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Young MBAs Compete to Solve Global Problems

The Hult Global Case Challenge is a call to action for the world's brightest university students to tackle the most pressing global social challenges.

Hult Global Case Challenge looking for innovative strategies to solve pressing social issues

Solving the world’s most pressing social challenges takes passion, dedication, innovation and a good business plan, which is the idea behind the Hult Global Case Challenge.

Hult International Business school is one of the world’s top business schools, with campuses across the globe. Three years ago, Ahmad Ashkar, one of its enterprising MBA students, founded the Hult Global Case Challenge (Hult GCC), a competition for business students to come up with ways of solving pressing global issues.

“We’re not interested in farfetched ideas that aren’t actionable,” Ashkar says.

He challenged student teams from business schools around the world to develop innovative strategies for selected non-governmental groups, to help their efforts to tackle some of most urgent problems of the day, including chronic hunger, poverty and disease.

"The solutions that get evaluated will focus on implementation," Ashkar says." And how a one million dollar cash grant can be paired with the solution for immediate impact.”

After examining an organization’s mission and operations, students put together a business plan to increase efficiency and its bottom line.

“It’s equivalent to 20,000 hours of consulting advice from world’s smartest young people," says Howard McNally, chief executive officer of Hult GCC. "Everyone is a winner, the NGOs and the students."

Each year the competition has a different theme. Poverty is this year’s challenge subject.

Hult has partnered with three nonprofits; SolarAid, which fights poverty through energy conservation and sustainability; Habitat For Humanity, which builds simple, affordable houses; and One Laptop per Child, which builds computers and sells them at cost to governments for distribution in poor communities.

“We have about three million laptops right now in 40 different countries in South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and in some places in Europe,” says Matthew Keller, vice president of One Laptop per Child, which is participating in the Global Case Challenge for a second year. “It’s vitally important for the future of development, the future of economic prosperity, the sooner these young people get involved and know that they can make a difference. That’s a big deal.”

Sandy Parakilas, 30, participated in the first competition in 2010, when the challenge was to help their NGO reach 100 million people in five years. His team from Carnegie Mellon University won the top prize for the business plan they developed for One Laptop per Child.

“They were struggling with competition from Microsoft and Intel," says Parakilas. "They were having trouble basically making money. So it was a great opportunity for some business students to come in and create some ideas for a not-for-profit to be more profitable, essentially.”

This is the first year SolarAid has taken part in the competition. Spokesman David Battley says the organization focuses on rural areas in eastern and southern Africa, where kerosene is a major source of energy as well as pollution. SolarAid works with local entrepreneurs to bring solar energy products to rural communities.

“But that’s the first half of the challenge," Battley says. "The other part of it is how you get those technologies in front of the communities in which they’re needed, how do you build up the trust, and how do you get the logistics required to get those products out to people.”

The students who design a plan to meet those challenges, he says, will be the winners.

“I think the winning team will be the one that uses a combination of really innovative thinking and taking account of practicalities of operating in Africa and the challenges that that represents.”

A million-dollar prize will be awarded to the winning team in each of this year’s three categories: education, housing and energy conservation.

“The winning team gets recognition, but the money goes to the agency to implement the winning teams’ ideas,” says McNally.

Regional competitions will be held on February 25, at Hult campuses in Boston, San Francisco, London, Dubai and Shanghai. The finalists will be selected in New York City on April 26.