- CSE (College of Science and Engineering) 1905 – Fall 2013, 10^9 Challenge. This course, taught by Julian Marshall, is a one-credit introductory course on grand challenge problem solving.
- CE (Civil Engineering) 5571 – Fall 2013. Acara Global Venture Design. Taught by Julian Marshall, Brian Bell, Toby Nord and Fred Rose.
- CE5572 – January 2014, Social Venture Launchpad, for students with an idea for a venture. Taught by Fred Rose
- CFANS (College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences) 3480/5480 – Spring 2014. A new class, Social Entrepreneurship in Uganda, in collaboration with Makerere University. Taught by Fred Rose and Cheryl Robertson.
- CE 5570 – May term, 2014. Discovery India. A 3 week study abroad program to Bangalore, India (which includes the Summer Institute). Taught by Brian Bell, Julian Marshall and Fred Rose.
We had 5 students from the Fall 2013 5571 course spend from 3-9 months in India on longer term internships. Here is a summary from three doing a waste-related internship. We also had 3 students from the CFANS 3480 course spend a month in Uganda with the Makerere students.
- Dar es Salaam, Tanzania – August 2013. Part of USAID-sponsored RESPOND program. Taught by Fred Rose and Cheryl Robertson.
- Stanford – November 2013. Part of the US-Mexico Forum for Understanding, Cooperation and Solidarity (Fred is an advisor to this organization). Taught by Fred Rose.
- University of Kinshasa, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo – Feb 2014. Part of USAID-sponsored RESPOND program. Taught by Fred Rose and Cheryl Robertson.
- Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda – Feb 2014. Collaboration with CFANS 3480 course and RESPOND. Taught by Fred Rose and Cheryl Robertson.
- Acara Spring Workshops – March, April 2014. Workshops for local social entrepreneurs. Taught by Brian Bell and Fred Rose.
- ITAM (Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México), Mexico City – April 2014. Part of the US-Mexico Forum. Taught by Fred Rose.
- Noah (Idealistic Newbie). Full time Student, no idea for a venture.
- Maya (World Changer): Full time student, has an idea for a venture.
- Ramesh (Eager Entrepreneur): Not a student, has an idea for a venture.
- Barbara (Encore Artist): Not a student, doesn’t have an idea for a venture.
- Students from our courses (this includes UMN students and students in India and Uganda)
- Students in the competitions (Acara Challenge and Dow SISCA)
- Entrepreneurs that participate in our monthly Impact Reviews.
- MyRain – Steele Lorenz. Was a 2014 MN Cup semifinalist.
- be Waste Wise – Katrina Mitchell. Katrina has started another venture, Picture Perfect, which was a 2014 MN Cup semifinalist.
- Bogo Brush – Heather McDougall
- Joy of the People – Ted Kroeten
- Andamio Games – Kyle Nelson
- Mighty Axe Hops – Brian Krohn and Eric Sannerud. Was a 2014 MN Cup semifinalist.
- Jeff Ochs review of benefit corporations and social venture structure/definition
- Skivvies – Kelsey Fecho
- BDW Technologies – Adam Woodruff. Was a 2014 MN Cup semifinalist.
- College Credit – Ify Onyiah
- This fall we are doing a pilot of something we call Grand Challenge Impact Studio. Essentially this is just a facilitated workshop with students working on Grand Challenge ideas. Since we started this late we are really just working with Acara students and students from the Food Grand Challenge course.
- Minnesota Social Impact Center. Acara is a partner with this new organization. This helps fill an important void for Acara students that are pursuing their venture ideas. An place to work and get support is crucial. Check out the big event on November 12 and become a member!
When Hunter Dunbar, Alexandra Feeken, and Abbey Seitz accepted an Acara Fellowship with Waste Ventures India, little did they realize that their relationship with garbage would acquire a whole new meaning. Their two-month internship was studded with intimate acquaintances with different pieces of the waste management puzzle, acquiring celebrityhood, encounters with giant infant statues on beachside adventures, and a brush with local politicians. In the midst of all this excitement, the trio engaged in meaningful work, mapping out the waste management sector, a highly relevant, contested and politically charged space in urban India. Their work not only involved a technical analysis of waste byproducts, but also a bird’s eye view of the sector, its stakeholders and their roles.
