As a result of a new partnership between the Ross School of Business’s Center for Social Impact in Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan-Flint’s Office of University Outreach, the sixth annual Social Impact Challenge will take place in Flint this semester instead of Detroit.
In previous years, the Center for Social Impact has held its Social Impact Challenges in Detroit, where teams partnered with different community and nonprofit organizations to develop solutions to problems in the city. Last year, students aided in the launch of Detroit Police Athletic League’s Kids at the Corner Campaign in partnership with the old Tiger Stadium Conservancy.
However, after the Flint Water Crisis left community members feeling devastated, student participants of the Challenge shifted the program’s focus to bring economic development to Flint neighborhoods, as well as the city center, through their collaboration, innovation and entrepreneurship.
Glenn Bugala, marketing manager for the Center for Social Impact, said the Center is not only working with UM-Flint for the Challenge but also the city of Flint itself in an effort to join the two communities together.
“In addition to working with UM-Flint Office of University Outreach, we will be working on the case with community partners, the city of Flint and Skypoint Ventures — a venture capital and real estate company with strong social impact ties,” Bugala said. “Furthermore, our finals will be presented March 15 at the Flint Institute of Arts as part of the Arts and Social Entrepreneurship Symposium, at which School of Music, Theatre & Dance Dean Aaron Dworkin will be a keynote speaker.”
Bugala noted the connection between the Center for Social Impact and UM Flint is special because, for the first time, students can form teams consisting of participants from more than one campus, bringing diversity of thought to the program.
“Being in Flint puts us on the front line of a city that has captured the attention of the country,” Bugala said. “For the first time, we will be partnering with another University of Michigan campus to offer this opportunity. UM-Flint’s Outreach Office is uniquely poised to provide background, contacts and insights for future plans in Flint. For the first time, students from more than one UM campus will be able to team up to generate solutions in the Challenge. This extra layer of diversity of thought and multidisciplinary collaboration can only help the students better understand the situation on the ground.”
Paula Nas, interim director of University Outreach at UM-Flint, said the partnership between the Center for Social Impact and UM-Flint has been off to a productive start. She also added everyone involved is excited to collaborate on team pitches, and is receptive of diverse ideas.
“Last summer, we approached the Center for Social Impact to see if they would like to partner with UM-Flint and choose a project in Flint this year,” Nas said. “They were very receptive and have been working very closely with us to collaborate. We had our kickoff in Flint (Jan. 18) and the students, faculty and staff are thrilled to have the opportunity to participate in the Challenge.”
The Social Impact Challenge happens between January and March. Students met with UM-Flint Outreach on Wednesday, and will meet in Ann Arbor on Jan. 24 to further kick off the event. By Feb. 7, they must register their teams to participate.
Finalists will present their ideas to a panel of community leaders as they compete for a monetary award. The final Challenge pitches and winning teams will be announced on March 15 at the Flint Institute of Arts.
Business junior Sheila Xu, a participant in this year’s Challenge, said she entered the Challenge as a way to utilize the social entrepreneurship skills she has developed on campus.
“I am in a student organization called China Entrepreneur Network that promotes social entrepreneurship on campus,” Xu said. “I’ve learned a lot about social entrepreneurship since I joined the club, and I wanted to test my skills by forming a team within my club. I also thought this was a great opportunity to use my entrepreneurial mindset and devise a solution to help the local community.”