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Plan for combating hunger with nanocredit makes MBA students contenders for $1M Hult Prize

  • February 27, 2013

Teams of enterprising students with a strong social conscience –– including five Cal State East Bay business graduate students –– propose to end the No. 1 threat to the health of millions around the planet as they compete for the Hult Prize March 1 and 2 in San Francisco.

The annual competition in 2013 pits students from universities worldwide against one another in pitching solutions for improving food security for some 200 million people living in urban slums. The winning team will receive $1 million in start-up funding to launch a sustainable social venture.

About 10,000 students worldwide applied for a chance to present at five Hult International Business School sites around the globe; only 220 were selected, including participants in CSUEB’s accelerated master of business program Yashashwini Basetty, Victoria Fernandez, Alexander Henderson, Ravi Kumara and Michael Joseph Salemi.

The scope of hunger in urban centers is humbling, yet the CSUEB team has enthusastically embraced what they view as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, said Salemi, team captain for the Cal State East Bay team.

“We are really confident we have an idea that makes sense,” he said. “The thing we’ve identified as a significant contributor to food insecurity is the inconsistent income of people at the base of the (economic) pyramid.”

Most people who earn $3,500 or less annually, work as day laborers or in small businesses in developing countries where no governmental safety nets exist, Salemi explained. If a monsoon hits or labor unrest prevents them from working at a construction site on Tuesday, the worker and his or her family will go without food on Wednesday, he added.

“Our plan is to try to allow them to have some kind of savings plan and credit,” he said.

While specialized banks in some countries offer microcredit to small business owners, those small loans often total in the hundreds of dollars. The program Salemi and the CSUEB team envision would offer loans so tiny, his team refers to them as nanocredit.

“We’re talking numbers that are closer to $10 to $35,” he said. “The idea is to buy them several weeks of nanocredit throughout the year -- $15 could get (clients) through a whole week.”

While the group prefered not to divulge in-depth details in advance of the weekend competition, Salemi hinted that technology -- such as a cell phone -- that is readily available even in the developing world will play a role in getting nanocredit to those who need it to stave off hunger.

The Cal State East Bay team members bring with them a wealth of professional experience in fields including healthcare, engineering, technology, finance and nonprofit organizations in the United States, India and Mexico. The intensive nature of the MBA program in which they’re enrolled, coupled with the CSUEB graduate students’ professional experience, should help the group distinguish itself in competition, Salemi said.

“Many of the people we’re going to be competing against are going to be young and very smart,” he said. “We’ve actually run businesses before. We’ve been in start-ups; we’ve been in NGOs. We know how to make this work. What we have to do is put together a presentation in line with what you have to give a venture capitalist.”

Hult Prize organizers bill the event as the world’s largest student competition and “crowdsourcing platform for social good.” In a recent edition of TIME magazine former President Bill Clinton referred to the program as one of the top five ideas changing the world.

In partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative, the Hult Prize focuses on acting as a springboard for social entrepreneurs by identifying, funding, mentoring and launching new social businesses.

“The Hult Prize is thrilled that California State University, East Bay has joined the initiative,” said Stephen Hodges, president of the Hult International Business School. “This year’s competition has received a record number of entries, bringing together some of the most talented students to help solve global food security which can benefit nearly a billion people.”

Ahmad Ashkar, CEO and Founder of the Hult Prize attributes the success of the competition to the global youth revolution.

“We continue to be moved by the large number of students from around the world who are capitalizing on the opportunity to develop business models that target the bottom of the pyramid,” he said.

Hult Prize regional competitions also will take place Saturday and Sunday at Hult International Business School campuses in Boston, London, Dubai and Shanghai.

Following the regional finals, one winning team from each host city will move into a summer business incubator, where participants will receive mentorship, advisory and strategic planning assistance as they create prototypes and prepare to launch their new social business. The Clinton Global Initiative at its annual meeting in September will host a final round of competition, where CGI delegates will select a winning team. Clinton will award the prize in person.

“The Hult Prize is a wonderful example of the creative cooperation needed to build a world with shared opportunity, shared responsibility, and shared prosperity, and each year I look forward to seeing the many outstanding ideas the competition produces” said Clinton in a press statement.

Regardless of how the competition plays out, Salemi and some of his teammates plan to pursue their business concept.

“This has become a real passion for me now,” Salemi said. “My plan whether we win or lose is to take this idea and move it forward.



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