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The $1 Million “Nobel Prize” For Social Entrepreneurs Now Dedicated To Refugees

Here are the 5 best ideas

The Hult Prize has been referred to as the “Nobel Prize of the B-school world.” Student-entrepreneur entrants are tasked with developing ideas for social enterprises that target one solvable global challenge per year. It aims to set the world’s best business minds on the planet’s biggest challenges, awarding the winning idea with a $1 million prize to help turn it into reality.

For the 2017 prize, students were challenged by President Bill Clinton to “restore the rights and dignity of 10 million refugees by 2022.” The challenge is called “Refugees—Reawakening Human Potential” and aims to address some of the issues the 65 million people displaced by politics, climate change, social injustice, and more, are facing. Out of 50,000 ideas, the competition has been narrowed down to five finalists. Here are the five ideas still in the running for the $1 million dollar prize:


Empower, York University

The team of four from York University aims to restore dignity to refugees through connectivity. “After working with refugees and staff at the York University Centre for Refugee Studies, we were shocked to know that up to 40% of refugees’ disposable income is spent on staying connected, demonstrating a real need for affordable and reliable connectivity,” says Vasiliki Belegrinis, one of Empower’s team members. The team’s idea is to provide refugees stable and affordable access to the internet. They believe the internet is a lifeline for refugees and will provide them with the opportunities they need to connect to the outside world.

Roshni Rides, Rutgers University

The team from Rutgers University has created a project called Roshni Rides. They’re targeting a lack of transportation and wasted electricity in refugee camps. Currently, 11% of refugees’ income goes toward transportation. Using Orangi Town, a large settlement in Pakistan, as a pilot, the team plans to provide comprehensive public transport for refugees at the low cost of what equates to $0.13 a day. They also plan to install solar panels and provide refugees with basic electrical needs using sustainable technology. Their aim is to create jobs in the process of providing cheaper energy and transportation.

U-Gas, Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM)

The ITAM team’s idea, U-Gas, aims to tackle sanitation issues while creating saleable natural gas. The team of three’s plan is to install urinals and toilets, equipped with hand sanitizer, in refugee camps, clean them daily, and collect waste from them each week. The toilets and urinals will provide a clean sanitation solution, helping to prevent diseases like diarrhea and cholera which are common in refugee camps. The collected waste will be used to produce natural gas, which the company plans to sell wholesale to offset the cost of the toilets.

Epoch, University of Waterloo

Epoch was inspired by refugees’ struggle to integrate into a new country and culture. It aims to help refugees settle into Canada by allowing them to trade skills they already have for services they need. The idea is to create a timebank wherein refugees earn an hour of credit for each hour they work—in this way, they can trade their own skill, be it baking, cleaning, programming, for a service they need—a ride to the grocery store, language lessons, etc. “Everyone has skills they can deliver,” says team member Jade Choy, “They don’t have the opportunity to do so because they’re kind of afraid of what’s out there.” Epoch hopes to remove the bottleneck between refugees and the skills they need to integrate.

Skill2Share, University of Calgary

The Skill2Share team originally conceptualized a smartphone platform that would aim to help refugees develop cultural and language skills. But, as advisor Bob Schulz told Fast Company, “All of the proposed ideas are necessarily works-in-progress,” and the idea may change as they continue to develop. The team will be looking at refugee camps in Iraq and Jordan as they move through the next phase of the project.

For this year’s finalists, the challenge is an especially personal one. One of the members of the Skill2Share team was a Ugandan refugee and a member of the Roshni Rides team was inspired by his uncle, who lived in Orangi Town. The five ideas come from teams who have witnessed the refugee crisis up close—their projects aim to impose workable solutions, not idealistic dreams.

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Julian Meehan

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