For six months, a worldwide competition challenged business students in more than 130 countries to provide new ideas that could help leading nonprofits solve some of the world’s most pressing social issues. One of the questions posed: How can Habitat for Humanity multiply its ability to build safe, affordable housing with more low-income families?
Rolando Farrach, Simon Battah, Lesly Gonzalez and Frans Simanjuntak came up with an answer that ties housing solutions with job opportunities and financial services. In April, the four Boston-based graduate students pitched their plan to a panel of judges and were named the winner of the 2012 Hult Global Case Challenge on affordable housing. Judges included Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and Habitat for Humanity International CEO Jonathan Reckford. Reward came in the form of a $333,000 prize to partner with Habitat and have the proposal tested in the real world.
Reckford says the entire experiment is a welcome infusion of bold thinking. Habitat’s ministry has been blessed to receive support from millions of volunteers, donors and advocates to help build a world where every person has the right to a decent home. With 1.6 billion people in need of adequate shelter, though, “building homes is only one step in meeting this lofty goal,” Reckford says.
“To truly address housing on a global scale, we need innovative ideas and new technologies,” he continues. “The Hult Global Case Challenge students have delivered. They have provided us with newfound inspiration and forward-thinking possibilities to pursue.”
In partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative, the Hult Global Case Challenge annually invites college and university students to solve the world’s most pressing social issues. This year, thousands of bright minds devoted fresh thought to the world’s education, energy and housing needs.
“This was an invaluable opportunity to get feedback from really intelligent students who could look at all our successes and challenges and propose new and creative solutions,” says Dave McMurtry, Habitat’s senior vice president of strategy.
The Boston team members brought perspectives from disparate backgrounds. Farrach is from Guatemala, Battah from Venezuela, Gonzalez from Mexico and Simanjuntak from Indonesia.
Still, they all agreed that their approach “should keep our solution focused on giving the necessary tools directly to people to build a house,” Battah says. “Use microfinance to provide financial assistance. Use Habitat’s expertise and resources to assist them.”
“The other piece is to identify and partner with institutions that provide job opportunities to people at this end of the poverty scale,” Farrach says. “Empower them through work, help people build new skills."
Ahmad Ashkar, founder and CEO of the Hult Global Case Challenge, says such socially conscious thinking is what he hopes the next generation of business leaders will remember. “In the next 10 years, these MBA candidates are going to be in leadership positions in their companies,” he says. “I just want them to keep in mind how they can use their knowledge and assets to do good.”