Arch + Eng, Art, Design, Education, Sci + Tech, Social Impact

Announcing the 2017 Fuller Challenge Finalists

NEW YORK CITY – The Buckminster Fuller Challenge is pleased to announce the six Finalists for the 2017 program cycle. These Finalists have reached the final deliberation phase and are under consideration for selection to win the Buckminster Fuller Challenge and its grand prize of $100,000.

Now in its tenth anniversary cycle, the Fuller Challenge remains the only prize program specifically working to identify, catalyze, and celebrate projects that employ whole systems approaches to problem solving. The Fuller Challenge puts forth a global call for solutions that address humanity’s most pressing problems, welcoming submissions from all fields. In response to this open call, designers, architects, activists, entrepreneurs, artists, planners, scientists, and other comprehensive design practitioners submit entries that present integrated strategies informed by an understanding of whole systems. The Fuller Challenge continues to attract geographically diverse applicants working in communities and eco-systems around the world. This year, the Challenge received more than 460 entries—a record number for the program.

The six proposals now under consideration for the 2017 grand prize have undergone a rigorous, multi-stage review process for adherence to the entry criteria by the Fuller Challenge Review Committee, a diverse group of advisors and experts led by a seasoned review team.

On behalf of the Fuller Challenge review team, we would like to congratulate our six finalists. Each is tackling an incredibly difficult set of interrelated issues; each putting forth a new model that reveals the inadequacies of current practices. It is our hope that recognition by the Fuller Challenge will help these initiatives to reach a wider audience and will result in an increase of recognition and support for each of them,” said Elizabeth Thompson, Founding Director of the Fuller Challenge.

Detailed information about each project and associated images can be viewed on the Buckminster Fuller Institute’s website.

A 10th anniversary celebration of the Buckminster Fuller Challenge and the conferring of the 2017 grand prize will take place in New York City on November 10-11. The event will be open to the public, so please save the date and register your intent to attend.



If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don’t bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.” –R. Buckminster Fuller

The Sustainable Green Initiative Forum has designed Bhungroo, (in Gujarati, “straw” or “hollow pipe”), an innovative technology that can filter, inject, and store stormwater up to a depth of 300 meters in the subsoil. Operating in the Gujarat state of India with consultancy-based projects in Bangladesh, Ghana, Togo, and Vietnam, Bhungroo has 17 technical designs for a variety of soil types and agro-climatic zones and can be customized based on 27 variables. Using only 1 square meter of surface area, Bhungroo allows multiple farmers to collectively preserve and retrieve stored rainwater. In an area where female farmers are often disregarded as contributing members of society, this exemplary social enterprise also has a non-profit component that trains women who are smallholder farmers to collectively own the subsoil water stored by Bhungroo and to provide fee-based services to other smallholder farmers in their village, confronting repressive social structures that have dominated the region for 400 years. Their program will be made available to illiterate farmers through the development of an app that utilizes a pictorial format. Bhungroo, through the provision of a simple yet elegant, trimtab-like technology, can equip smallholder farmers to be able to face drought, monsoon flooding, and unpredictable precipitation patterns related to climate change while simultaneously empowering women and the poorest of the poor.


[Design Science is] the effective application of the principles of science to the conscious design of our total environment in order to help make the Earth’s finite resources meet the needs of all humanity without disrupting the ecological processes of the planet.” -R. Buckminster Fuller

The Vertical University Project by KTK-BELT approaches conservation and education in Nepal, the most vertical country in the world, through the design of a “Vertical University” comprising cooperatively owned “Learning Grounds” at various altitudes in distinct ecological areas. Thirty-three such Learning Grounds currently serve as place-based centers for ecological education and skills development. KTK-BELT engages farmers and youth to become stewards of biodiversity and their unique local environments, providing livelihood opportunities through the preservation and cultivation of unique plant and animal species, such as the Himalayan soap nut and the pangolin, as well as the preservation of local indigenous knowledge of the flora and fauna, of local agricultural and wildcrafting techniques, and of herbal medical traditions, such as the cultivation, production and use of 150 unique essential oils found in one particular area. By connecting farmers and youth in the region and developing a collective ownership model for safeguarding land, KTK-BELT is addressing the threats of encroachment by developers as well as the outmigration of youth seeking economic opportunities elsewhere. One hundred-fifty farming families have pledged to retain their land for the next 7 years after coming to understand their region as a haven of biodiversity with long-term value as well as a base of opportunity for ecologically-grounded livelihoods, sustainable agriculture, and ecotourism.


