Social Entrepreneurial Ideas Meet Reality

This event occurred in the past

From Inside USD -- Stephen Conroy, PhD, an economics professor and director for the University of San Diego’s Center for Peace and Commerce, was all smiles as he stood at the IPJ Theatre podium on Tuesday. His visible happiness and pride were evident as he welcomed the audience to an Idea Lab series event in connection with the annual Social Innovation Challenge (SIC).

Conroy’s joy stemmed from introducing five USD students whose social entrepreneurial ideas met reality. Isidore Niyongabo (pictured, right), Teresa Smith, Connor Lind, Kyle Miller and Grace Michel emerged as SIC’s 2013 winners, sharing a prize money pool of $40,000.

Seven months later, the five — all still current USD students — were present to give an update on their respective projects and to answer questions from an audience that included possible 2014 SIC applicants such as business marketing student Chaz Major.

“I was getting emails about it. Then, when I saw it on a poster, I thought about it. I’m always coming up with ideas, but to put an idea into action, I see this as a chance to really do something,” said Major, a first semester transfer student from UC Santa Cruz. “I haven’t quite decided, but I have a couple of ideas geared toward health — one about the obesity epidemic of youth and one to help cancer patients.”

Conroy and his SIC staff welcome all ideas — and the fourth annual SIC in 2014 has a total of $50,000 for entrants — that can change and improve the world.

“This is a small way for us to recognize, encourage and give people an incentive to think about social innovation and to really get on board with what we think is one of the most exciting developments in business and commerce today,” Conroy said. “It’s a wonderful nexus of peace and commerce.”

On Friday, the Center for Peace and Commerce announced a citywide social innovation challenge opportunity for other local colleges and their students to vie for $17,500, called the Moxie Prize.

The 2013 winners’ ideas had the right elements in place.

  • Niyongabo, a student in the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies master’s program, won $15,000 — and a bonus $2,500 in a special text vote — to assist with his Deaf for African Development program. Deaf himself, Niyongabo said through his translator that he successfully hosted a conference in Africa last summer for more than 100 people. It brought people from Burundi, Tanzania Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda together to work on skills such as leadership, capacity building, human rights advocacy and peace building. The group also brainstormed ways to bridge the gap between the hearing and the deaf communities and to train and empower deaf youth.
  • Smith, a graduate student in School of Leadership and Education Sciences’ (SOLES) Nonprofit Leadership and Management program, won $10,000 for the Safe Parking program, designed to aid local transitional homeless living out of their cars with a designated environment that’s safe for overnight and offers support services. The program is located in Chula Vista and San Diego, but Smith (pictured, left) wants to expand to North San Diego County. The SIC money provides additional support for people — many of whom have children — with dignity as Smith and others work to them get them back into housing as fast as possible.
  • Lind, a senior mechanical engineering student, earned $8,500 for his online business idea called Roam. Described as the “Yelp! for volunteering,” Roam is for those who want to do volunteer work around the world but seek some pre-trip information. Lind, who has taught English to Buddhist nuns in the Himalayas, traveled to Poland, Tijuana, Dominican Republic and, this past summer, to Haiti on an engineering internship to build bridges, describes his own experiences as life-changing and special. Through Roam is still in its infancy of online development, Lind hopes to create a valuable resource for prospective volunteers that relies on the reviews and detailed accounts of opportunities through experienced volunteers and the organizations who run them. Lind is still learning about what it will take to get it going and is looking into web and graphic design and developing a logo.
  • Miller, a senior business administration major and leadership minor, is part of a team of USD students who developed Lace Up Stand Up (LUSU), an anti-bullying program, in a SOLES leadership class project. It’s now a nonprofit organization and it teaches leadership and intervention skills to witnesses and bystanders of bullying situations, has been shared in local schools and organizations such as the Boys and Girls Clubs. Along with USD classmates Chris Barrett, Negin Mani and Adriana Kaplan, Miller said LUSU’s plans for the $4,000 it received are geared to help expand its reach. Miller said that entails spreading the training program to six weeks at certain locations to deepen the impact and to capitalize on USD’s Ashoka U Changemaker Campus designation connecting with the other 22 Changemaker Campuses nationwide and internationally.
  • Homespun, a project that Michel, a student in the School of Peace Studies and SOLES Nonprofit Leadership and Management student Andrew Rae, devised, won $2,500. It’s a project with a multifaceted impact: It brings together Karen refugees from Burma living in San Diego for weaving circles, where elders pass on the art of traditional weaving to the youth, and participants learn social entrepreneurship skills to sell their woven creations. Michel (pictured, above right) said the weaving circles have been formed, basic work between elders and the youth is underway and supplies have been purchased with only a fraction of the SIC money used to date. Michel is optimistic about Homespun. She envisions it as a transformational experience for all involved.

The inspiration continues, both for past SIC winners and, surely, for those thinking about applying in 2014.

— Ryan T. Blystone