University News

Swearer hosts young social innovators

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, September 8, 2011

Competitions are not usually the place for second chances, and runners-up are not usually given $5,000 to improve their projects for resubmission. But 15 college students, semifinalists from the Dell Social Innovation Competition — an international competition that focuses on social entrepreneurship — found themselves at Brown this summer to participate in the competition’s inaugural semifinalist fellowship.

All entries to the competition shared the goal of enacting social change in the world, said MaryBeth Bennett, who coordinates the program.

“Our goal is to bring clean water to children living in slums,” said Anshu Vaish ’12, the fellow behind the semifinalist project WaterWalla.

After judges selected the five finalists, semifinalists were encouraged to apply for Brown’s fellowship program. The Swearer Center for Public Service then awarded 15 fellows $5,000 for project development and training this year. The fellows are expected to resubmit their improved projects to the Dell competition in 2012.

The Swearer Center’s previous work in social entrepreneurship attracted the attention of the Dell competition, which sought a home for its first semifinalist fellowship program. The program is based on the Starr Fellowship, a social entrepreneurship initiative offered by the Swearer Center, said Alan Harlam, director of social entrepreneurship.

The competition funded four paid positions at Brown to oversee the fellowship’s development, said Roger Nozaki MAT’89, director of the Swearer Center. “A huge part of what the Swearer Center contributed was intellectual capital,” he said.

After participating in online training for several months, fellows attended the one-week program at Brown. At the close of the week, each fellow’s presentation was broadcast online.

Over 30 mentors met with fellows at the event, said student staff member Sophie Kainen ’12. Professor Emeritus Barrett Hazeltine and Bill Allen, an adjunct lecturer of public policy, participated as mentors, as did executives from CVS and Hasbro  — both of which are based in Rhode Island — she said.

Vaish said networking opportunities were an important aspect of the fellowship.

“Rhode Island has been at the lead … with organizations designed to promote social entrepreneurship,” Harlam said.

“I not only got to learn from my peers but from professionals,” said Penn senior Mariama Kabia, whose project seeks to improve girls’ literacy and empowerment in Sierra Leone and West Africa. “It was such a collaborative environment,” she said.