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Ideas to Serve Competition – ‘Know What You Don’t Know’

Applicants for the 2019 Ideas to Serve (I2S) competition are exploring and addressing a number of issues both locally and globally from plastic waste reduction, disaster response in low-income communities, food security, global health, prison reform, education, and more!
Ideas-to-Serve Competition, 2018

Ideas-to-Serve Competition, 2018

Applicants for the 2019 Ideas to Serve (I2S) competition are exploring and addressing a number of issues both locally and globally from plastic waste reduction, disaster response in low-income communities, food security, global health, prison reform, education, and more! Review the short summary of the projects, and see the list of judges and prizes in the Finals Program.

I2S has been an opportunity for GT students and recent alumni to showcase their passion and ideas for solving critical social and environmental issues since 2010. This year, the competition is implementing a new approach: one that encourages and incentivizes an in-depth exploration and understanding of the social or environmental issue a student is passionate about without requiring a solution. Explaining the shift in approach “It is about truly understanding what are the system level issues perpetuating the problem; differentiating symptoms from root cause; understanding what has been tried – what worked, what failed, and why; identifying the assets (not just the problems) in the communities where we want to support change; and learning from, and working with, community innovators who are closest to those issues,” said Dori Pap, Assistant Director of the Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship, organizers of I2S. ”These changes to the format were developed in close partnership with Serve-Learn-Sustain, as we have worked with them over the past year to create and launch the new SLS Innovating for Social Impact Program,” added Pap.

The changes in approach were inspired by feedback from our expert collaborators – judges and mentors, who are practitioners in the social impact space, and who have worked with I2S teams for many years.  “As a veteran of the water and sanitation space, I have seen many ideas for solving water and sanitation issues come through I2S over the years, and while impressed with the students’ passion and innovative thinking, I consistently found that teams fell short in their understanding of the broad systemic conditions. My feedback to teams every year focused on the need for students to better understand what has been tried before, what worked and more importantly, what didn’t work, and that rushed solutions in this space can actually hurt the communities you intend to help,” recalls returning I2S judge and GT alum, Susan Davis, Global Coordinator at Agenda for Change. Davis also advised on the new direction for I2S.

Shannon Evanchec (EnvE ’16), Founder of TruePani – a 2016 and 2017 I2S participant who is still leading the startup she and her teammates established while at Georgia Tech couldn’t agree more. “Looking back, when we started TruePani with the goal of providing clean water to users in rural India we had no real understanding of the circumstances on the ground, or the motivations of our intended end users,” said Evanchec. At Tech, we received a lot of validation for the innovative nature of our product – from folks who were not necessarily experts in the field and only evaluated the technical aspects of our product. Susan Davis was one of the only ones who gave us constructive criticism about the limitations of our plan. These shortcomings became very obvious once we started working on the ground in India. Today we are a very different organization – even if the name is the same – as we shifted our focus to water quality issues in the communities around us.”

This year students had the choice to also earn academic credit for their deep-dive work through a new course (MGT 4803: Social Impact: In-depth Exploration and Design) that enhanced the students’ problem discovery journey through a series of workshops. The course, led by Pap and supported by Davis, explores topics like Stakeholder Discovery, Asset Based Community Development, Systems Change, Impact Gap Canvas, empathy mapping, and others. The workshops were offered in collaboration with Serve-Learn-Sustain, the Design Collaborative, VentureLab, and SpeechWorks.

 In 2019, I2S offers two tracks. The Problems Discovery Track is for students interested in understanding complex problems and are involved in community-based grassroots efforts to address such problems. They can now be part of I2S through this track, strengthening the Serve component of the competition. Students who are more advanced on their discovery journey and are formulating community-based solutions to the social issues they are exploring will participate through the Solutions Discovery Track. These newly formed tracks will provide students with better guidelines to define and address opportunities for impact.

The I2S Competition Finals are scheduled for 6:00 pm, Thursday, April 11 in the atrium at Scheller College of Business. Students will get the opportunity to present their work through a Poster Session and through pitching their ideas to a panel of expert judges from Atlanta’s social impact space.

I2S is made possible through the generous support of  Georgia Tech and Community Partners, including: The Cecil B. Day Program for Business Ethics (sponsoring the awards in each track), the Center for Serve - Learn – Sustain, Steven A. Denning Technology and Management Program, the Innovation and Design Collaborative, LEAD Program, Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business, and Speechworks.

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