshore banking, business development and non-profit programme design, fundraising and communications. She holds an undergraduate degree in Finance and Marketing from Dalhousie University and an MBA from University of Miami.


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