Inside USD

Dreams in Action: Social Innovation Challenge

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Everyone has an individual dream and yes, it’s possible for each one to come true. But all dreams have one commonality — a starting point.

All University of San Diego students interested in exploring their dream idea can apply it when they enter the second annual Social Innovation Challenge. Sponsored by USD’s Center for Peace and Commerce (CPC), all USD students — undergraduate and graduate social entrepreneurs — are eligible to earn a piece of $30,000 available in seed money for a top proposal. The seed money pool has been increased to $30,000 from last year’s $12,000. Students can choose between two types of projects: start their own sustainable social venture or collaborate with an organization.

The CPC Tuesday hosted the first of three Social Innovation Challenge Idea Labs at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice to help students get started.

Students watched a YouTube video that spotlighted a Stanford University student-athlete whose idea, Hope Phones, combined recycled cell phones, a used laptop and software to create a text-driven communication system to provide critical medical information to hospital officials to treat patients in a rural area in Malawi.

Entrepreneur Steven Wright, founder of 4 Walls International, then gave a live presentation to the group about his company.

“We want entrepreneurs to talk about their projects so that our students learn as much as they can from their experiences and to help drive their own idea forward,” said Nadia Auch, CPC’s executive director. “It’s real, meaningful talk about the implementation of their idea.”

Wright, 27, delivered an inspiring and informative presentation about his start-up idea, 4 Walls International, which helps build homes to provide shelter, self-reliance and they’re made from sustainable materials such as recycled tires, bottles and more. Most important to Wright, though, is the chance to build alongside the future residents of the houses and to build community with them. Much of the organization’s work has been done in Mexico.

“This is what my heart wants more than anything,” said Wright when asked about his dedication to a three-year-old business venture that’s been funded by grants, donations and interns who help him with the hard work. “Human energy is the number one thing worth investing in.”

Wright’s story, his enthusiasm to “save the world” and his advice on perseverance — “don’t worry and don’t stop; if you’re on the path you’ve chosen, you need to align yourself with your plan and stay on that path” — are intangibles that the CPC hopes will resonate with students entering the competition.

The inaugural Social Innovation Challenge rewarded several students. Business Administration and Sociology major Tiffany Owen (pictured, second from right) earned the top amount, $5,000, for Clean California, Clean Haiti, a project that enabled her to go to Haiti and implement sustainable water solutions.

Tipiwa Mabathu, a 2012 MBA candidate, was second with $3,000 for The Message Drum project that focused on the potential of African diaspora worldwide. A $1,500 prize was awarded to Elika Dadsetan, a master’s student in the Kroc School of Peace Studies (KSPS), and the team of Justine Darling (MA Peace Studies), Chris Morales (MA Peace Studies) and Rohini Sankapal (MBA candidate). Four additional students earned $250 as finalists.

Last year’s challenge targeted student applicants from the School of Business Administration and KSPS, but Auch hopes USD’s recent designation as an AshokaU Changemaker Campus provides an impetus for campus-wide participation.

“We’ve opened this opportunity to the whole university because it provides more excitement for entrepreneurship,” she said. “We know that everyone is capable.”

The remaining idea labs, Dec. 1 and Feb. 1, will help students as they continue to shape their proposals for the Feb. 17 application deadline. Following feedback from a panel of judges, students have an April 2 deadline for final proposals. Winners will be announced April 27. A presentation by the winner, six months after implementing their idea, is scheduled for December 2012.

Auch said the Dec. 1 idea lab would feature winners, including Owen, a senior, from last year’s Social Innovation Challenge. The Feb. 1 idea lab will feature seasoned entrepreneurs who can talk about their experience and provide last-minute recommendations for students as the Feb. 17 deadline nears.

Tuesday’s turnout was encouraging to Auch. Patricia Marquez, the CPC faculty director, co-chair of USD’s AshokaU Changemaker Campus Hub Committee and an associate professor of business management, said Wright’s insight was encouraging and, hopefully, motivational for students.

“Steven is not afraid (of implementing his idea). I think if you’re here, you’re not afraid,” Marquez said. “We want to encourage your ideas, your ways of thinking. We want to tap into that human creativity.”

Dreaming is a start, but to make it a reality requires application.

— Ryan T. Blystone

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