Inside USD

Students of Innovation

Monday, April 30, 2012

Every entrepreneurial idea is an individual dream of hope. On April 27, six University of San Diego student ideas not only had a dream, but through the $30,000 Social Innovation Challenge, they now have some seed money to help their hope grow.

The students’ ideas tackled topics such as ways to help feed the homeless, child autism, sustainable farming, malnutrition, gender equality and student leadership through performing arts to foster change. The diverse ideas were rewarded — Teresa L. Smith (pictured, left) earned the top prize of $10,000 while one student earned $7,000, two projects received $5,000 each and two more got $1,500 each — and it showed the impact that this competition, created by USD’s Center for Peace and Commerce (CPC), has at USD.

The Social Innovation Challenge (SIC) enables students to move from inspiration to action, allowing them to create innovative ideas that solve problems,” said Patricia Marquez, CPC director and a USD business professor. “USD is part of a global effort, connecting individual creativity with world problems.”

To emphasize the importance of global and social changemakers, a few USD administrators, faculty, staff and students wore colorful capes Friday. The capes represented the colors connected to the United Nations’ Millennium Project goals.

“The capes are an invitation for all of us to remember when we were children,” Marquez explained. “Our imagination was new and there were no boundaries. We weren’t afraid of the world, we embraced it. We were curious. Everything seemed possible, even flying with a cape.”

There were 52 student entries for the SIC this year. Judges pared it down to 12 finalists for the CPC awards ceremony at the IPJ’s Garden of the Sea.

For Smith, the funding she received to launch Eat Better Today, a mobile food truck program that supplies San Diego’s homeless with hot, healthy meals, meant much more than money.

“The biggest thing is peace of mind,” said Smith, a master’s student in SOLES’ Nonprofit Leadership program. “It allows us to move forward and make it what we really intended it to be. It’s a ‘wow’ (the $10,000) because it bridges that gap, knowing we’re going to make it happen and that it can be successful.”

Giving San Diego’s homeless access to better, healthier food through Cal-Fresh benefits is important. So, too, is helping people beyond their hunger for food. “Part of the concept is employment development. We want to train people to work and to run a business.”

In its infancy, though, Smith said having a mobile food truck in the downtown area,  and a menu specifically requested by homeless people that she and others met — oatmeal and bananas topped the list — is a start. She’s also working with a nutritionist to ensure that this healthier food can nourish bodies, mind and spirit.

“We think they deserve the best, just like everyone else,” Smith said. “It’s bringing that attitude, that confidence and to help build that confidence in them, so we can start taking a different approach to homelessness and people feel better about wanting to do something about this situation.”

The other SIC finalists who received funding were:

• Casey Hoffman, MS Global Leadership ($7,000): Aiko & Egor is the first educational and engaging product from See Beneath, Inc., that’s designed specifically for children with autism. The product’s focus animation can be used to help teach simple imitation.

• Innocent Rugaragu, MA, Peace Studies ($5,000): Farming to End Poverty is a zero waste hybrid agri-business. It builds on the knowledge villagers have used for generations, which is introducing sustainable and profitable corn and sunflower to create community around a manufacturing and retail process. Rugaragu is pictured, left, with CPC’s Nadia Auch.

• Kristina James and Amber Zimmerman, MS Nursing ($5,000): A nutritional supplement called Nutri-Fort, a healthy, high-calorie snack to fight malnutrition, will be produced and sold in El Cercado, Dominican Republic. James and Zimmerman’s business model is an example of the use of women’s cooperatives to establish change.

•Sharia Walker and Anna Zamejc, MA Peace Studies students; and Chris Voets, BA International Business ($1,500): Social Transformation through Mediation is the name of a program whose goal is to provide mediation training for Saudi female lawyers so that they can participate in the judicial system. The skills gained allows women to assist in resolving conflicts without needing to be in a courtroom. It’s a foundation for boosting women’s participation in and beyond the legal sphere.

•Madeline Vann, BA Interdisciplinary Humanities ($1,500): The Performers for Progress program aims to foster leadership in students, provide opportunities for student empowerment through performing arts, raise funds and awareness. The program’s past success includes raising $23,000 to fund an Oakland, Calif., middle school arts program and the building of three wells in India.

In addition to SIC awards, Robert Schultz, a senior international business student was named the Southern California Entrepreneur for Social Change Award winner during the ceremony. His project, Finding Refuge, focuses on raising awareness about child slavery in Ghana.

Schultz was selected through a CPC Facebook page video contest. Marquez assigned students in her undergraduate business course, Global Entrepreneurship for Social Change, to create videos of the 10 nominees and their venture. The video with the most “likes” on the CPC Facebook page won.

Katie Matsunaka, Jae-Kila Oshiro, Laurel Morin and Jackson Higgins created the Finding Refuge video on Schultz, who got his project idea after visiting a Ghana orphanage during a Fall 2010 Semester at Sea study abroad experience. Schultz (pictured, right, with some of the students who made the Finding Refuge video) will enter USD’s law school in the fall, but he’s fully committed to the project’s continuation.

Schultz’s determination mirrors those who entered the Social Innovation Challenge. Once an idea is planted, the dream is to see it grow into something that helps others, creates positive change and makes the world a better place.

“To go to a university like USD, one that offers the Social Innovation Challenge and one that fosters this kind of work from its students is something to really be proud of,” Schultz said.

— Ryan T. Blystone

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