The Acara Fellows met with a wide variety of stakeholders in the waste sector, including local waste pickers and their families.
The stint was preceded by a kaleidoscopic eye-opener – the Acara May-term Global Seminar 2014 (blog, photos). A three-week experiential learning programme, the course comprised interactions with social entrepreneurs in sectors such as waste management, health, education, water and agriculture, addressing the most pressing urban India-centric issues. In addition to meeting with these entrepreneurs, the class also followed a trash trail from households to a dumpsite, beautified a sullied street corner, and discovered the charms and urban development-centric travails of Bangalore, India, through an exciting treasure hunt. Three weeks of on-ground activities were buttressed by one week of classroom learning, and structured interactions with social entrepreneurs, impact investors, and social venture consultants.
The Acara India class spent a day on the Trash Trail with Saahas learning about the waste sector in Bangalore.
However, such a rich arsenal of tools and experiences might not have prepared Hunter, Abbey and Alex for the task that lay ahead – five weeks on the field with Waste Ventures operational staff in Miryalguda, Andhra Pradesh, where they would focus on studying the organic waste supply chain – sorting, processing, composting, and selling the compost to local farmers. This process would work in tandem with examining competing composting models, analyzing optimal pricing and looking at the feasibility of residential and municipal-level composting.
Abbey, Alex, and Hunter helped Waste Ventures by evaluating composting as a business model in Miryalguda, India.
The team soon realized that they had boarded the ferris wheel of an interesting socio-economic experience. The internship goal was to understand the composting process and assess market demand. Over the course of their program, the team realized the various challenges in the waste sector. As for the nucleus of the business model, the team found the following:
a) Rigorous research involving local farmers to determine optimal compost composition is sorely lacking, and such time is well-worth investing in.
b) Residential captive composting, where waste is segregated, and organic waste channeled into compost, is most feasible.
c) Compost is a low-value product; investment in production and transportation costs is not warranted, as financial yields are low.
The real immersion, however, came from the multicoloured vignettes that studded the team’s time in Miryalguda. They recall how a random walk on the beach was interrupted by a devout woman who dramatically prostrated at their feet, much to their shock and consternation; how random acts of kindness involved spicy meat preparations, and much tongues-on-fire moments; or how, the local newspaper, shrewdly sensing a story-opportunity, had a bewildered, yet indulgent, threesome make headlines.
While exploring waste, the team also met with local politicians.
The five weeks in Miryalguda were followed by a rubber-meet-road stint, where the team travelled to Bangalore, Coimbatore, and Indore, meeting with various stakeholders in the waste management sector. They met with a bouquet of organisations, including Reap Benefit, Saahas, and Indian Green Service. These meetings and field visits helped sculpt the vicissitudes of the waste sector, which transcend processes, into issues of governance, human rights, and equity. The field visits were as visceral and hands-on as they could get, and the learnings were immense. The team learnt that as with everything in India, the phrase, “more to it than meets the eye” really formed the “rule-of-thumb” of their experiences.
The Fellows team interviews waste management stakeholders at a local dump.
The team ended the internship with a flourish, with Hunter being showered in trash in a takeoff of the ALS ice bucket challenge, and Alex and Abbey being willing co-conspirators. This moment of levity was a grand finale to six weeks in a frustratingly complex, yet beautiful country. The team found much appreciation; according to Tiffany Talsma, COO, Waste Ventures, “Hunter, Abbey and Alex were self-starters. They asked all the right questions, and had an open mind. They captured day-to-day learnings with alacrity, and compiled a comprehensive report at the end. We look forward to an opportunity to work with Acara Fellows in the future.”
Some “was”-ted interest, this!
More photos from the experience:
Check out more on the Acara Fellows’ blogs:
Poverty. Social inequality. World hunger. Climate change. Disease. Religious intolerance. These are some of the Grand Challenges President Kaler called out in his 2014 State of the University speech. There are many UMN students who are interested in these topics, are taking courses on developing solutions or may already have a venture or business idea. The Grand Challenge Impact Studio is an initiative at the UMN to help you develop and solidify your idea, connect with a strong network of mentors and experts and to launch a pilot.
