Students Seeking Solutions Conference: SDG 6 Challenge

1 April 2018


Bachelor’s degree students around the world take up the challenge to solve Sustainable Development Goal #6: Clean Water and Sanitation.

Friday, 20 April, 2018
United Nations Headquarters
Conference Room 2
New York, New York


Challenge Statement

The inaugural Students Seeking Solutions for the SDGs Conference aims to connect bachelor’s degree students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) around the globe with the tangible, real-world problems that the United Nations has highlighted in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals in order to achieve four goals: 

  1. To provide a platform for youth to express their perspective and voice
  2. To create networking opportunities by connecting youth with universities, the industrial sector, and the United Nations
  3. To propose implementable, STEM-based solutions for the 2030 SDGs, as well as affect SDG-related socioeconomic change for both the creators of these solutions and those who these solutions aim to help
  4. To provide a space for young women to gain confidence in their professional abilities

In 2018, the global challenge will focus on SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation. Access to clean water is a necessity for survival, yet is something that not every human can easily obtain. Around the globe, poor water management, waste dumping, and the unsafe practice of open defecation are among the numerous causes that lead those living in diverse areas, from the most remote rural regions of Southern Asia to Flint, Michigan in the United States, to be unable to obtain the potable water they need.

Request for Proposals

SDG 6 provides a topic that is actionable for STEM students undergoing their bachelor’s degree training. As a conference presentation proposer, your goal is to focus on a facet of the clean water crisis and develop a solution to that problem. For example, you could create a filter that blocks certain harmful bacteria from entering the water supply. You could write a computer algorithm improving the distribution of water around a community. You could develop a management system for a small village that separates waste streams from the drinking source. You could create a net that takes the moisture from the atmosphere and turns it into safe drinking water. The possibilities are endless.

Submit your proposal here by Friday, March 23, 2018 by 23:59pm GMT-5 (New York City time). A detailed proposal, up to 1,500 words, should describe the objective, or which specific aspect of the clean water crisis your work addresses, the approach to the development of your work, and the implementation of your proposed solution. For example, if you are submitting a proposal for a filter you developed in your research, you should discuss how the filter works, the materials and cost to make the filter, and how you see your filter being implemented in communities in need. If you are submitting a proposal for a computer program, you should discuss the algorithms you used and the way you see your code impacting relevant communities or facilities. Any schematics, program files, or pictures which will help the judges understand your work should be additionally uploaded in the “additional files” section below.  

A panel of judges featuring professors with expertise in water and sanitation related areas, representatives from the industrial/corporate sector, and UN officials will determine which 6 proposals will be chosen for presentation. The authors of the proposal will then be invited to make an in-person or Skype presentation to the conference. A second tier of 15 honorable mention proposals will be featured as poster presentations at the conference.

Proposals can be submitted by individuals or in teams of up to three bachelor’s students. There is no fee to submit a proposal.

Statement on Gender Equality

The disparity between genders regarding participation and leadership in the STEM domain is a well-documented phenomenon that the UN has sought to address. This conference will further the goal of pushing toward a more equitable field of science through several means:

  • Though any bachelor’s degree student is permitted to submit a proposal to this conference, we particularly encourage young women to participate in this initiative to solve the issues presented by SDG 6.
  • There will be two panels featured at the conference: one regarding the application of science to SDG 6 and one regarding the socioeconomic impact of SDG 6. We aim to fill both panels predominately, if not entirely, with female speakers and moderators.
  • Though the second panel will cover a wide range of socioeconomic impacts, from poverty to sustainable cities, a focus will be on how solutions to SDG 6 will help further gender equality around the world, both for the female scientists participating in generating solutions and for the women in the communities affected by the clean water crisis.

Keynote Speakers

Elliott C. Harris

On 1 April 2015, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Elliott Harris as Assistant Secretary-General and Head of the New York Office of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Mr. Harris joined UN Environment as Director of the New York Office and of the Secretariat of the UN Environment Management Group (EMG) in September 2013. Prior to joining UN Environment, he worked as an Economist in the IMF from 1988 to 2013, gaining extensive policy and programmatic experience in African and Central Asian countries, as well as in the Fiscal Affairs Department on public expenditure policy issues. From July 2002 onward, Mr. Harris served as Advisor, Chief of the Development Issues Division, and Assistant Director of the IMF’s Strategy, Policy and Review Department. From September 2008 until May 2012, he was also the IMF’s Special Representative to the United Nations, and was closely involved in interagency collaboration in the areas of social protection, green economy, and fiscal space for social policy. From September 2009 until October 2013, he was the Vice Chair of the High-Level Committee on Programs (HLCP) of the UN Chief Executives Board for Coordination. (link)

Deepika Kurup

Deepika Kurup is a 17 year old freshman at Harvard College. She has been passionate about solving the global water crisis ever since she was in middle school, as she was exposed to the water problem at a very early age. Recognized as “America’s Top Young Scientist” in 2012, Deepika won the grand prize in the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. She was also invited to present at the 2013 White House Science Fair. Early in 2014, she was honored with the “United States President’s Environmental Youth Award” for her environmental stewardship, given jointly by the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency. Also in 2014, Deepika won the U.S. Stockholm Junior Water Prize —the most prestigious youth award for a water-related science project — and represented the U.S. at the international competition in Stockholm, Sweden, during World Water Week. The Walden Woods Project recognized Deepika with the 2014 Environmental Challenge Award, and Action for Nature presented her with the 2014 International Young Eco-Hero Award. Most recently Deepika was named one of the 2015 Forbes’ “30 Under 30: Energy”, and was the National Geographic Explorer Award Winner in the 2015 Google Science Fair.

Along with research, Deepika is passionate about STEM education, and feels that STEM education has the power to revolutionize the world. In her free time she enjoys giving talks and writing articles to encourage students all around the world to pursue science, technology, engineering and math, and to increase awareness of the global water crisis. Deepika has presented at schools around the world, given invited presentations at national and international conferences, and at two TEDx events. She currently has two patents pending, one of which has been published by the USPTO. Deepika is also an ardent fan of martial arts, and has black belts in both shaolin kempo and taekwondo. (link)