Currently viewing the tag: "Business competitions"
Just over one year ago, Manjula Dissanayake graduated from Fletcher and I’ve been keeping up with him since. We recently exchanged emails and decided it’s time for a spring/summer update. Pulling together this blog post will require reaching into many websites and other sources, because Manjula has been a busy guy.
To recap: After graduating, Manjula decided to focus full-time on his non-profit, Educate Lanka, from his base near Washington, DC. Pushing Educate Lanka forward has required a combination of on-the-ground work in Sri Lanka, along with nearly continuous efforts to draw attention to the organization, in hopes funds would follow. Manjula’s work, inseparable from the organization, has been recognized in so many ways! Back in April, I was fortunate to grab a few minutes with him during his visit to the area when, over the course of three days, he spoke at the Tufts Social Innovation Symposium as well as at the Tufts 100K Business Plan Competition (as an alumni competitor), and also attended a research presentation, exhibition, and silent auction benefiting Educate Lanka at Harvard. Between events, he packed in visits to staff and faculty. During our conversation, he gave me a sense of the activities he had in front of him. Here’s what has kept Manjula busy during the past few months:
- He wrote a column for the Huffington Post.
- He attended a boot camp for American Express Emerging Innovators.
- For Educate Lanka, he was invited to speak at the Clinton Global Initiative University in St. Louis about fundraising strategies.
- Having been (with Educate Lanka) voted as a winner of the Ignite Good Millennial Challenge, he attended the Ignition 2013 Millennial Social Impact bootcamp.
- And then he taped an interview on Huffington Post Live about the Millennial Social Impact bootcamp.
Even while I was compiling the list of all these activities, I learned of yet another new one. This past Sunday, Manjula spoke live (via Google hangout) at the Social Media Day in Colombo, Sri Lanka about using “Social Media for Social Good.”
Throughout the past year, Manjula told me, he has developed plans to grow Educate Lanka and possibly to carry the concept beyond Sri Lanka. He has put together a Board of Advisors on which Fletcher is well represented, and he continues to promote Educate Lanka’s work. From my outsider’s vantage point, I can see the extraordinary effort that has brought Educate Lanka to where it is today, but the results have been impressive! I’ll continue to follow Manjula’s path and report back again in the coming months.
Though time is tight, students at local colleges might want to submit a pitch for a product in the Extreme Inclusion Competition.
Those without a product to pitch, as well as all other blog readers, may want to attend the Extreme Inclusion Conference on May 2, a conference exploring the role and impact of financial services in reducing poverty and generating well-being for marginalized populations. The conference will be hosted by Fletcher, in partnership with MasterCard Worldwide and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Here’s information from the conference organizers about the keynote speaker:
We are pleased to announce that Reverend James Lawson, Activist and Principal Strategist for the American Civil Rights Movement, will deliver the keynote address “Demanding Inclusion.”
We are honored to have Reverend Lawson underscore the civic and economic power of systemically marginalized groups to catalyze change as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington. Reverend Lawson is one of the extraordinary individuals profiled in A Force More Powerful. The film, PBS Series, and book challenge the common misconception that violence is the ultimate form of power in times of conflict. Martin Luther King, Jr. called Reverend Lawson “the leading theorist and strategist of nonviolence in the world.”
Reverend Lawson will be introduced by David R. Harris, Provost and Senior Vice President, Tufts University and editor of The Colors of Poverty: Why Racial and Ethnic Disparities Persist.
You can register for the conference here.
I think the word is out that I cherish students’ unsolicited contributions to the blog. When I received a note from MALD student Lauren, I was happy not only because I was spared some writing, but also because she shared some exciting news. Lauren told me:
A team of Fletcher and Friedman students has advanced to the regional finals for the 4th annual Hult Prize. Our team is made up of two Fletcher students (Jane Church and myself), one Friedman student (Kimberly Feeney London), and one dual-degree Fletcher-Friedman student (Christina Filipovic). This year’s Hult Prize is themed around global food security, and the challenge (posed by President Clinton) is to create a social enterprise to get safe, sufficient, affordable and easily accessible food to the people of urban slums. If we advance through the regional finals, we participate in a summer incubator to further develop our business. A final round of decisions will occur in September and we could compete with the winners from the five other regions throughout the world for $1 million in start-up funding to launch a sustainable social venture.
