More Than 170 Teams Apply For President's Challenge

Over 170 teams submitted applications for the President’s Challenge, a university-wide competition that encourages students to develop entrepreneurial solutions to the world’s social problems.

The Challenge, sponsored by University President Drew G. Faust and supported by the i-Lab, will award ten finalist groups with $5,000 each to develop solutions to five global issues—clean air, clean water, education, global health, and personal health.

Due to the surprising number of applications, the results will be announced April 9, instead of April 2 as originally planned.

The President’s Challenge provides the finalist groups with the resources necessary to actualize their proposals, with up to four of the ten winning groups eventually allotted portions of a $100,000 grand prize.

This new model of education – in which ideas and action projects of great relevance and significance to the world are combined- has had a dramatic effect on students and the roles and responsibilities they take on in the world, said Gordon M. Bloom ’82, professor of Sociology 159: “Social Entrepreneurship & Global Innovation.”

“That over 170 teams participated in Harvard’s event shows that there are a lot of students here excited about making a tremendous impact on the world,” said Aaron N. Cheng ’15.

Cheng’s group worked on a project that could address global health, focusing on sanitation problems in slums.

Consistent with the i-Lab’s mission to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation across the University, the Challenge hosted mixers throughout February and March to help the students develop their ideas.

“The mixers held at the i-Lab helped tremendously,” said Cheng. “It was amazing to be able to talk to students with different fields of expertise and hear their thoughts on our idea.”

Emily M. Kraemer ’15 said that she thinks the Challenge has helped Harvard students feel more connected, especially to the broader Harvard community. Her group, formed after mixers in the i-Lab, consists of students from the College, Graduate School of Design, and Divinity School.

Some groups, however, formed before the competition was announced and decided to apply in the hopes of receiving the funding necessary to realize their goal.

“You have to put a lot of effort into it,” said Rahim A. Mawji ’15. “They ask for so many things, and if you don’t have a contextual background or framework to guide you in the process, then it’d be very difficult to get through the process.”

Mawji’s group, which hopes to increase literacy and create a stronger book culture in parts of Africa with e-readers, had already prepared more than half of their proposal before hearing about the competition.

Still, difficulties with the competition process were not enough to deter applicants. The possibility of becoming finalists and earning recognition for their projects was enough to keep students involved.

“I think this is winning the hearts and minds of students and faculty across campus,” said Bloom. “Change at Harvard can be slow, but this is an important and I believe inevitable direction.”

—Staff writer Cynthia W. Shih can be reached at cshih@college.harvard.edu.

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