The Studio is a weekly facilitated session and is intended to be a compliment to any class or program you may be taking. It will provide a focused time with mentors, outside experts and other students working on similar challenges. This is co-curricular, no credit. They are scheduled Mondays 3:30-5:00 at IonE on the St. Paul campus. If that time doesn’t work for you, let us know times that may, we will try to schedule a few sessions at other times on the West or East Bank. It’s easy to get to IonE on the St. Paul campus via the connector, which stops right across the street. The Studio starts Monday, Sept 29 and continues through Dec 8. We will likely continue in the spring semester to help teams develop ideas for pilots and minimal viable products.
The Impact Studio is a collaboration of many individuals across campus and is being operated by the Acara program in the Institute on the Environment. Acara is the 2014 winner of the UMN C. Eugene Allen Award for Innovative International Initiatives and has helped develop and launch such ventures as MyRain, a drip irrigation business for small plot farmers in India, Minneapolis-based Twin Fin Aquaponics and Minneapolis-based Eat For Equity. The Impact Studio will also work hand-in-hand with Boreas Leadership Program.
The Impact Studio will include a series of guest mentors. Mentors already committed include: Simone Ahuja, author of Jugaad Innovation, Brad Lordhing and Scott Nelson of LogicPD, a leading design firm in the area of Internet of Things, Tony Loyd, former executive of John Deere and Medtronic, Leo Sharkey, General Manager, Siemens Water Technologies and others. All have a long track record of innovation in Grand Challenge areas.
Students must apply to be accepted into the GC Studio. The application is here. Applications are due no later than Sept 22, we will accept on a rolling basis so don’t wait, as we have limited space. You may sign up as an individual or as part of a team. There is no fee associated with the Studio, nor will students receive credit. This is a new initiative we are testing this fall and will have limited enrollment. It’s a great opportunity and you can help shape the GC Studio concept.
There are many great programs now around the university for entrepreneurship, design thinking and others. The GC Impact Studio is not meant to duplicate any of those. It is meant to provide an additional support to develop students interested in impact on Grand Challenges.
What’s a Grand Challenge?
The ongoing UMN-wide strategy team is developing a working definition of what is meant by a Grand Challenge for operational purposes. In the meantime, the following serves for our purposes:
- The situation is emergent,
- as a result, there is a constant flow of information to negotiate,
- this means actors are constantly changing their behavior
Emergent in this case means the properties of the situation arise from the interactions of many parts, which in practical terms means you can’t predict it in advance.
The UMN Grand Challenge – Curriculum Sub-committee, which met over the 2014 summer, has a draft report on recommended action. That is not yet approved for release but the following section summarizes much of the objective of the proposed GC Impact Studio: “At both the undergraduate and post-baccalaureate levels, the goal of the Grand Challenges Curriculum is to help students develop a foundational set of knowledge, skills, and values. The focus is on competencies that prepare students to recognize grand challenges, assess possible points of intervention, and take action. These foundational competencies can be applied across a range of potential grand-challenge topics.”
Pilot: Following the process many team members teach in their respective programs, we are using lean startup methods, in this case proposing a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) to test basic assumptions. We propose to pilot the GC Impact Studio for students from various programs around the UMN.
What are the assumptions and hypotheses we want to validate with this MVP?
- We hypothesize that a co-curricular studio environment can deliver and develop GC skills in students.
- We hypothesize the Impact Studio can accelerate student led ventures focused on Grand Challenges.
- We assume students will attend (what is the right mix of location, time, etc.):
- We test the right program mix (skill building, mentoring, team interactions)
- There are multiple options for working with students: for-credit classes, extra-curricular, student organization, grad/undergrad, post-graduation. This is a focus on co-curricular.
- Mixing impact ventures, traditional for-profit, non-profit, policy ventures together will work in one studio.
What happens in the studio?