And here’s some general information Lauren provided: The Hult Prize is the world’s largest student competition and crowdsourcing platform for social good. In partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative, the Hult Prize identifies and launches social ventures that aim to solve the world’s most pressing challenges. Student teams compete in five cities around the world on March 1 and 2 (this coming weekend!). The Tufts team will compete at the Boston regional final, with the four other regional competitions held in San Francisco, London, Dubai and Shanghai. Each team was selected from more than 10,000 applications received, totaling over 350 colleges and universities, representing over 150 countries.
The summer business incubator Lauren referred to provides participants with mentorship, and advisory and strategic planning, as they create prototypes and set-up to launch their new social business. The final round of competition is hosted by the Clinton Global Initiative and CGI delegates will select the winning team that receives the million dollar award, presented by former President Bill Clinton.
In a press release developed by the University, Lauren is quoted saying, “We think there is enormous potential to use market-based solutions to improve food security, economic growth and social justice despite the challenges posed due to population growth and climate change.”
In the same press release, the founder of the Hult Prize, Ahmad Ashkar, attributes the success of the competition to the global youth revolution and said, “We continue to be moved by the large number of students from around the world who are capitalizing on the opportunity to develop business models that target the bottom of the pyramid.” And he said, “We wish every team the best of luck and thank Tufts University for supporting this initiative.”
I hear about alumni and their activities in various ways. There are always the official channels, and then there are the unofficial (email, facebook, etc.). Lately, these media have directed a variety of information my way, and I thought I’d share what I know, partly because it’s such a pleasant hodge-podge.
First, there’s the update on Manjula and Educate Lanka. They won the reader’s choice Millennial Impact competition on the Huffington Post! Well done, Educate Lanka!
On a slightly related note (the connection being alumni who are already working with their own non-profits when they start at Fletcher), there’s Qiam and the Afghan Scholars Initiative. While I don’t have any special news to share at this time, I might as well use the blog to help ASI, as well as your holiday shopping, by pointing blog readers toward Jawan — your source for scarves, with proceeds going to ASI. Qiam is back in Afghanistan right now, but he left a team of scarf salespeople at Fletcher, who have fostered sales by telling the community that wearing a Jawan scarf will definitely increase your hipster cred.
A little PhD alumni news: Maria Stephan, who also has a MALD degree, recently shared the World Order Prize for a study of civil resistance.
And then alumni news from a Fletcher friend. Charles Scott and I got to know each other during my first (pre-Admissions) Fletcher career, when he was a MALD student. After Fletcher, he worked for many years for Intel, but he left the corporate world a while back to pursue endurance athletics full time. Now he has a book, Rising Son, which chronicles the bicycle trip he took across Japan with his son, Sho. (He later biked with both Sho and Saya, his daughter, around Iceland. Book to follow?) While not signing books at some event, Charlie sends me regular updates on his activities (biking solo from New York to DC in 36 hours or less, running the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim, and other crazy stuff). And he writes for the Huffington Post, too. Even if you’re not into endurance feats, you may relate to Charlie’s work on behalf of the environment and related organizations.
I’m going to be stuck in a meeting all morning, but I’m lucky again that students sent a blog idea into my inbox. Not just any idea, but an exciting bit of news for lovers of competition!
The Huffington Post is sponsoring the Reader’s Choice Awards for the IGNITEgood Millennial Impact Challenge, described as “a nationwide search for ideas to make the world better through service.” Among the 200 social innovators (under the age of 30) who submitted their ideas are TWO who are affiliated with Fletcher. Wow!
The second is that of PhD student Kartikeya Singh, affiliated with ENVenture, which he describes in an email as seeking “to empower youth to participate in the emerging energy entrepreneurship field, whilst simultaneously tackling energy poverty issues in the developing world. Winning this award will launch the pilot in Uganda and will push us into being able to expand to India. ENVenture fellows will create business plans and address the barriers to scaling of decentralized energy technologies in the developing world.” ENVenture is competing in the Green category.
Lucky for Fletcher, you can vote in each of the two categories. The competition ends November 26. Good luck Manjula and Kartikeya!
Many Fletcher students plan to launch an initiative after they have graduated, but recently there has been a trend toward students starting an NGO or similar organization before enrolling or while pursuing their degrees. New graduate Gaurav Tiwari is one of those, and I checked in with him to ask what his organization, EmpowerID, is all about.
Gaurav told me that he started EmpowerID along with fellow students at MIT, all of whom have some international development experience. (The ID in EmpowerID stands for International Development.) Gaurav has worked in the field over the last several years in various capacities — as a field researcher in the slums of Delhi, as a policy analyst in Washington D.C., and as a practitioner for a Nairobi-based startup called Sanergy. He wrote that he found that “the practice of development lacked information-sharing and sustainability, which are crucial to success in any project.”
