Students Pitch Big Ideas for Social Impact

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By Andrea Guzman, 3rd Year Media Studies & Political Science Major

Yogurt-photo-with-captionAfter months spent developing their Big Ideas@Berkeley projects, six of the top student teams gathered in Blum Hall to compete in the third annual Big Ideas Grand Prize Pitch Day. Vying for a prize of up to $5,000, the teams shared their visions for social change and impact in front of a panel of esteemed judges.

The teams competed in the two separate pitch rounds: Campus and Community Impact and Global Impact. Pitch Day is an opportunity for finalist teams in the Big Ideas@Berkeley contest to build a new and important skill and win additional funding for their projects.

LuxWalk, which seeks to improve night safety on campus and in the Berkeley community through crowd-sourced mobile data, took first place in the Campus and Community Impact round. The second place prize went to Mapping Waterways, which aims to create a participatory community mapping system of American waterways to help underserved communities secure water rights, while third place was awarded to Heart Connection: An Interactive Multimedia Website for Adults with Complex Congenital Heart Disease to Empower, Connect, Advocate and Educate.

“LuxWalk’s pitch was extremely well delivered and the project scored the highest marks in my book in terms of its creativity, likelihood of success, and potential for social impact,” said Heather Lofthouse, Director of Special Projects at UC Berkeley’s Blum Center for Developing Economies and a judge in the Campus and Community Impact round.

In the Global Impact round, a project aimed at reducing child stunting took the first place prize. Electrosan-with-captionThe students behind the Promoting Yogurt to Improve Child Nutrition in Far-Western Nepal project had traveled from Texas A&M University for the event and were the first non-UC Berkeley team to win a Pitch Day prize. A collaboration with the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Higher Education Solutions Network enabled several universities from across the country to participate in the Big Ideas Contest for the first time this year.

In an unexpected move, the Global Impact round judges decided to change the rules and award two second place prizes due to the high quality of the projects. ElectroSan, which aims to improve sanitation and public health with a product that makes fertilizer out of human feces and recovers nitrogen from human urine, shared second place with the Youth Empowerment Centers for Marginalized Mexican Communities project.

“The quality of presentations was extremely high,” said Andrew Rudd, a judge in the Global Impact category and Trustee of The Rudd Family Foundation. “It is somewhat humbling to see how much students have worked on projects, and it is clear that if the ideas are implemented, it is an opportunity for alleviating serious global issues.”

Participating in Big Ideas allowed the students behind LuxWalk to develop something that would impact the campus community beyond their stay at Berkeley as students.

“We are able to leave something behind that can prevent students from experiencing trauma in the future or feeling even just unsafe,” said Heather Lui, a 4th year majoring in Political Economy and member of LuxWalk.

The team behind Promoting Yogurt to Improve Child Nutrition in Far-Western Nepal said they enjoyed the process of participating in Big Ideas, and were grateful for the help they received from their mentor and Big Ideas staff. In addition, they thought it was a great way to get feedback on their work.

“It was very exciting and provided our team with an excellent opportunity to share our project with a larger audience, attract attention to a serious issue, and get support,” said Wenjuan Chen, a PhD student in the Ecosystem Science and Management program at Texas A&M.

The six student teams competing in Pitch Day will join all other finalist teams at the Big Ideas Awards Celebration on May 8, 2014, from 6:00-8:00pm in Blum Hall. The event is open to the public.