Inside USD

Student Innovators Compete to Solve Global Problems

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Proposals to make healthy food available to the homeless, turn old tires into building materials and even a social justice comic book were just some of the ideas students presented at USD’s second annual Social Innovation Challenge on March 2.

Out of 51 initial proposals, 29 were selected for presentation. Students hoping to become “changemakers” presented ideas for for-profit, hybrid social enterprises or nonprofit organizations to help solve a social, economic or environmental problem in San Diego, the  United States or the world. Teams are competing for a total of $30,000 in seed money to make their proposals a reality in the competition sponsored by USD’s Center for Peace and Commerce.

A panel of experienced judges, including Charlie Piscitello, president of the Petco Foundation, and Ned McMahon, founder and president of San Diego-based Malma Composites that develops eco-friendly materials for “green” surfboards and other projects, offered feedback and suggestions to the students to help them refine their proposals before the final submission on April 2.

Teresa Smith, whose “Eat Better Today,” proposal would use a food truck to allow the homeless to purchase fresh, nutritious meals with their CalFresh vouchers, already has taken care of many of the details, including arranging a discount to purchase the truck and support from the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.

But judge Peg Ross, director of Human Capital for the Grameen Foundation, asked if Smith had a plan for people who want food but have run out of their monthly  benefits. “It’s going to happen,” Ross advised her.

Smith’s proposal was one of several offering support to the homeless. Gabe Adibe, a sociology major, proposed the Altruistic Behavior and Innovations Group LLC, a company that would sell t-shirts, clothing, and even a social justice comic book with the profits going to help homeless people trying to get back on their feet.

Other presentations had a global focus. Anna Zamejc, who’s pursuing a master’s in peace and justice studies, was part of a group proposing a plan for women, who aren’t allowed to enter courtrooms in Saudi Arabia, to serve as mediators in the justice system there. The plan would “help expand their professional capabilities as lawyers,” she said.

Finance major Darren Webber (pictured right) said he spent “weeks” putting together his proposal that would keep old tires out of landfills and turn them into recycled building materials.  ”I want to be successful,” Webber said when asked about all the time he put into his project but “I also want to have a profound impact on the world. I really do.”

Winners will be announced at an Awards Ceremony on April 27.

–  Liz Harman

For more information about the Social Innovation Challenge go to or follow it on Facebook at

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