EmpowerID was born when Gaurav and his colleagues decided that providing the medium for sharing information would help development practitioners. They created an online portal, through which practitioners could share information about their projects and maximize the impact and efficiency of development initiatives. The list of projects shared through EmpowerID.org is already quite impressive!
As further background, Gaurav gave me a few bullet-points on the project.
• EmpowerID.org is a knowledge sharing platform which links communities, development practitioners and all other stakeholders in order to maximize impact and efficiency of development initiatives.
• EmpowerID.org blends the virtues of social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Devex, and seeks to build an online community for practitioners, volunteers, and organizations in the field of international development.
• EmpowerID aims to revolutionize the way international development is practiced across the world.
And Gaurav has been seeking to draw Fletcher students into the operation. In a end-of-semester email to the community, he wrote:
We are working on an online platform to publicize successful international development projects and the lessons learned, with the goal of increasing their impact and helping future volunteers to build off previous successful work! We would like to feature YOUR projects on our online platform, and share lessons that you all have learned in your time in the field with the rest of the global international development community!
Blog readers, if you have experience in international development to share, why not connect to EmpowerID by signing up and describing your project!
In April, after I wrote my last post from the Hall of Flags, I was emailing with Manjula Dissanayake, one of the students featured. A week later, we sat down and he described the incredible path he has followed from his pre-Fletcher days to now. With Commencement just around the corner, I’m featuring Manjula’s story.
It all starts in 2007, when Manjula was working in finance in the DC area. He and his roommates had previously raised funds for Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami, but they felt they could do more. They decided to focus their efforts in the area of education, forming Educate Lanka. Before long, Educate Lanka was occupying so much of Manjula’s time that he decided to dedicate himself to the effort, starting by pursuing graduate study in development and social entrepreneurship, either through an MBA or an international affairs degree. An application process later, he enrolled in Fletcher’s MALD program in September 2010 as a Board of Overseers Scholar, and quickly got to work on building his own intellectual infrastructure to run the organization, which currently has a core volunteer staff of ten, and a larger pool of about 40 to draw upon.
I should pause here and describe Educate Lanka. The organization’s main activity is securing micro-scholarships of $10 to $20 for students who lack funds but have a high potential to become future leaders, by connecting the kids with sponsors from around the world. 100% of the sponsorship funds go to the students. There are no administrative expenses (this being a fledgling organization), but if something comes up, funds are raised through a separate fundraising process, which also generates some scholarships for students without sponsors. Currently 275 students are receiving scholarships. A total of 350 have received funds, about 30 of whom have completed school (though a few left school and the program). There are over 400 sponsors in 15+ countries. Once they are in the program, the kids are funded through their undergraduate studies, starting as early as fifth grade (age 10). Over 12 million Sri Lankan Rupees (about US$100,000) has been awarded.
Back to fall 2010. Manjula settles in, registers for courses, etc. Good things started to happen pretty much right away. The first was that Educate Lanka was selected to receive the funds raised through Fletcher’s annual Asia Night event. That same semester, Manjula drew support from Empower, a project of the Tufts Institute for Global Leadership (IGL). And Educate Lanka took third place in the Tufts 100K Business Plan Competition. Not a bad start for one semester, and at that point Manjula started to think Educate Lanka had the potential to become a larger organization.
In spring 2011, Manjula took a microfinance class with Kim Wilson, and cross-registered for a Harvard class on education and social entrepreneurship with Fernando Reimers. Both professors offered advice on complementary models for Educate Lanka, and on how to make the organization more sustainable and scalable. Should it continue as a 501(c)3 (non-profit)? Or should it turn into a blended social business? Also that semester, after attending the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference, someone referred him to USAID and the State Department, because he works with the Sri Lankan diaspora community, which led to an invitation to speak at the Secretary’s Global Diaspora Forum.
Come summer 2011, while also interning in the Education Investment Group of the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, Manjula was a finalist in the MassChallenge competition, as a result of which he received mentorship and guidance. Toward the end of the summer, he used a fellowship from IGL to travel to Sri Lanka, visiting the north and east of the country, where Educate Lanka wasn’t yet working. He returned with a sense of how to achieve near-term organizational expansion in Sri Lanka, including a corporate partnership model.
Meanwhile, Manjula’s roommate, Sadruddin, was thinking of replicating the model in Bangladesh, and had received a good response to the idea. He hopes to pilot the project by the end of this year. (Here they are together.)
