Conservation through Commercialisation

Although trading rhino horn has been illegal in China since 1993, the prohibited activity remains widespread in the country. The College of Design and Innovation at Tongji University has partnered with Peace Parks Foundation to offer their students the opportunity to address this extremely complicated social issue through the use of innovative design as part of the university curiculum. With the focus firmly on the reduction of the demand for rhino horn in southeast Asian communities, students are tasked to use their skills to design, produce and market products that will be commercially attractive to big business investors while simultaneously inspiring change within their communities.

Our work in China revolves around creating local ownership of the problem, working with the Chinese people, to develop Chinese solutions based on Chinese culture. The value of working with young Chinese nationals and training institutions is immeasurable.

Brad Poole, PPF Chief Operations Officer

Each year, top performing students are also brought to South Africa to visit conservation areas where they have the opportunity to interact with leading rhino protection and conservation experts. Knowledge gained is used to enhance their products to ensure that their messaging will be effective.

Facing the reality of rhino poaching

Through the “Xi” – meaning both rhino and cherish – campaign, the students created an array of innovative design concepts to convey the message of rhino protection that included a range of merchandise, educational games and interactive e-books, with one group even writing and recording a beautiful song to underscore an animated story on the issue.

Mix Lab, which is a Tongji University-enterprise exchange and practice platform, brings together technological innovation, creative design and cultural strengths. The Lab identifies viable designs to produce and take to market, thereby increasing the awareness impact and reach of the projects. Two of the most successful products developed through this are a unique anti-pollution mask as well as a beautifully designed bookmark that are both in the process of being commercialised. Profits will be ploughed back into the project to ensure sustainability.

Last year’s winning design – a symbolic and rhino branded anti-pollution mask

A bookmark like none other

The winning team this year created a beautiful reimagination of a bookmark for the modern world. Reading physical books bought from bookstores rarely happens in western countries as people tend to order books online, or use e-readers. In China, however, reading books in cosy stores offer a relaxing haven from buzzing and over-crowded streets and malls. It is still a large part of Chinese culture and with this modern rethink of the traditional bookmark design, it is hoped that a very wide audience will be reached and engaged. Design student Hao Siqi explains, “Our project looked at developing a range of bookmarks that people will find in bookstores. It has a pop-out panel which can be folded into a small rhino origami figurine. We are developing  an app that will be enable you to scan the app figurine with a cell phone and take you to a website containing rhino conservation information. The remaining part can be used as a beautiful bookmark and when placed correctly, it would seem as if a tiny rhino is peering from out of the book. People will also be able to donate towards the cause from the accompanying online social and interactive platform.

How to fold your bookmark

Watch the video below to see how to fold your bookmark and help rhinos to stand up and be confident once again!

What is your pattern story?

Several universities from other large cities in China have approached the partners to launch similar projects in their institutions. Prof Cai Jun joined the group on their visit to South Africa and will be launching a similar project at Tsinghua University, Beijing later this month.

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