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Designing a sustainable future

21 August 2018

The rhino figurine was one of the highlights of the exhibition and attracted younger visitors.
The rhino figurine was one of the highlights of the exhibition and attracted younger visitors.
At the World Innovation and Entrepreneurship Expo (WIEE) held in Shanghai, students in China are utilising marketing design to address critical social matters of concern, such as the conservation of natural resources – in this case, rhino protection.
Speaking recently at the World Economic Forum, President Xi Jinping used the famous opening line from the novel A Tale of Two Cities, saying: “It was the best of times and it was the worst of times.” As relevant to the changing times we live in now as it was in 1859 when Charles Dickens penned it down, there is no better description of the world today. While the fast development of technology brings extraordinary possibilities, challenges relating to the environment, energy resources, technological revolution, social development and cultural conflicts are greater than ever.


The theme of the WIEE is Innovation & Entrepreneurship: Make Dreams Come True and aims to explore the current scientific and technological revolution, social development, civilisation conflicts and ecological issues. “To meet these challenges, we need unprecedented spirit and culture for innovation and entrepreneurship. We need unprecedented abilities for imagination, solidification, collaboration and participation. The era of transforming ‘I’ into ‘we’ has come.”, says Dr Liu Jing, director of Tongji Mix Lab and curator of the exhibition.

Xi, The Name of Rhino! invited visitors to write notes and pledges and stick them on a wall covered in rhino figurines as confirmation of their commitment towards rhino protection.
Xi, The Name of Rhino! invited visitors to write notes and pledges and stick them on a wall covered in rhino figurines as confirmation of their commitment towards rhino protection.
WIEE is divided into two categories. The first looks at technologies within future cities, manufacturing, health and living. The second category involves cultural innovation and displays art and creativity, brand strategies and recreational interaction. It is within the latter category, that a 120m2 space, themed XI, The Name of Rhino! is dedicated to a rhino protection project by the College of Design and Innovation from Tongji University. Xi, which means both ‘rhino’ and ‘cherish’ in Chinese, demonstrate the exploration of rhino protection through the use of design and creativity.


In its courses, the College seeks to address global challenges by cultivating future leaders in sustainable design and innovation who can contribute to social development and change while pursuing academic excellence. Over the last two years, in partnership with South African non-profit organisation Peace Parks Foundation, students from the College of Design and Innovation Tongji University were instructed to use their skills and learning process to develop design concepts or products which address the complex issue of rhino horn use in Asia.

The students delivered professional marketing pitches with consumer-tested and skilfully designed products. These items are now on display at the WIEE. Visitors to the exhibit can see, touch and interact with rhino puzzles, postcards, posters, as well as small rhino figurines, also on display is last year’s winning design - a professionally designed rhino-branded anti-pollution breathing mask that symbolises the connection between the need for environmental vigilance for both animals and humans.


Professor Mo Jiao says, “The students did remarkably well. They took to Shanghai’s streets, shopping centres and schools to both test their designs and educate their communities about the plight of the rhino. They did this through video games, drawing activities, 3-dimensional rhino puzzles, and interactive rhino figurines.”


All of the items on display were produced by Tongji Mix Lab, a university-enterprise exchange and practice platform that brings together technology innovation, creative design and cultural strengths. Dr Liu Jing Janey says, “We aim to integrate industry-related university research into businesses. In doing this, we rely on strong scientific research and design innovation by the Tongji University. Tongji Mix Lab focusses on the innovation and creative needs of all walks of life in the new era by promoting the transformation of design teaching and scientific research achievements.”

Last year's winning design - a symbolic and rhino branded anti-pollution mask
Last year's winning design - a symbolic and rhino branded anti-pollution mask

Reconnecting the people of China with natural resources


Building on the successes showcased at the WIEE, the 2018 rhino campaign is in full swing with students having presented their ideas for this year’s designs to a panel for the first time in April.


Lamees Martin, Peace Parks Foundation Digital and Social Media Specialist, listened to the first round of presentations. She says, “There were eight project presentations, each different from the next. I was astonished by the level of detail and the ideas were not simply aesthetically-focussed, which is what you would expect from design students, they were designed with a deeper meaning in mind. In order for messaging to be effective, it needs to be reinforced by modern communication channels and most of the projects were on point in this regard. You could clearly see that the students put a lot of research effort into it and really engaged their target audiences.”


The students presented a good balance between innovative and modern design, education and digital aspects whilst displaying a deep understanding of the complex social and environmental issues associated with rhino horn demand.

The youth visit rhino reserves to learn about the plight of the rhino first-hand.
The youth visit rhino reserves to learn about the plight of the rhino first-hand.
Peace Parks Foundation will again be bringing a group of top performing students to South Africa from 27-31 August this year to engage with local experts working in rhino conservation. During their visit in 2017, students found the experience tremendously informative, commenting that they came to understand that the general Chinese public remains grossly misinformed on the rhino crisis and education remains a key factor in successfully reducing the demand. Reaching a wide audience through education and awareness is a large part of the purpose behind the WIEE expo. Dr Liu Jing Janey says, “At the exhibition, we aim to showcase the students’ remarkable innovation and design talents while promoting public welfare. The target audience is quite broad, and we are expecting visitors from various cities, industries, organisations, universities, colleges and laboratories, such as ours.”


The expo is organised by Tongji University within the framework of Pujiang Innovation Forum, with support from the Ministry of Science and Technology and Shanghai Municipal Government. It will run until May 2019, taking a break between October and December 2018. Connecting over 100 cities, colleges, enterprises and organisations from around the world, the event is sure to create an internationally attractive platform to influence innovation and entrepreneurship, while contributing to awareness of relevant social issues - such as the preservation of critical natural resources through the conservation of ecosystem biodiversity - to ensure a healthier future for generations to come.

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