Back at Fletcher in September 2011, Manjula reconnected with Prof. Wilson and Prof. Reimers, who together mentored him and helped him to think about global replication and to add a corporate partnership model to Educate Lanka. An MIT class on Development Ventures required him to take his ideas and act on them. He received another IGL/Empower fellowship to return to Sri Lanka during the winter break. And he continued entering business plan competitions. He was one of two finalists in the MIT 100K Elevator Pitch Competition.
His Fletcher classmates sent more funds Educate Lanka’s way from 2011 Asia Night proceeds, and Manjula was one of a small group honored as a UN Volunteer of the Year in Sri Lanka. Also helpful, more Fletcher students were jumping on board, including a group that wrote a consulting report on the concept of distance learning in Sri Lanka. He received additional funding from the Center for Emerging Market Enterprises, and IGL is committed to supporting Manjula, even after graduation.
In spring 2012, Manjula was a semi-finalist at the Harvard Social Entrepreneurship Pitch Competition. And this semester also found him in two classes specifically selected to build his skills set. Along the way, he needed to write a thesis and do the other things expected of Fletcher students. Oh, and he attended Clinton Global Initiative University in March, and was an Echoing Green semi-finalist. In preparing to graduate, he created his own Fletcher Field of Study: Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship in International Development. (His second field is International Political Economy.)
I asked Manjula to reflect on his Fletcher experience, which seems to have been uniquely successful in connecting him to the local academic community. He said that he came to Fletcher “with the idea to get more guidance, more advice” and to “test the model and see if it has legs.” He confirmed that he was able to do that through classes, the business plan competitions, talking to mentors, seeing the response of people who believe in the Educate Lanka model (including some who want to replicate it elsewhere in South Asia and in Africa), and talking in panels and at conferences. All of this pushed him to move Educate Lanka toward a sustainable social business model while maintaining its core scholarship model.
What’s coming up after graduation? There are five or six fundraising events set up for the summer. The model will be starting up in Bangladesh, leading to “Educate World” in many countries. There’s a plan to start an online platform to arrange one-on-one mentoring for underprivileged kids, enabling knowledge-sharing between the developed and developing world (and also generating more traffic for the Educate Lanka website). The mentoring program would offer a new means of involvement for people who can’t contribute funds, and builds the community of people Manjula says are energized with “‘change the world’ spirit.”
Finally, Manjula took a minute to say “how much I appreciate all the support and backing I have received from my fellow Fletcher students, from all three classes (’11,’12,’13) with which I had the privilege to share my experience, as well as faculty, staff, and alumni. I owe them my thanks.”
I’m going to try to keep up with Manjula and Educate Lanka through the coming year, and I’ll report back on Manjula’s post-Fletcher path. Based on his success in the past two years, I’m guessing there will be plenty to write about.
An established annual event is the Tufts University Energy Conference, in which Fletcher students have played important roles. This year, the conference chair is Katie Walsh, a second-year MALD student. Katie describes her involvement below.
At the end of this week, I, along with 34 other Tufts students (from Fletcher, the undergraduate programs, and the other graduate schools) will overrun The Fletcher School to execute the 7th Annual Tufts University Energy Conference (TEC), April 20-21. More than eight months of planning has gone into this two-day event, with speakers arriving from all over the country and the world to speak on the issues that define our global energy economy.
TEC is an entirely volunteer student-run initiative. We plan the content, we contact speakers, we ask for funding, we lose countless hours of sleep and send thousands of emails. Each year, something new has been added to or tweaked in the conference offerings. These features stem from the creativity, enthusiasm and follow-through of the conference organizers. At last year’s conference, we introduced the Tufts Energy Competition, Tufts’ first-ever energy-focused student innovators competition, which I helped initiate as the 2011 Marketing Co-Director. One group of winners used their prize funds to produce a resource guide on low-cost, sustainable and renewable energy technologies in Zimbabwe; the other used them for materials to create a demonstration high-performance hybrid vehicle.
By no measure am I an old hand at energy. Before coming to Fletcher, I coordinated a Chinese language program at San Francisco State University. My undergraduate major was history and many of my professional experiences were in international education. My intention in coming to graduate school was to develop experience and expertise in a completely new field – energy and the environment.
Now, a year and a half into my master’s program at Fletcher, I find myself chairing this year’s energy conference, working at the University’s environmental institute, and fortunate enough to have secured internships in the energy sector both last summer and this, in Washington, D.C. and Beijing, China. When I actually have the time to think about my experiences thus far (such as to write this blog entry), I am just astounded by how much there is to take advantage of at Fletcher, and Tufts as a whole.