When individuals join in a cooperative venture, the power generated far exceeds what they could have accomplished acting individually.” -R. Buckminster Fuller

Fideicomiso de la Tierra del Caño Martín Peña (in English, Martín Peña Channel Community Land Trust) has designed the ENLACE project to address a variety of pressing needs in a poor, underserved, historically disenfranchised “informal” community near the center of San Juan, Puerto Rico. The project takes on the environmental restoration of the Caño Martín Peña, a polluted, degraded tidal channel located in the heart of the San Juan Bay estuary with important ecological and economic significance, while simultaneously working to prevent gentrification and provide affordable housing and access to critical infrastructure for the inhabitants. The project’s leaders decided to use a Community Land Trust (CLT) as a vehicle for community empowerment. They secured collective legal tenure of 200 contiguous acres of land in perpetuity, something truly historic and almost unheard of in such urban contexts. By tackling land rights, environmental restoration, and social justice in a multi-pronged approach, they have launched an unprecedented comprehensive development model. The CLT has kickstarted 65 social and economic development initiatives, engaged 1,600 community youth, and successfully relocated over 600 families to allow for suitable infrastructure development. The novel application of the CLT’s collective ownership model to an informal settlement is a truly revolutionary model, already being referenced for replication by communities in Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, and South Africa.


Pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we’ve been ignorant of their value.” -R. Buckminster Fuller

Net-Works, a partnership between Interface, the renowned, groundbreaking, eco-conscious carpet company, and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), is a highly innovative program that interweaves community development, environmental protection, and closed-loop economic production. Interface wanted to source recycled material in a way that would benefit communities and the environment, and ZSL wanted to develop a model of community-based conservation that would be self-funding, empowering, and bring immediate benefits to local people. The result is Net-Works. So far, 24 poor fishing communities in the Philippines and 9 in the Lake Ossa region of Cameroon recover and recycle discarded nylon fishing nets into yarn for use as carpet tiles. A dangerous waste product that harms marine life becomes a valuable raw material. A fair price is paid for the nets and a community-based supply chain is created. Also, innovative local banking initiatives, including community-managed savings and loan groups and a collective Environment Fund that invests in local conservation projects, help break donor dependency and make conservation self-funding. Net-Works is helping to restore marine life through the establishment of marine-protected areas and the replenishment of mangrove forests while strengthening local economies and enhancing community well-being and resiliency. This impressive project is now poised to expand into Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Thailand.


A problem adequately stated is a problem well on its way to being solved.” -R. Buckminster Fuller

OpenAQ fosters a far-flung series of grassroots networks that fight “air inequality” by building and using the only global, real-time and historical, open-air quality data platform in the world, aggregating data from, so far, 47 countries and more than 5,400 ground stations. Through their open-source platform and rapidly growing collaborative community, they promote an ecosystem of air quality information that has enabled previously impossible cross disciplinary and international collaborations, scientific research projects, policy initiatives, and newly empowered, informed activism. Air pollution, responsible for 1 out of every 8 deaths in the world, has enormous impacts on health and the global economy, and very poor communities often suffer the brunt of those adverse impacts. Meaningful access to air quality data can effectively arm citizens across sectors, institutions, and communities to combat dirty air. Many governments, including those in severely polluted places, publish air quality data, but often in forms that make it difficult or impossible to access for most people. No government, international organization, or other group had made these data open and universally formatted prior to OpenAQ’s innovative platform. Beyond its data aggregation and sharing, OpenAQ is committed to on-the-ground convenings and has, so far, held three pilot workshops in Bosnia, India, and Mongolia to bring together journalists, scientists, software developers, artists, policymakers, and others to address air inequality.


We are here as local information harvesters, local problem-solvers in support of the integrity of eternally regenerative Universe.” -R. Buckminster Fuller

Sistema Biobolsa permits small farms, rural communities, and urban settlements to convert organic waste into renewable energy and organic fertilizer. Based on a biomimetic model that originated in the early 20th century, Sistema Biobolsa has re-designed the common bio-digester to provide a state-of-the-art, robust system with a high-quality membrane comprising modular parts that is compact enough to be distributable via donkeys, motorbikes, or boats. This has allowed to scale to serve farmers in Colombia, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Senegal and is growing virally, with plans for near global reach. The bio-digesters convert waste into fertilizer for agricultural application and produce natural gas used for clean cooking and heating water, thereby reducing indoor air pollution and combatting deforestation. The gas is also used to run small engines for mechanical and electrical needs, providing affordable, renewable, decentralized energy to hitherto electricity-deprived populations. places a heavy focus on the monitoring and evaluation of their technology. Their replication package includes technical and communication tools that allow local representatives to track potential waste streams, calculate energy values, order systems and track and report impacts over time. This highly effective project provides a game-changing approach to boosting the livelihoods and well-being of small farmers (who grow 80% of the world’s food).