U of M students think about 'huge problems in the world' for Game Changer competition

University of Manitoba students are trying to tackle some of society’s largest problems through Game Changer, Manitoba’s idea competition.

Winning team takes home $10K

Kira Pearson, a business student at the University of Manitoba, and her team are tackling the problem of how to reduce society's reliance on technology in order to reclaim boredom. (Kelly Malone/CBC)

University of Manitoba students are trying to tackle some of society's largest problems through Game Changer, Manitoba's idea competition.

The teams, made up of three to five people, choose a problem and then come up with a solution, which isn't already offered by a business. The problems tackle issues from zebra mussels to artificial intelligence to improving child literacy.

The winning team takes home $10,000.

"It's really great, this competition, specifically because it promotes cross-faculty work," said Kira Pearson, a business student.

"It's really challenging and it really makes you think about huge problems in the world."

Pearson is part of a team that was chosen in the top seven finalists. The winner will be chosen on Tuesday by faculty, industry, and community professionals.

Pearson's team asked how we can reduce society's reliance on technology in order to reclaim boredom as a productive or creative force. As a student and a millennial, she said it's a problem she definitely relates to. She spends a lot of her time on her computer and phone, whether it's studying, chatting with friends or watching Netflix.

The solution is a "social movement" called Hour Off, Pearson said. It's about building a community of people who dedicate one hour each day to being screen-free.

"When people commit to this, if they do it in a public way, they are way more likely to sustain it. And if they have support and help behind it, that's really the incentive for it," she said.

The group plans to monetize their idea by creating a subscription box — where people get a monthly box of activities and ideas of things to do for one hour each day that doesn't involve screens. While it also has to be a business plan, Pearson said the goal is to help people be comfortable with themselves in boredom.

"If you are bored you set goals for yourself, you really learn what you want to do, what you like doing, you make hobbies," she said.

Rylan Ramnarace and his team are tackling the problem of how society can adequately prepare to deal with the aging population.  

It's a problem that hits close to home for a lot of people, including Ramnarace. His great-grandmother lived in Killarney, about 200 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg, but she didn't have family in the area and many of her friends had already died.

"She was lonely," Ramnarace said.

His group's solution is called Elder Buddy, which pairs seniors with volunteer caregivers, who also serve as companions.

It would be an app, with a phone-in component, where seniors set up a profile about what they need — whether it is help with grocery shopping and cooking or even just someone to go for a walk with.

Volunteer caregivers will also set up profiles and an algorithm will match them with the right senior.

While there is home care in the province, Ramnarace said there's not enough focus on companionship.

"The companionship part is really important when people age and their loved ones and friends pass away. They are lonely," he said.

The seven finalists will present their solutions at the grand finale event at the EITC Atrium in the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Manitoba on Tuesday at 4 p.m.

With files from CBC Radio's Weekend Morning Show