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Nobel laurate to students: 10k for Haiti business

By Colleen Connolly
On January 23, 2012

In response to a challenge by Nobel prize winner Muhammad Yunus, DePaul has started a competition for students that will require them to combine two of the university's greatest assets: Vincentian values and business innovation.

DePaul's Institute for Business and Professional Ethics is partnering with the Grameen Creative Lab, an organization started by Yunus to alleviate poverty through social entrepreneurship, to implement a social business plan in Haiti.

"This competition is a true opportunity for our students, but it's also a singular honor for DePaul to have been selected from among the nation's many fine universities," said Fr. Dennis Holtschneider, President of DePaul. "It's a testament to the university's reputation, built by our faculty, of preparing students ready to do something important for the world."

Vincent de Paul professor of business ethics and Special Assistant to the President for Haiti Initiatives Laura Hartman is spearheading the competition, in which the winning plan will receive funding of up to $10,000 from the Grameen Creative Lab to put the business plan into action.

The idea of a social venture business competition came about in September when Yunus came to DePaul University to receive the St. Vincent DePaul Award, Hartman said. Yunus, along with Grameen Bank, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his innovative work in microcredit in developing countries. His methods have proven successful in several countries, including his native Bangladesh, helping to alleviate poverty worldwide.

The competition urges DePaul students to form teams and come up with a potential business plan that will provide jobs for at least 10 Haitians. There is no limit to the number of teammates, and the only rule is that each team must have at least one part- or full-time DePaul student. People who are not affiliated with DePaul may join teams, as well.

One of the main goals of the competition is to come up with as many creative, innovative business plans as possible.

"We could create extraordinary value and productivity for Haitians and their economy. They can't do it alone and neither can I, but together we can create something extraordinary and profitable for Haiti," Hartman said.

The challenge of building a practical business plan and creating jobs is daunting, but the DePaul Institute for Business and Professional Ethics will provide interested students with several resources to help them form their business plan. First, six professional business mentors will be available to students to guide them through the process of formulating a business plan. The mentors work in a variety of fields within the business world and will use their own experiences to help the teams.

Nick MacFalls, founder of From Our Feet (a program that collects shoes and distributes them to poverty-stricken areas all over the world), is one mentor who will be able to help students get in touch with the right contacts. He is also available to give a professional opinion on the feasibility of their proposed plans.

"From my own experience, the gently worn shoes I collect help create five micro-enterprise jobs in Djibouti. Maybe a student could take that idea to the next level. I am personally curious about how the students (will) address sustainability and environmentalism in their projects," MacFalls said.

While the mentors will be there to provide professional support, it is ultimately up to the team members to create a plan.

"The beauty of this competition is that it is an open door for the students to come up with their own ideas and perhaps turn something they're passionate about into a viable business opportunity that will help the people of Haiti," said Susan Duensing, another mentor, who specializes in marketing and communications at Element-R Partners. "The fact that through this competition they may see their business idea become a reality makes it an exciting opportunity."

DePaul will also hold two business workshops to teach students the basics of developing a business in Haiti. Professors of business, communications, philosophy and religious studies will provide students with important background information on Haiti as well as define the nature of social business. The workshops will take place Jan. 24 and Feb. 2 in DePaul Center room 8010 from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Both workshops will cover the same information, so students need only attend one.

Though the competition is likely to prove challenging, the award is a priceless opportunity, Hartman said.

"A student who wins will win far more than seeing their business idea come to fruition. What they win is an opportunity to contribute to a future of an entire economy."

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