Making Sustainability Accessible in Ghana

  • News
David Gillingham Prize winners Van Heugten and Coughlan

On the 12th of June, Gemma Coughlan and Petra van Heugten won the David Gillingham Award at the NIBS conference in Manchester with a presentation about their Pure Living Project.

During the Pure Living Project, students compared traditional and self-sustainable housing models in Ghana. They were looking for eco-friendly, economically viable and socially responsible solutions for the housing problem. Through impact analysis, students explored how these solutions could help local communities and promote care for the environment at the same time. For knowledge about sustainable building practices, the Pure Living Project relied on the experience of the Pure Living Consortium in the Netherlands and building experts in Ghana. Coughlan: “Our job was to bring together the students and many different stakeholders from across the globe. We were looking at the economic, environmental and social impact if this technology was brought to the Takoradi region of Ghana.”

Pushing boundaries

The Pure Living Project was an Honours project within the International Business School which in line with the school’s focus on Entrepreneurship, Global Mindset and Sustainability. Van Heugten and Coughlan aimed to expand students' perspectives beyond the mindset of international business within the Netherlands. We wanted to see if students could “really engage with others, connect with different stakeholders, create communication pathways and understand what it is like to live in another area,” Coughlan explains. The project challenged students to consider questions such as ‘What does sustainability mean to us here in Groningen and what are the needs within the Takoradi region? Was this even wanted, was it needed, would it actually have a positive impact?’

No mass lectures

For their presentation at the annual Network of International Business Schools, held in Manchester this year, Van Heugten en Coughlan focussed on the educational aspects of the project, the didactics that were used. During the project, students were working in small teams, competing against each other. Van Heugten: “There was no teaching in the traditional sense - no direct content teaching or mass lectures. Instead, we emphasised cooperation and interaction. Sharing of thoughts and ideas. We invited prompt engineers to talk to students about how to mine data. How to use AI for inspiration and ideas and develop thoughts and things like that.” The Honours students collaborated with students from Takoradi Technical University who were specialised in building and housing developments. The Ghanaian and Dutch students had hybrid sessions together, in which their classes were joined online. Experts from both countries were able to provide theoretical insights to students from either country. Ultimately, the project teams presented their pitches to a panel of international experts who provided feedback and assessed their efforts.

Global attention

The project has attracted global attention. “The Ghanaian government have our report and the Senegalese government then requested it as well as there was much potential in it. We take that as a positive. The Pure Living Consortium, a group of different stakeholders in the Northern Netherlands and Germany, are in the process of applying for EU funding to explore if we can now create a self-sustainable student village here on Hanze campus,” Coughlan says. The village would be used to teach students how to generate a self-sufficient lifestyle including growing their own food.

David Gillingham Award

Winning the David Gillingham Award meant much to Van Heugten and Coughlan.
Van Heugten: “For me personally it was about ‘trying to top last year’s performance and win this one’. Which we now did, so I’m at peace now!”  They had been runners-up in 2023 with a different project, Coughlan explained. Winning the award this year with the The Pure Living Project was “the cherry on top of what was already a lovely experience.”

The Honours Impact Lab’s Pure Living Project was  a collaboration between Hanze University of Applied Sciences, Takoradi Technical University, the Hanze International Business Office, Gateway to Africa and the Pure Living Consortium.

Read more about IBS Honours 

Fields of interest

  • Business and Economics
  • Environment