The studio will provide students a place to:
- Work with mentors from inside and outside the university, who have expertise valuable to startup teams
- Work with other students working on similar challenges
- Connect with a network
- Spend focused time on your plan
- Learn skills (presenting, design thinking, funding strategies, etc.)
There will be external and internal UMN mentors in each session. The sessions will follow a general design thinking process of empathy<->design<->ideate<->prototype<->test, over the course of the semester. Again the purpose is to compliment what you are getting in class. It’s more one-on-one time.
The Acara team has delivered more than 10 one-week workshops/classes and 10 semester long courses (which have 3 hour class sessions). During this time, we have developed and used a number of workshop/skill-based sessions, interspersed with one-on-one mentoring. Many of these will form the basis for the sessions. We are not predefining the sessions at this point, except for the first two sessions which will be focused on design thinking.
How is this different from what students may be able to get in other ways or from mentors provided to them? Part of that answer lies in the eligibility. These are not general purpose entrepreneurship focused sessions. Those already exist at the UMN at Carlson and are great. We want to bring in the range of social, environmental, international and Grand Challenge focused ventures. There may be some overlap with other programs but that’s fine. More help for students the better.
 Melanie Mitchell, Complexity: A Guided Tour (Oxford University Press, USA, 2009)
We recently returned from our annual Summer Institute course in India. We had 14 UMN students plus 9 other students from India and the US. In pre-departure meetings and during our first few days in India, students asked us questions about aspects of India that appeared illogical to them. Often our response boiled down to, “it’s India”. Over the last three weeks, students began to understand what that phrase meant; by the end of class, the class motto became “This is India.” Or as one of our van drivers said after one of many close calls in Bangalore traffic, “This is the India”.
For the students, and instructors, this class has been an impactful few weeks. There was no protective shell around the students in India. From day one, students were out in the street and in communities, learning first-hand about issues ranging from water (in)access in slums to solid waste challenges in one of India’s fastest growing cities to women’s livelihoods in rural villages. A number of students asked why we didn’t help prepare them for what they did. In a way, we did: There were many reading assignments and discussions prior to leaving Minnesota. But the readings and discussions didn’t sink in until we were on the ground in India, which is precisely why we do classes like this.
During the class, we had the opportunity to work with many of Bangalore’s leading change-making organizations, such as Saahas, SELCO, TIDE, and MyRain, among others. One of the inspiring groups we interfaced with was The Ugly Indian, an anonymous movement of Indians cleaning up cities throughout India. With The Ugly Indian, we spent a morning “spot-fixing” one of Bangalore’s iconic streets, turning a neglected, trash-ridden sidewalk into a pleasant and hygienic public space, while attracting the attention of national publications and the neighborhood at large. It was a chance to be part of a movement that matters and to have fun getting into action with some of Bangalore’s most motivated, and known but unknown, social entrepreneurs.
This was an amazing group of students. Every group or organization we visited commented on the maturity of the students and their insightful questions. The students enthusiastically embraced everything from eating street food to negotiating with auto rickshaw drivers over the right fare. These are not skills that can be taught in a classroom.
These weeks in India are some of the best weeks of the year for me. It’s energizing to be with such passionate and smart young people and see their desire, despite the challenges, to tackle tough problems with their Midwestern grit.
“This is India” please meet “This is Minnesota”.
The 2014 version of the annual Acara Challenge was held Feb 21, 2014 at the lovely McNamara Alumni Center on the East Bank campus. This has been a brutal winter in Minnesota, the coldest in more than 30 years and one of the coldest on record. Of course, Feb 21 was one of the worst weather days of the winter, with 8-10 inches of snow, on top of ice, and cold weather. But we are a hardy bunch in Minnesota and the event went off on schedule. The Challenge was a little different this year. There was an International and a Domestic division, and only teams from the Universityof Minnesota participated. However, the competition was open to any UMN student and we had 11 great teams presenting, seven in the International Division and four in the Domestic Division.
The results of the Challenge, along with the plans and presentations of the teams, are here and listed below. The teams are now enjoying Spring Break. The teams are continuing to work and make progress. Several are planning to go to India, Uganda and Haiti for continued work this summer, as are some of the local teams. Stay tuned for updates.