Students striving for socially inclusive change in the Asia-Pacific

Hult Prize Griffith Team - Chris Eigeland, Janna Mallon, Elise Stephenson, and Brad McConachie

Article by Elise Stephenson, New Colombo Plan Scholar and Undergraduate in Asian Studies and Intercultural Communication at Griffith University

What role does social enterprise play in today’s society? Is it possible that every business has the potential to be a social enterprise? Is social enterprise a viable business and social solution for the future?

These are questions I thought about extensively during the recent week I spent in Shanghai competing in the Hult Prize, an initiative of the Clinton Global Initiative and the Hult Foundation. I went over with a team of highly engaged and ambitious students from the School of Government and International Relations at Griffith University to pitch our idea of a social enterprise which tackles Bill Clinton’s 2015 call-to-action — early childhood education (ECE) in slums.

This year the competition drew over 20 000 applications globally, with 250 teams short-listed to compete in five regional finals. Our team comprised of a diverse range of individuals from across disciplines – Chris Eigeland (law, education and technology), Janna Mallon (communications, disaster relief, government), Brad McConachie (public policy, higher education, Asia-Australia relations) and myself, Elise Stephenson (Asia Pacific, women’s leadership, social enterprise). At the Shanghai regional final our team pitched to a panel of judges and peers and had the opportunity to mingle with investors from across the region.

Our idea was the result of six weeks of fast-paced brainstorming and consulting with a group of industry professionals drawn from government, social enterprise and early childhood education. It comprised of three main elements: build a network of formal and informal ECE centres, equip them with low-technology Bluetooth enabled play kits, 3D printed from recycled slum plastics, and use the play kits to track key developmental data and play patterns for use by the centres themselves, governments, NGOs, the private sector, and international bodies. We acknowledge that our proposed idea was comprehensive, however access to education is a systemic, ingrained problem, and so we needed a systemic, inclusive solution.

There are many reasons why we became so engaged in the issue of early childhood education, social enterprise, and entering a competition like the Hult Prize. As a team we had come together over a range of issues before – the Haiti earthquake, equipping schools with supplies in Timor Leste, meeting with young leaders at Peking University and finding real, tangible solutions to problems of gender inequality, disaster management, and education in our region. We are incredibly well-placed in terms of our education, experience, and geography to lead those in the Asia Pacific. And we are engaged because it takes active ‘doers’ to step up to some of the most entrenched problems in our global society if we want any real and socially-inclusive change.

Whilst we did not commence through to the Hult Prize final in New York, our team will regroup later this year to move onto the next step of realising our social enterprise. It has been an incredible experience and as one of only three Australian teams that made it to the regional finals, we strongly believe that Griffith University has an active place in providing the students and solutions needed for systemic change in our region. We have an A Grade team, now it is all about finessing our idea into an A Grade solution.