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October 2011 Issue

Featured - USG Competition Lets College Students Solve Social Issues
Social Business and Microcredit Students with Dr. Muhammad Yunus

USG Competition Lets College Students Solve Social Issues

Students at Georgia’s colleges and universities seized the chance to put their knowledge to work through a recent statewide competition focused on finding business solutions to some pressing community issues such as domestic violence, adult illiteracy, healthcare and housing.

The competition was held by the USG as part of a unique “Social Business and Microcredit” economic development conference held Oct. 17 in Atlanta at Georgia Tech’s Ferst Center and hosted by the USG.

The winning teams were:
• First place: Southern Polytechnic State University (Marietta), “Restoration Trust”
• Second place: Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (Tifton), “Health Clinic”
• Third place: Georgia Gwinnett College (Lawrenceville), “Read for Life”
• Fourth place: Valdosta State University, “Clean Sweep”
• Fifth place: Fort Valley State University, “Peach”
• Sixth place: Gainesville State College, “Sew Company”.

Nobel Prize recipient Dr. Muhammad Yunus, who spoke to the approximately 1,200 students attending the event, said that the future of society depends on the world’s youth and their engagement. “This is your age, this is your time,” Yunus said. “You are the most powerful generation in the entire history of mankind.”

Yunus pioneered the concept of microcredit, the extension of very small loans (microloans) to those in poverty designed to spur entrepreneurial activity.

The student competition was based upon another Yunus concept, that social problems can be solved through business models that provide a minimum profit to the business in order to sustain a project, but do not provide for individuals to personally profit from the enterprise.

“One of my goals as chancellor is to reinforce the value of college to society and individuals,” said USG Chancellor Hank Huckaby. “This competition was an excellent way to showcase the critical thinking and creative talents of students and how they can take their skills and knowledge and apply to real problems here in Georgia.”

In all, 38 teams made up of students from 35 USG institutions and three private colleges participated in the competition. Teams were asked to identify a social problem in the community, conduct a market analysis and develop a strategy to address the problem and prepare a social business plan based on the principles developed by Yunus.

The teams presented their proposals to judges in sessions during the Oct. 17 conference. Judges drawn from the private sector and higher education looked at the strength of each plan’s business model, its financial requirements, its sustainability and the degree to which it meets the problem and generates social benefits in the community.

The winning entry, “Restoration Trust,” by a team from Southern Polytechnic State University, envisions the creation of a company with a mission to improve the lives of victims of domestic violence.

This would be accomplished through a microsavings and lending program to domestic violence victims, along with access to immediate and long-term housing options, and coaching on employment, education and entrepreneurial options.

Sonal Doshi, who is pursuing a master-of-science degree in accounting at Southern Poly, worked on the plan. “A lot of research and legwork was done, not keeping the competition in mind but the social business in mind,” she said. “That helped us narrow it down to the idea that we felt was the most pressing need for social business.”

Another student had a more personal connection to her team’s entry. “The project means a lot to me,” said student Shalaya Morissette, a member of Georgia’ Gwinnett College’s team whose entry focused on adult literacy. Morissette’s mother did not know how to read.

“It’s a simple idea, but there are adults who can’t perform simple tasks like reading prescription bottles or books to their children,” said Morissette. “With the right resources, they will.”

Looking to the future and how the social business model concept can be sustained in Georgia, Huckaby said that the University System is establishing a “Georgia Social Business Fund,” to be underwritten through private and corporate donations. This entity would evaluate future proposals for funding, said Huckaby.

Two organizations already have made contributions to the fund said Mohammad Bhuiyan, 2011-2012 USG American Council on Education (ACE) Fellow, who organized the conference.

“This is a first step,” Huckaby said. “This conference is part of our plan to build stronger partnerships among educational agencies and institutions, and local and state government, business, and other entities to create potential new businesses and jobs.”

For more information about the student competition, see: http://www.usg.edu/social_business_microcredit/competition/.

Posted by Sonja Roberts on October 31, 2011
Published in: Board of Regents, Students on Campus

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