University President Drew G. Faust announced the launch of a University-wide contest to encourage student social entrepreneurship in an email to the Harvard community on Wednesday. The President’s Challenge will provide ten student groups with resources to develop solutions to five global issues that will be determined by the University.
“The world’s most pressing problems heed no borders, and to better address them we need to work across boundaries to formulate solutions. I can think of no place better prepared to take on such challenges than Harvard,” Faust said in a statement.
The Challenge, sponsored by Faust and supported by the Harvard Innovation Lab, will give the ten finalist teams $5,000 each to develop their designs.
The University will announce the winner just before Commencement. That group will win research space in the I-Lab through August 2012 and will split a $100,000 prize with two runner-up teams.
Students affiliated with a Harvard graduate or undergraduate program from across the University are eligible to apply.
I-Lab Director Gordon S. Jones emphasized the contest’s educational value as well as the potential impact of the groups’ solutions.
“It’s a chance for students to be putting their own ideas to work and, I think, an opportunity to test those ideas as they develop against the world at large,” said Jones.
The five social problems could range from global warming to poverty and will be selected by a group of Harvard faculty later this month. That same committee will choose the ten finalists—two per issue—in early April.
The competition’s focus on social entrepreneurship and increasing interaction between students at different schools aligns with other recent initiatives at Harvard.
Two years ago the Law School launched the Public Service Venture Fund—a program that provides funding to graduating law students to launch social enterprise projects or pursue public interest careers.
The Business School has hosted an annual Social Enterprise Conference for the past 15 years.
Faust has also put an increased emphasis on public service at Harvard in recent years. Last year, Faust established the Presidential Public Service Fellowships, a grant program that funds ten undergraduates to pursue service projects during the summer.
“All of Harvard’s Schools have powerful programs addressing key social issues,” Dean of the Kennedy School David T. Ellwood ’75, who is also a member of the I-Lab advisory board, said in a statement. “The President’s Challenge gives us a new opportunity to take a University-wide look at critical problems.”
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