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USG Competition Lets College Students Solve Social Issues

Atlanta — November 17, 2011

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, unemployment, 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) and its project, “Restoration Trust.”
  • Second place, Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (Tifton), “Health Clinic.”
  • Third place, Georgia Gwinnett College (Lawrenceville), “Read4Life!”
  • 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.

The team developed a plan that utilizes Yunus’ techniques of providing micro lending to domestic violence victims. The group also focused on how to provide assistance with housing, and employment as well as education.

“A lot of research and legwork was done, not keeping the competition in mind but the social business in mind,” said Sonal Doshi, a team member who is working on her master’s degree in accounting. “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.”

The resulting social business plan, “Read4Life!,” provides a turnkey low-cost franchise that, at 260 franchises in five years, would generate 50,000 newly literate adults annually in Georgia, as projected by the team. Part of Read4Life!’s unique formula is in its combination of high-interest books plus coaches from the franchise-owning community organizations, said faculty advisor, Robert Anservitz, an assistant professor of marketing at Georgia Gwinnett College.

Looking to the future and how the social business model concept can be funded and 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.

“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 while at the same time helping to address some pressing social issues.”

For more information about the event, see:

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