Develop your capacity as a changemaker – and have fun!

November 09, 2021

Priscilla Lam and Angelica Tso won a $3,000 Grand Prize Award in the 2020-21 Student Community Engagement Competition for their idea to build an app that would incentivize widespread habit change around using disposable cups. After several months working with businesses in the Lower Mainland to bring their idea to life, they took some time to reflect on what the process has been like, offering some great advice: remember to learn and have fun – changemaking is an ongoing pursuit.

What's been the most fulfilling part of working on this project?

The most fulfilling part of this project is inspiring others to take steps towards environmental sustainability. Yes, the physical outcome of preventing disposable cups from being used is fantastic, but it’s the thought behind this preventative act that really excites us.

Our broader goal is to inspire people to reconsider their relationship with waste and find easy ways to reduce it. When our users tell us that the app has encouraged them to bring their own cup around, we’re elated!

Another thing we love about our project is the wonderful teamwork behind the scenes. We’re so glad to have provided university students with a chance to create a mobile app that is used by the community (none of us have done this before!). As a result, our team was able to develop skills that helped them with their career goals and job search.

What have been yours and your community partner’s biggest challenges working through your project?

The biggest challenge we’ve had is educating the café customers about the app and the importance (and ease!) of bringing their own cup. We’re trying to go against the status quo of disposable culture and people’s perception about what’s “convenient”. Changing these norms will be a long uphill battle, and we all recognize that it will require many solutions and many different actors to be involved.

If you had the chance, what would you do differently?

Early on, we would have liked to engage with related nonprofits/community organizations more – groups that have engaged in sustainability behaviour change at the consumer level. This type of work is very nuanced and we would have benefited from hearing about the kinds of strategies for success they’ve leveraged. While this wouldn’t have guaranteed that we’d never make a mistake, it would have helped guide the early stages of our development.

Any wisdom/advice to pass on to others who might try a project like this?

For others thinking about pursuing a project like ours, we really encourage them to think in systems. Social issues are very complex. Therefore, in order to effect change, you must understand the role of your project in the larger, collective shift towards the systems change you are aiming to achieve. Ask yourself: “What’s the unique role of my project in the broader ecosystem and how can I collaborate with others in the ecosystem to increase our impact”?

At the same time, don’t forget to have fun and don’t get too hung up about the outcomes. The important thing is to learn and develop your capacity as a changemaker so you can pursue many more impactful projects in your career.

Any other final thoughts?

We’re still very much in the learning process! There is so much to learn about community collaboration projects and we look forward to seeing what’s next for us.

Curious to try it out?

Check out BYO's website to read more about the program and for download links for the App Store and Google Play.

YES – want to check it out!


Hey, students  – What would you  do with $3,000?

Up to $30,000* is available to fund SFU students who want to work with community partners to create meaningful impact. Register today – all you need is your name and a brief description of your idea.