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 Newsletter Fall 2015:  Social Innovation 

Photo: IHEID students pitch their social innovations at Collaborate for Social Impact 2015 to tackle real life challenges in Geneva. Read more about Just Innovate

Student & Alumni Innovators

Kathryn Curtis
Drawing Attention to Water Security

University of Michigan Ford School of Public Policy alum Kathryn Curtis (MPP '15), is tapping into the adult coloring book trend to bring awareness to global water scarcity and security.

Kathryn (MPP '15) recently spent 12 months in Brazil as a Boren Fellow. During her year in Brazil, Curtis volunteered with a sustainable agriculture non-profit, a think-tank that addresses deforestation in the Amazon, and traveled to many remote areas where the drought was particularly harsh. In the process, Curtis learned about water security challenges in Brazil: 

In São Paulo, Brazil, city residents are thirsty. They dig wells in their back yard, drink dirty water, hoard what little they have. The Cantareira Reservoir System, which provides water to this enormous city, is drying up. But the problem isn't just in São Paulo - it's all across Brazil, and spreading fast. Water scarcity and water security affect us all. It is urgent that the public - not just experts or politicians - understand what is happening, and how to help.

Curtis believes both imagination and knowledge will be required to solve these issues, which is why she has launched an indiegogo crowd-funding campaign.  Curtis is raising money to create a plant-able coloring book designed to bring broad attention to global water concerns. The book will combined with her research findings with the drawings of an award-winning Brazilian artist, Rogério FernandesIt serves as an impactful, fun and innovative way to share the information we all need to know about water scarcity.

Photo: An example of a page in the coloring book

Kevin Watt
Founder of Early Bird Ranch

Peruse Kevin Watt’s resume and one might note he isn’t the typical alum from the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS)—but he also couldn’t be happier about it. He said the quantitative skills he gained at the School “has been the cornerstone” of his success.

Watt, MIA ’09, is the founder of Early Bird Ranch in Pescadero, Calif. â€œI’ve been able to build out these really awesome experiments and data sets that could change how we talk about sustainable agriculture,” Watt noted.

In addition, he has been able to lend that knowledge to colleagues who aren’t trained in it, such as in his secondary role as an integrated land and livestock manager at TomKat Ranch Educational Foundation. In this position and at Early Bird, Watt conducts experiments and creates data sets related to greenhouse gases, including carbon emissions, from agriculture operations as well as methane emissions from grass-fed cattle, among other measures. Read more

Rachael Chong
Founder of Catchafire 

It started with a piece of lumber.

Rachael Chong Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy MPP/MBA'09 was working in investment banking and looking for ways to give back to the community. She found herself hauling lumber in a schoolyard in the Bronx. It was good work, but it wasn’t work she was good at doing. In fact, she found it surprisingly hard to find volunteer opportunities that used her professional skills.

After a stint in the nonprofit sector, Chong enrolled in the Sanford School. Her master of public policy thesis project was a business plan for Catchafire, which she started after graduation in 2009.

Catchafire matches professionals with nonprofits based on their skills and passions. Nonprofits identify the type of projects they need help with, everything from branding, fundraising, and operations to human resources. Catchafire’s structured process starts with shaping the scope of work, then leads both parties through the application and interview stages.
Catchafire is a certified benefit corporation (B-Corps), a status that requires solving a social or environmental issue as part of the business model. It is based in New York City, but also partners with foundations and corporate clients in Boston, Chicago, Durham, N.C., and Hawaii.

Today the company has more than 3,000 registered nonprofits and more than 30,000 professionals signed on. The professionals have volunteered 45,000 hours and produced $11 million in direct savings for nonprofits. Read more. Watch her TEDXSMU Talk.

Jeff Ochs
New Venture Planning & Finance

As a student at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Jeff Ochs didn’t only start up social business enterprises—he helped write a law to support them.

Ochs, who graduated with dual Master of Public Policy/MBA degrees in 2014, helped draft legislation approved by the Minnesota legislature for a new class of company: public benefit corporations. Such corporations blend elements of nonprofit organizations and for-profit businesses, and work toward social good as well as financial gain.

“Social Business is about pursuing a double bottom line,” says Ochs. “Within the same business, we’re trying to make a concrete social impact as well as make a profit.” 

A successful entrepreneur, Ochs has founded more than one such business including Cornerstone Stories, custom-made children’s storybooks that reflect a family’s blend of values and culture, created as a way to increase cross-cultural awareness and help break down cultural barriers. He first founded and directed Breakthrough Twin Cities, a fast-expanding nonprofit college access and teacher training program. He then invented and commercialized Snake Oil, a hit educational party game that won the prestigious Mensa Select award and was licensed by a major game company.

Social Enterprise M.A. at American University School of International Service

Photo: Taryn Bird, Aaron Shneyer and Miles Makdisi 

The Social Enterprise M.A. at the American University School of International Service attracts doers. Alumnus Aaron Shneyer created Heartbeat:Jerusalem, uniting young Israeli and Palestinian musicians to develop creative nonviolent tools for social change and amplify their voices to influence the world around them. Alumna Taryn Bird’s practicum project with Kate Spade turned into an award-winning corporate social responsibility initiative to source products from women in Rwanda. Current student Miles Makdisi founded Deportes para el Desarrollo in Columbia to support the alleviation of poverty by focusing on the positive benefits of sport. Each project makes a positive impact on society through social innovation and private sector techniques.Read more about the Social Enterprise program.

PSIA Platform for Social Innovation at Sciences Po


With support from MAIF and Casden and other partners, Sciences Po’s Paris School of International Affairs (PSIA) designed a platform to encourage and disseminate student and school-led social initiatives. PSIA also adapted its curriculum to provide opportunities for students to learn about social innovation and prepare themselves for careers in this booming sector. In 2014-15, more than 90 student teams delivered projects for private and non-profit clients. Proposals included strategies to integrate refugees, spark collective action on public health, and address climate change. Students created business plans for non-profits and foundations and proposed ways to crowdfund new initiatives. See all of the student projects and learn about the PSIA Social Innovation Platform.
Copyright © 2015 Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs, All rights reserved.

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