Innovation means coming up with creative ideas to solve already existing problems, and trying to analyze these problems from a different perspective.

Having the passion and fire within to solve problems in the world is what truly makes a social innovator. Keeping this in mind, I came up with a solution to a problem that many people face – including me.

More than half of the world’s people eat rice as a staple food, and the crop dominates cereal production in many low-income countries. In India, 47 per cent of the population was employed in agriculture in 2012. The threshing of rice produces unwanted husks and straw, and the options for disposal are limited: burning, composting or feeding to animals on the farm. The residues have no commercial value, so the farmers end up burning the rice waste – causing air pollution, killing crop-friendly insects and making the topmost layer of soil partially infertile due to loss of nutrients.

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Coming from an agricultural background, I have seen the burning of rice waste is a huge problem. Whenever I went to my farm, I saw heaps of rice waste being burnt, creating black clouds of smoke. Breathing this polluted air is obviously extremely unhealthy for humans, and it can also severely impact animals.

Having the desire to help society and taking advantage of the perfect platform to make a change, Rayvin, Ekambir and I participated in the Social Innovation Relay. Working with global partner Hewlett-Packard Company, Junior Achievement-Young Enterprise Europe has developed the Social Innovation Relay to encourage students aged 15–18 to develop business concepts that are socially innovative and could have a significant positive social impact.

We, the Youth Innovators, decided to come up with a viable solution to the problem explained above, which would be a product that uses rice husks and straw as raw materials. The main challenges were: help reduce deforestation; provide an extra source of income for farmers; and provide eco-friendly, low-cost housing for low-income people. We addressed these issues by creating a product called Green Wood – a substitute for wood, made from unwanted rice waste, that can serve as a building material for low-cost housing.

Green Wood creates affordable, waterproof particleboards that can be used in environmentally sustainable housing. This material is fungi- and mold-proof, and therefore can withstand any kind of weather. It can also be used to make low-cost and sturdy school furniture. With all its advantages, it can be a revolutionary building material. Our main aim is to contribute to social welfare and initiate change worldwide. We aspire to benefit the maximum number of people around the world.

We want to give back to our society. Green Wood can help give poor, homeless people a roof on their head. It can also improve rural livelihoods, by creating a market for rice waste, so farmers can make extra income. Our product can furthermore greatly reduce air pollution as well as deforestation of the rainforest areas where many hardwood species grow; deforestation has been linked to climate change and has a devastating impact on biodiversity and the water cycle. Using sustainable materials is not only the right thing to do ethically, but it also has potential for commercial longevity. Although Green Wood is not yet on the market – we have made a prototype and are improving it as we go along – companies have shown a lot of interest already.

Winning the Social Innovation Relay has strengthened our belief that we, the youth, are the ones who can make a change in the world that we live in. We plan to keep helping our society in whatever little way we can. As young social innovators, we can come up with innovative ideas to solve many of the yet unsolved problems around the world.