Better Living Challenge


Meet the new BLC research team

May 30, 2016

John Edwards

We are ramping  up our activities in preparation for the launch of the Better Living Challenge 2 in August this year – meet the research team at the heart of all the activity: John Edwards, Sean Andrew and Mehul Sangham.

John Edwards (pictured above) is a project architect and international development studies graduate with over six years of practical experience (on-site, research, field work and teaching) in development and humanitarian contexts. John is doing a focussed piece of work for us on architectural and planning precedents in the informal settlement development and upgrading space – focusing on models that are successful, scalable and replicable. John has a multi-disciplinary background and a strong technical, analytical and strategic skill set. He has a Masters in Philosophy in Development Studies from Oxford and Master of Architecture from UCT. What makes John’s skill set particularly interesting for the BLC is his experience in doing his thesis which looked at the politics of place: exploring the relationship between space-making and the perception of place in a Syrian refugee camp in southern Turkey.

Sean Andrew is the research team leader for the BLC2 and will be working with us on the Design Thinking needs analysis, research and stakeholder engagement/ethnographic research part of the BLC. This is a six month, immersive process where we will be conducting research with users to ensure that the BLC challenge is framed to meet the needs of users in informal settlements. Sean is currently an MPhil in Inclusive Innovation Studies candidate (GSB, UCT) and has a BA in Environmental Studies and Communication with a focus on sustainable development, and he has worked in the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Eco-Innovation pilot. His strength lies in designing and facilitating process-oriented and strategically driven interventions for internal and external stakeholders to discover shared value.

Mehul Sangham, who is completing his PhD, is working as part of the BLC research team looking into models for innovation that can be applied for the BLC2. In particular, he is doing an analysis of local and global models and conducting desktop research and key stakeholder engagement. He has worked in the South African tech and innovation industry for the past eight years, involved in the areas of business model design, experience design, social innovation and product development. His recent work involves the themes of social innovation as the means of social transformation, building an integrally informed society. He has a unique blend of real world experience supported by a deep engagement with design and innovation theory. He holds a Master’s degree in Inclusive Innovation and is a Bertha Scholar at the School of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (GSB, UCT).

We have also commissioned Kaiser Economic Development Partners to conduct focused research on affordability and finance for the informal housing space in order to glean an understanding of the microfinance and lending landscape, affordability, and to explore the scope for innovative financial packages. Kaiser Economic Development Partners has built a strong reputation for delivering projects that help realise Africa’s key economic development goals, including creating jobs, reducing poverty, and building sustainable businesses. They offer research, strategy, advisory, and implementation support services and we are tremendously proud to have them aboard as part of the research team for the BLC2.