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Eric Chang '13 (left) demonstrates the Northwestern Global Health Foundation's tablet prototype to two nurses in a clinic in Mbarara, Uganda. Chang was one of 34 Northwestern students in the inaugural Innovate for Impact course this year.

Eric Chang '13 (left) demonstrates the Northwestern Global Health Foundation's tablet prototype to two nurses in a clinic in Mbarara, Uganda. Chang was one of 34 Northwestern students in the inaugural Innovate for Impact course this year.

World changers

Students in Kellogg’s Innovate for Impact class travel the globe on a quest to make a difference

By Sherry Thomas

7/11/2012 - Imagine a low-cost tablet device that could improve the pediatric diagnostic abilities of healthcare workers in Uganda. Or an online platform that helps reduce food waste in Brazil by connecting producers with processors.

And if that’s not ambitious enough, add a social impact venture that helps stabilize income streams for India’s rural agricultural poor.

These are just three of the experiential learning projects Northwestern students tackled earlier this year in the Kellogg School of Management’s new Innovate for Impact (I4I) class.

Changing the world
Jamie Jones, associate director for Social Enterprise at Kellogg, has been working with Kara Palamountain, director of the Global Health Initiative, for two years to develop this cross-disciplinary program that harnesses “human-centered design” strategies for social change.

“It’s something that could change the world, but it’s also something that could become a cornerstone not only for Kellogg, but Northwestern.” explains Jones. “One of the biggest surprises was the level of interest in the course across the university — we received almost two times the number of applications than we had seats.”

A total of 34 undergraduate and graduate students in business, engineering, communications and design participated in the inaugural I4I class, each getting the opportunity to travel to communities around the globe for “boots on the ground” field research for six projects in Uganda, Brazil, Cambodia, Gabon and India.

Global health
Kellogg student Amar Shah was part of the team that traveled to Uganda to test and research the Northwestern Global Health Foundation’s IMCI Tablet prototype.

“In Uganda, this technology is so important,” he explains. “You have a large shortage of healthcare workers and a high prevalence of preventable childhood diseases.”

During the two-week visit, Shah’s team met with representatives from Ministry of Health Uganda and the Global Health Foundation’s partner organizations as well as with some of Uganda’s top research doctors to share the prototype and talk about ways it could be improved. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

“We did as much research as we could before we went there and kept an open mind about what could be done,” Shah says. “From all the stakeholders we talked to, we knew that we had something — at the very least, at the prototype and concept level — that we knew was a winner.”

KIN Prize
The group continued working on the Uganda project after the class ended, submitting their work to the Kellogg Innovation Network competition. As one of four finalists, the group raised an additional $16,400 in KIN Prize funding to continue research and development.

“It’s one thing to have a class, but this is something we’ve been able to leverage into something longer term,” Shah says.

“The competition is a part of it, but the other part is we got to workshop our concept and idea with conference delegates and got amazing feedback,” he adds. “When a senior executive at Cisco tells you he loves your idea and wants to connect you with people, that’s worth more than any award.”

Impactful ideas
Other I4I projects included an initiative to decrease losses in the food value chain in Brazil and two separate social impact ventures in India —  one that focused on how to stabilize income streams for poor, rural farmers and another that studied ways to create micro crop insurance.

Another team went to Cambodia to work on an economic impact venture that builds on the Supplemental Teaching Education Project founded by Sokchea Monn, who was a child soldier under the Khmer Rouge. And in Gabon, the sixth team partnered with the Albert Schweitzer Medical Research Unit to implement a business model for a natural water purification system.

Nathan Ritter, an engineering student who worked on the Gabon project, says the experience opened his eyes to both the problems and struggles of international development, and the challenges of trying to make a social impact as an outsider.

“The most surprising, and one of the more humbling things, was that from day one until the last day, despite having prepared ourselves for 10 weeks, we were constantly being reminded of how little we know and how much there is to learn there,” Ritter explains. “We were learning new information about the situation up until the day we left. We never really had it all.”

Jones says she was impressed with the students’ level of dedication and commitment. And while it’s unrealistic to expect that all six projects will be fully implemented, a few of them might, and that’s why this program was created.

“We learned a lot of valuable lessons about how to improve, but for a first attempt I think it went very well,” Jones says. “We were looking to create a robust opportunity for students to apply what they are learning in an impactful way, and we’re thrilled with the result.”