Two years ago at about this time, visiting Fletcher’s Open House, I don’t think I could have predicted all that I would have learned so far, the relationships I would have formed, and the opportunities that coming to this school would have afforded me. But, in visiting the classes, meeting with professors and talking to students — I did get a feeling that Fletcher was different from any of the other graduate programs I was visiting. I sensed that it was going to be the kind of place that would appreciate the skills I came to school with — inquiry, innovation, ability to implement and organize — and provide me with the space, mentoring and academic rigor I needed to build legitimacy in a new field. That feeling has proven all too right.
In what is getting to be another annual Fletcher tradition, several students had great results in the University’s $100K Business Plan Competition last week.
Within the Social Entrepreneurship category, both the first-place and third-place teams included Fletcher students. The first-place winner, Sanergy, with first-year MALD student Gaurav Tiwari on the team, developed a low-cost water-free toilet made of local materials for use in rural Kenya.
The third place team in the category, Educate Lanka, includes first-year MALD students Manjula Dissanayake and Sadruddin Salman, and aims to sponsor underprivileged children in Sri Lanka to provide them with an education.
Check out the coverage in MHT (Mass High Tech). Congratulations to Gaurav, Manjula, Sadruddin, and all the people their ideas will inspire and help!
Every so often, I ask students for blog input — sometimes in the form of their own post, but other times I only want a sentence or two. That’s when I’m most likely to be surprised and impressed at how much energy they’ll put into something that advances my work but, to be honest, doesn’t do as much for them.
A week or so ago, via the Social List, I asked student organization leaders to tell me what their groups have been up to. An applicant had asked me about student groups, and I felt that what you could find on the web site or the the calendar listings doesn’t do justice to the richness of Fletcher student life.
This is the first of the posts in which I’ll share the responses I received, with credit to the student who sent each update. They’re in no particular order, but I hope that together they’ll give blog readers an idea of the many activities that enrich the academic and social life of Fletcher students.
The Fletcher Youth Initiative is focused on youth development and education issues both locally, here in Somerville/Boston, and throughout the world. This Spring we are extremely excited to be hosting our annual youth conference through which we reach out to local high school students and invite them to come to Fletcher, learn about the field of International Relations, and engage with current Fletcherites about how this diverse and dynamic field can impact their lives.
Seth describes two organizations:
This semester, the Social Business Club conducted a workshop on models for social businesses from around the world, and discussed their relative strengths and weaknesses. We hosted Daniel Fireside from Equal Exchange (oldest and largest Fair Trade company in the United States) at Fletcher for a discussion on financing and operations. Looking ahead to the Spring, students are organizing to participate in the Tufts Social Entrepreneurship Business Plan Contest, with $50,000 available in prize money.
Students in the Fletcher International Law Society are writing an amicus curiae brief for the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, focusing on the construction of dialogues in consultation as a means to resolve the conflicting obligations of protection for foreign investment and indigenous peoples.
The Latin America Group has been very active. First we organized a Symposium on Colombia and Venezuela Affairs with lots of great speakers, including Michael Shifter, the President of the Inter-American Dialogue. We also had a Latin American wine and cheese night attended by about 40 students. We hosted a talk by a Colombian labor leader about poor conditions at a mine in northern Colombia, run by a major foreign company, that provides much of the coal that fuels Massachusetts. Last, we screened the film Oscar’s Cuba, about Cuban prisoner of conscience Oscar Biscet and the human rights situation on the island, which included a live Q&A with the film’s director. Next semester we organize and host Latin Night!
The Foreign Language Conversation Club coordinates language tables for students who want to practice their conversation skills in English, French, German, Mandarin Chinese, Italian, Arabic, and Japanese. The Latin America Group coordinates the Spanish and Portuguese sessions.
Jeffrey also writes about two groups:
The Fletcher Foreign Service Club (AKA Fletcher Diplomacy Club) meets to discuss the Foreign Service Exam process. Many of the Pickering Fellows and those who have passed the exam make it much less intimidating for us hopefuls. We even have practice sessions, and share knowledge on the career.
Tufts University Water Polo Club: Yes, it is the U, and not Fletcher-only, but it’s a club sport, so grad students are eligible. I’m passionate about the sport, and it helps keep me balanced against the academic load. Plus, the undergrads here love our involvement and it’s a great way to branch out into the greater Tufts community.
That’s all for today’s installment. More to follow later this week!
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