Inside USD

Students Rewarded for Socially Innovative Ideas

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

One clear message that emerged from the University of San Diego’s third annual Social Innovation Challenge (SIC) awards ceremony May 3 was that the future’s, literally, in good hands.

Hands to communicate and promote inclusion and equality in Africa. Strong hands used as tools when volunteering for an organization anywhere in the world. Hands that want to stop bullying. Hands that weave beautifully crafted art and empower refugees living in the U.S. Helping hands to provide San Diego homeless with a safer overnight environment.

The USD Center for Peace and Commerce’s signature event, a platform designed to ignite students’ innovative and social entrepreneurial ideas, distributed $42,500 to five projects Friday night at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice.

Isidore Niyongabo, a master’s degree candidate in the Kroc School of Peace Studies’ Peace and Justice Studies program, earned $15,000 to enhance his International Deaf Education Advocacy and Leadership (IDEAL) program. One of the Muyinga, Burundi native’s projects, Deaf for African Development, seeks to improve the quality of life and inclusion of deaf people living in Africa.

“I’m overwhelmed,” said Niyongabo (pictured above) through interpreter Mahie Shmathipala. “Giving us $15,000, which is what we had asked for in our proposal, shows that people believe what I believe in.”

He said there are an estimated 72 million deaf people in the world, 80 percent of who reside in developing countries. Of the latter, he added, only 17 percent are educated. Niyongabo, deaf since age 10, wants to provide more opportunities and to train more people as interpreters. Niyongabo won an additional $2,500, receiving the most texted votes in Qualcomm Labs’ Audience Choice Award contest. Ceremony attendees voted for their favorite based on a 90-second live pitch by each of the 10 SIC finalists.

Roam, a business idea that junior mechanical engineering student Connor Lind (pictured, right) describes as the “Yelp for volunteering,” was awarded $8,500. Roam is an online community for experienced international volunteers to post reviews of opportunities available around the world. The reviews aid prospective and experienced volunteers to better navigate and discover volunteering leads.

“This idea came to me because it’s what I love doing,” said Lind, who has taught English in India and leaves June 3 for a volunteer internship with the nonprofit Bridges to Prosperity in Haiti. “My whole life I’ve been into volunteering and travel. Volunteering exposes you to all of the world’s issues firsthand.”

Lace Up Stand Up (LUSU), a student group idea borne from an undergraduate leadership class project in the School of Leadership and Education Sciences, is a nonprofit organization centered on teaching leadership and intervention skills to witnesses and bystanders of bullying situations. Kyle Miller, Negin Mani, Chris Barrett and Adriana Kaplan received $4,000 to continue the work they’ve done for almost a year. They’ve taken LUSU from the USD classroom into the local community to empower more than 500 students. The program’s visible impact and support is also evident by way of those who wear LUSU’s symbolic bright green shoelaces.

Homespun employs fabrics to visually display its impact, too. Peace and Justice Studies student Grace Michel and SOLES Nonprofit Leadership and Management student Andrew Rae earned $2,500. Homespun provides Burma refugees living in the U.S. a chance to utilize their weaving skills to make clothing and accessories and sell their creations for profit. Homespun sees this as an enlightening project culturally and one that strengthens community.

The $10,000 Verizon Green Award, designed to promote sustainability among SIC ideas, went to a familiar person. Teresa Smith, a SOLES Nonprofit Leadership and Management student, won the entire amount to support the Safe Parking Program. Smith, who earned $10,000 in the 2012 SIC for her Eat Better Today mobile food truck business that provided hot, healthy and delicious meals for San Diego’s homeless, returned with another project aiming to help them. The Safe Parking Program provides a designated space for transitional homeless living in their vehicles to have a safer overnight environment and support services. Smith (pictured, second from right) said the new $10,000 will support expansion of the program, specifically at its Chula Vista and San Diego spaces. Smith, who partnered with Nancy Vera on this year’s SIC entry, said her involvement in homeless projects provide many rewards beyond the SIC funding.

“I’ll go there and have great conversations with people. I know what we’re doing is the right thing. You can see the value of it firsthand,” Smith said. “It’s great to see what happens when someone has a couple nights of good sleep. There’s a transformation. It’s a very positive situation.”

Positivity could also describe SIC’s evolution. It began in 2011 with 16 entries vying for $12,000. It grew to $30,000 and 52 entries last year. There were 114 entrants who vied for more money than the first two years combined this time around. On Friday, Center for Peace and Commerce Assistant Director Nadia Auch announced not only the five winners, but also that the five non-monetary finalists — E-Waste Collection, Human Powered Health Project, Project Light Bulb, LoansToLearn and Farm Xchange — have been given an Indiegogo crowdfunding page to support their projects. Entrants had access to mentors and idea labs, and the Center for Peace and Commerce added partnerships with the national Dell Social Innovation Challenge and EvoNexus and Springboard Connect, steps that show SIC’s growing popularity. Finalists went through three rounds of judging that included a large cross-section of high-caliber San Diego business community members.

“It’s extremely inspiring to see what the Social Innovation Challenge has become,” said USD business alumnus John Cappetta who, along with his wife, Nancy Jo, have been generous SIC donors since its inception. “I really think the event captures what the true mission of this university is and the kind of social impact our students can have. It shows that these values come first.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

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