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Lucia Liu, center, with her STEMpower team

By Lucia Liu

Social Impact is a process. And it actually doesn’t start with finding the solution.

Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in Kellogg’s Social Impact Days, a pre-term event that brought together nearly 100 first-year Kellogg students who share social innovation interests and are passionate about positively impacting the world. We were divided into 15 groups and had one and a half days to develop viable and impactful ideas that spanned topics from healthcare and finance to education and travel.

Talks by influential founders and leaders in the social impact space equipped us with the tools to come up with a great idea and a convincing pitch.

Solving the world’s social problems involve simple but powerful ideas:

See the problem, solve the problem
Raj Karmani, founder and CEO of Zero Percent, found a simple and obvious solution to food waste by connecting food providers such as Einstein Bros. with shelters.

Start with the problem, not the solution
David Schonthal, who teaches innovation and entrepreneurship at Kellogg, works at IDEO and is co-founder of MATTER, taught us about user-centric design. Instead of designing a product based on its functional benefit, Schonthal explained, it is important to understand the customer on an emotional and empathic level. For example, did you know that most milkshake purchases are made before 8 a.m. by individuals who are driving alone in their car? Through design research, we discovered that most of these consumers purchased a milkshake when they were looking for a breakfast treat that would last the entire car ride. Knowing the inherent motivations of our target group allows us to solve their problems more efficiently.

See opportunity where others turn away
Nicole Chavas was able to turn brownfields in cities such as Detroit and Milwaukee into community areas by planting trees that removed contaminants from the earth. (Learn more about this project, which got its start in a Kellogg classroom.)

After the inspiring lectures, we broke out into groups and started the ideation process. Using post-its to record our ideas and brainstorm all possible angles to our problem enabled us to collaborate and listen to one another’s ideas. The social venture we created was called STEMpower, and it connects teachers with professionals in the STEM fields to empower students to pursue a related field.

The session concluded with back-to-back pitches from each group (a-la the television show Shark Tank), where we each had five minutes to share our idea and the social problem it solved with the class.

Interestingly, most of the ideas we developed were simple and seamless, usually in the space of connecting new groups of people where there weren’t previous connections, such as:

  • Connecting local tourists with adventure-minded travelers
  • A one-for-one model where a hotel stay also provides a roof for the homeless
  • Enabling donations of medical appliances for those hospitals in need

Finally, I leave you with a couple of awesome resources I learned about so you can go and solve the world’s problems yourself!

Lucia Liu is a first-year Kellogg student in the MMM Program. She has previous experience in marketing consulting and data and analytics. She hopes to use her MBA to make a difference in the world through social innovation.