Inside USD

Ethical and Local Sourcing

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ideas are full of hope. Ideas set wheels and hearts in motion for change. Overnight success or not, each idea offers an important learning experience.

So far, that’s what University of San Diego graduate students Justine Darling and Chris Morales from the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies program, and MBA candidate Rohini Sankapal have accomplished.

Their project, “Ethical and Local Sourcing at USD,” earned them $1,500 in seed money from the Center for Peace and Commerce’s inaugural Social Innovation Challenge last spring.

Darling’s idea was to form individual partnerships with entrepreneurs from San Diego and across the Mexico border to create a locally sourced brand of fair trade products such as jewelry, scarves and other unique items. But when the three students applied to the Challenge as a team, the idea became an opportunity to insert this ethical sourcing principle on campus and to cultivate USD student buy-in for long-term success.

“This is a student-run project and we knew we’d have to deal with student turnover due to graduations,” said Morales, who, along with Darling, will complete the master’s degree requirements in peace and justice studies this month. Sankapal is scheduled to graduate in the spring.

Nevertheless, the group sought to lay a foundation by bringing their strengths, their vision and experience to the project. Sankapal focused on business. Morales’ emphasis was social justice and environmental sustainability aspects. Darling was a mix of both. Together, they know they have an idea with tremendous upside, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

The group focused on its own internships within their respective studies last summer. Their intent, though, was to return this fall and push the project forward by meeting with student groups to raise awareness and find some to invest in their project.

Sankapal gave business logistical information during a Dec. 1 Idea Lab featuring presentations by the top four winners of last year’s Social Innovation Challenge. She spoke of initial interest in the idea by the USD Torero Store, small business/supplier interest and noted that surveyed students, as customers, were “very positive and excited about consuming ethically sourced products.” Student buy-in for administering the project, however, needs improvement.

All three acknowledge there were challenges in the implementation process. All three students feel this idea can work. Darling indicated that there is preliminary interest from a developing fair trade group on campus to help spread the word.

The originator of this idea certainly isn’t ready to give up the fight.

“We haven’t done everything we can do,” Darling said. “This project has been a learning lesson for each of us. Yes, there have been challenges in the ways we think about our project and how to implement it. But I know I’ve learned so much about business from Rohini and from Chris with his passion for social justice. We want to make this work and it can happen if we’re working together. I’d like to tell others who are applying for the Social Innovation Challenge and thinking about working in a group that it will be a challenge, but the benefit is so great. All you can do is to keep going. You can do it!”

— Ryan T. Blystone

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