Help Solve Community Problems Exacerbated by COVID-19 Through Social Innovation Challenge

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Food insecurity, a lack of affordable housing, and income inequality are just a few of the challenges students will tackle by joining the 2020 Social Innovation Challenge. 

Now entering its fourth year, the Social Innovation Challenge seeks to develop viable, sustainable, and scalable solutions within the scope of a semester and invites students to think entrepreneurially about the change they want to see in the world. 

"There is immense opportunity for students to create real-world, impactful solutions to the problems COVID-19 has exacerbated," said Madison Sutton, social innovation program manager in the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation. 

"Our community has made a lot of progress, but there is still work to be done."

Student teams will have access to mentor nights, workshops, and one-on-one support as they develop their ideas, Sutton said. Those interested in joining the program should visit the OEI website for next steps to register their team or connect with others interested in working on a project.  

Last year's winning team, Suelo, presented a solution to minimize excess water usage in agriculture applications. Their working prototype monitors soil temperature, moisture, salinity and humidity to notify farmers when a plant needs water. 

More than 30 students, faculty and community partners attended a virtual kickoff on Sept. 3 to hear about the issues from local experts, including Rogelio Garcia Contreras, clinical professor in the Department of Strategy, Entrepreneurship and Venture Innovation at the Sam M. Walton College of Business; Alyssa Snyder, co-founder of Seeds that Feed; Tiffany Hudson, executive director of Partners for Better Housing; and Emily English, an assistant professor in the internal medicine department at UAMS. 

English explained how the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the "fragile web" of access to food, housing and adequate health for many NWA residents. 

"When that (web) is so fragile and vulnerable, things like COVID-19, unemployment, rent payments and a missed two days of work can throw that whole web off." 

Garcia Contreras added that students should be mindful that the economic system in the United States "rests on the shoulders of all the systemic injustice and inequality endured by many." 

Lack of access to housing and food "are just symptoms of much larger structural problems," Garcia Contreras said. 

"So, our vision on design, on technology, innovation, entrepreneurship has to be tied with our vision and active advocacy of a more compassionate, fair and equal economy."

A program within the University of Arkansas' Office for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the Social Innovation Challenge connects a multidisciplinary network of classes with organizations committed to addressing social and environmental issues affecting our communities. 

 

Contacts

Madison Sutton, director of Social Innovation Program
Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation
479-575-2000, mpsutton@uark.edu

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