University of São Paulo - Brazil

Towards a sustainable future: the University of São Paulo’s relevance in the Global Challenge Lab 2021

(by Filipe Albessu Narciso) – September 15th, 2021

With a student in the winning team and two students in second place, USP’s participation in the Global Challenge Lab 2021 was expressive. A 10-day program of entrepreneurship and international cooperation, the first edition of the Global Challenge Lab counted with the participation of ten international universities and the designing of more than 50 projects related to health and well-being. USP was represented by four mentors and 29 students. You can learn more about USP’s participation and impact in the Global Challenge Lab here.  


This year, Imperial College London, in a partnership with Tsinghua University’s X-lab in Beijing, promoted an entirely new event: the Global Challenge Lab. Described as a “virtual entrepreneurship program”, the Global Challenge Lab had more than 900 undergraduate and graduate students around the globe participating in a 10-day entrepreneurship program. The University of São Paulo (USP), one of the ten universities attending the event, was represented by four mentors and 29 students. The event was also sponsored by multinational companies Huawei, Nestlé and BMS.

An event of ambitious objectives, its main idea was to split students in different teams to develop projects related to the third goal of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which stands for good health and well being. The event had four main tracks to which the 58 formed groups could design their projects: Mental Health & Non-Communicable Diseases, Women & Children’s Health, Communicable Diseases and Access to Healthcare. There were also regulations defining that students couldn’t have a fully formed idea before the event and that the groups should have no more than two members from the same university.

USP’s participation in the event was considerably fruitful. Three USP students were on the podium. Student Giselle Akemi Tsukahara Jensen was part of the event’s champion Team Scarlet, while Isabela Carvalho Velloso de Oliveira and Luiz Gustavo dos Santos Lima were part of Team Milky, which won second place. Both teams were also winners of their own tracks (Women & Children’s Health and Communicable Diseases, respectively).

Team Scarlet

According to Renata Ferretti-Rebustini, one of USP mentors who participated in the Global Challenge Lab, the responsibility and commitment of students to their projects was admirable. Every mentor was responsible for orienting an obligatory group, however Professor Ferretti-Rebustini also took part in extra mentoring sessions for other groups that had interdisciplinary components to their ideas. She mentions that it was an enriching experience to accompany the process of the ideas taking shape and emphasizes the fact that the mentors wouldn’t give the groups any type of orders. Instead, they suggested ways for the group to improve their ideas, as they had the freedom to follow these recommendations or not. Interviewed in Portuguese, Professor Ferretti-Rebustini stressed her point of view that “events such as these are catalysts for scientific progress”. 

Giselle Jensen, the USP student member of the winning team, argues that participating in the Global Challenge Lab was an eye-opening experience. She points out that, when it comes to public health and “hack” type of challenges, it’s relevant to consider a sparse and diverse range of elements to the discussion, such as the impact of entrepreneurship and private entities. 

Jensen’s group developed a platform to connect mothers and midwives in sub-Saharan Africa. The idea, called Oba-Pa, uses cellular networks on analogue phones to promote women’s health and lower maternal related deaths. Jensen mentions that it was challenging at first to figure out a solution to a problem of a different world region, as the cultural and structural differences between Brazil and sub-Saharan Africa were made more and more evident as she worked with her team. “At first, I was thinking only of solutions to problems in Brazil and the USA”, admits Jensen in an interview in Portuguese. “As our project unfolded, I had to detach myself from my own background. For example, our idea involved mobile money, a concept that I had never heard of before in Brazil”. 

Isabela de Oliveira was also a part of the challenge podium. “We would meet up online and work hard all day on our project”, she mentions. Her team won second place and, out of four members, two were USP students (Isabela de Oliveira and Luiz Gustavo Lima). In order to tackle the transmissibility of vector-borne diseases, their group was responsible for an idea of a pheromone trap for mosquitoes called the Pherotrap. 

Interviewed in Portuguese, Isabela de Oliveira says that her group tried to think outside the box while searching for a major problem in public health that they desired to fix. She points out that, because she and Luiz Gustavo Lima were both Brazilians, they knew how much of an issue mosquito transmitted diseases are to the country and the rest of the world. “We haven’t talked enough about these diseases [mosquito-borne diseases]. With the coronavirus pandemic, they were put aside for a while, but their impact is still there”. Data from the non-profit initiative World Mosquito Program show that 700 million people contract mosquito-borne illness each year. 

Nowadays, De Oliveira mentions that her group still maintains contact and considers taking the project to a new level. “Up to the competition, I had never even thought of working on a startup”, she declares.  

Both Jensen and De Oliveira mentioned that working with people from different time zones had many organizational difficulties, one of the major challenges that the event offered. However, they also agreed that international cooperation, both in a professional and social point of view, was fundamental for their experience.

Professor Ferretti-Rebustini has a similar perspective on the matter, exposing the idea that different backgrounds and areas of expertise made the event an incredible opportunity of growth to everyone, even the mentors. “When you work with sustainability and sustainable development, you can’t ignore the beneficial impact that transdisciplinary and transcultural aspects bring to the discussion”, argues the Professor.

Access the final presentations below: