UW News

February 21, 2007

Student competition showcases ways to end poverty in developing countries

They hail from as far away as Ghana and Kazakhstan and have seen firsthand how pollution and poverty have ravaged their homelands. They aim to make the planet a better place, and have been inspired to action by participating in the University of Washington Business School’s Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition (GSEC). The twelve teams, comprising mostly students, will present their solutions to finding creative and commercially sustainable ways to reduce poverty through new business development. The competition runs from Feb. 26 through March 2.

Business plans submitted in this third year of the competition include ways to manufacture wood-free paper in India, improve living conditions for Panama’s poorest citizens, and produce and market wind turbines for nomadic cattle growers in Kazakhstan.

Bright Simons, team captain for the Ghanaian team, Wospro, which stands for Wiki-farming and open-source processing, feels passionately that the competition, a rarity in academic circles, will allow his teammates and him to take their plans forward when they return home. Wospro aims to transform the Ghanaian farming industry by exposing this sub-Saharan African country to a global marketplace.

“Our business concept reflects a belief that global partnerships can achieve considerable local impact provided a system exists that allows knowledge and resources to flow between the global and local levels,” said Simons. “We want to revolutionize agriculture as it is practiced by the 80 percent of rural dwellers in Ghana who make a living from the land, by allowing them to participate in a global revolution in food production, particularly in the affluent western world, but eventually across the globe.”

Some participating teams such as Planting Empowerment SA, representing Johns Hopkins University, have made serious inroads already by registering themselves as bona fide companies. Chris Meyers, the team’s leader, says he and his teammates served together in the Peace Corps in Panama, and were inspired by their experiences of seeing how poor the living conditions were there to take action. Meyers says last month, his company was incorporated in Panama and signed a long-term lease and profit-sharing contract with the Congreso de Tierra Colective and the Arimae indigenous reservation in Panama’s Darien Province. In May, he and his teammates will reforest 10 hectares there with a mix of native species and teak, in hopes of improving the quality of life for indigenous peoples in this rural, poor section of the country.

The 12 teams competing are: Center for Humane Studies (Ghana); Bharathidasan University (India); ICFAI University (India); Alakhawayn University (Morocco); Bang College of Business (Kazakhstan); Xavier Labor Relations Institute (India); Narsee Monjee Institute of Management and Higher Studies (India); Peking University (China); Johns Hopkins University; Georgia State University, and two from the University of Washington.

“GSEC is a unique opportunity for students from around the world to develop plans for businesses that benefit not only the firm’s stakeholders but also provide a social benefit to the surrounding community,” says Jane George-Falvy, GSEC faculty coordinator. “Unlike typical business plan competitions and the conventional business model that primarily evaluate financial return on investment, GSEC highlights the importance of a business’ impact on social issues like poverty, health and quality of life.”

The teams will be judged on the impact on quality of life in the developing world, implementation feasibility and financial sustainability. Last year’s winning team, from South Korea’s KAIST University, developed a business plan for manufacturing hand-cranked AM radios in Mongolia for use by a rural population without access to electricity.

UW teams are required to include members from at least two different schools or colleges on campus. This year’s UW teams include students studying business, law and public affairs.

During the preliminary round on March 1, teams will have 10 minutes to present their ideas, followed by 10 minutes of cross-examination from the judges. The top four teams will have a chance to perfect their presentations, get some quality shut-eye, and return to face the judges the next day.

Social entrepreneurship can be defined as a business activity that has a double bottom line — a social return on investment as well as a financial return. The UW competition focuses specifically on for-profit businesses in the developing world.

The Global Business Center, the principal event organizer, will host the event, with support from the Business School’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The grand prize is $5,000 and the second place team will receive $2,500. Additionally, participating teams have been awarded more than $20,000 in travel scholarships.

The University of Washington community and public will also have the chance to nominate a team for a People’s Choice Award during the GSEC Poster Session, Feb. 26 from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. in the MBA Lounge located in Balmer Hall on the UW campus. Both the preliminary and final rounds of the competition are open to the public and they will take place: March 1 from 12 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. and March 2 from 2:30 until 6:00 p.m. in the Douglas Forum, located in the Bank of America Executive Education Center on the UW campus.


For more information, contact Wren McNally, GSEC Program Coordinator, (206) 543-4109 or wrenmc@u.washington.edu or visit http://bschool.washington.edu/gsec/