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CONTACT: Dawn Levy, News Service: (650) 725-1944,

COMMENT: Gordon M. Bloom, Public Policy: (650) 723-6514,

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Students tackle terrorism, illiteracy, disaster relief and more in social entrepreneurship contest

Stanford student Uri Pomerantz, an Israeli, lost his great-aunt in a terrorist attack at a Jerusalem bus stop in 2002. Hisham Jabi, a Palestinian now studying at the Peter F. Drucker Graduate School of Management in Southern California, lost a cousin to a bullet in 1991 as Israeli troops quelled a demonstration in Nablus.

Their losses could have made them enemies. Instead, they chose to become business partners. To address the economic roots of terrorism, they teamed up to form Jozoor Microfinance (Jozoor means "roots" in Arabic). The company grants microloans to young Palestinian men who could become targets for recruitment to terrorist groups. More than 60 percent of the Palestinian population lives on less than $2 per day, and the unemployment rate exceeds 50 percent.

On May 22, Pomerantz, Jabi and Stanford MBA student Delaney Steele's business plan took first place, winning $7,500, in a competition organized by the Business Association of Stanford Engineering Students (BASES). This year's Stanford BASES Social Entrepreneurs Challenge pitted 29 student teams against each other to create innovative business plans addressing social needs. The multidisciplinary teams included students working with alumni and faculty advisers as well as partners from industry, government and nongovernmental organizations.

"We're trying to build the environment for peace," Pomerantz said in an interview. "We're not trying to give loans and have Palestinians suddenly love Israelis. What we are trying to create is an environment in which people will not resort to violence." Initially using a group solidarity lending model that has worked in Bangladesh, the company gives loans of $200 to $600 ­ and basic business training ­ to members of affiliated groups. The majority of loans support sole proprietorships such as bakeries, beauty shops and linen services. If one member fails to repay, the entire group becomes ineligible for future funding.

The hypothetical case of Khalil, a farmer, illustrates how the loans work. With security checkpoints delaying the long trip from farm to marketplace by hours, even days, Khalil has watched a lot of his cucumbers rot in the sun. To solve the spoilage problem, he takes out a Jozoor microloan to buy the jars, salt and preservatives necessary to turn his cucumbers into pickles.

"We're trying to do the opposite of what HAMAS [Islamic resistance movement] does," Pomerantz said. "HAMAS takes people and makes them into a group and makes them feel like they are sacrificing their life for an idea. We're trying to target individuals and make them have something to live for."  

Four out of five

Four of the five winners of the BASES Social Entrepreneurs Challenge were student groups from Public Policy 193, taught by Gordon Bloom and Laura Scher. Bloom is a lecturer in the Public Policy Program of the School of Humanities and Sciences and a faculty affiliate of the Center for Social Innovation in the Graduate School of Business. Scher is co-founder, chair and CEO of Working Assets, a socially progressive company engaged in long distance, credit card, Internet and broadcasting services.

"We have had an amazing year of work and experimentation, with incredible students and fellows developing innovative U.S. and international social sector initiatives," Bloom said. "I'm overwhelmed that the new Public Policy 193 lab ­ Social Entrepreneurship Collaboratory ­ is a home to four of the five winning teams for the Social E-Challenge. Together the participants and teaching team in the lab are creating a space for these ideas and project teams to incubate and flourish, and this spring, based in Wallenberg Hall, it really came together."

The notion of a social entrepreneurship collaboratory is closely aligned with the university's founding mission, Bloom told students on May 29 before they gave their final project presentations. He quoted Jane Stanford addressing the university trustees in 1902: "The university was accordingly designed for the betterment of mankind morally, spiritually and materially. ... While the instruction offered must be such as will qualify students for personal success and direct usefulness in life, they should understand that it is offered in the hope and trust that they will become thereby of greater service to the public."

World-saving winners

Project finalists from Bloom and Scher's class included Jozoor as well as AIMS for Humanity, a technology-enabled mapping and humanitarian relief project ($5,000); ABCDEspañol Oaxaca, a literacy project in Mexico ($750); and Mobile Media, a project using handheld computers to help create access to social services and voter registration for 22 million people in poor areas of Brazil ($750).

AIMS for Humanity is dedicated to improving the speed, accuracy and quantity of aid to disaster zones. AIMS stands for "Aid Information Mapping Services." Each year, crises such as war, famine, disease, earthquakes and floods disrupt the lives of 200 million people. Emergency response requires extensive coordination ­ but the available information is often fragmented, confused and outdated. After the war in Kosovo, for example, the World Health Organization was given satellite-based information that mistook dry grass for wheat and consequently ordered insufficient winter wheat.

"The point of AIMS really is to give eyes to the humanitarian community," Victor March II told his classmates. "We want to make sure they have an accurate picture ... not just today but five years from today."

The project, with pilots in Iraq and Africa, provides crisis workers with maps using imagery collected from unmanned aerial vehicles and satellites. Topological maps can be overlaid with street maps, and data collected in the field can be fed into geographical information systems using wireless handheld devices. The resulting maps can give a real-time picture of water needs, buildings on fire, locations of mine fields, or percent of a population afflicted with illness. Computer science graduate student Jon McAlister, an award-winning coder, is a partner on the project.

ABCDEspañol Oaxaca, in contrast, tackles illiteracy by teaching indigenous people to read and write in their native language in phase one. In phase two, they learn to read and write in Spanish. More than 5 million Mexicans are illiterate, and the problem is acute in states such as Oaxaca that have high indigenous populations.

Colombian educator Javier González developed the ABCDEspañol methodology. It has proven successful in Colombia, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic, where last year 18,000 people became literate in the span of 8 months. The methodology employs a game incorporating linguistic principles and costs about $14 to teach a person to read, compared with the $547 the Oaxacan government spends to teach one pupil for a year in elementary school.

Stanford students Luis Trujillo, Joe Kirchofer and Jason Fang are working with the Center for the Development and Study of the Indigenous Languages of Oaxaca on a pilot project to teach 4,000 people to read and write in their native language in 4 months.

Another project, Mobile Media, trains local youths to use wireless handheld devices to collect data on undocumented persons in Brazil, where 22 percent of the population lacks basic documentation including birth certificates, voter registration and identification cards. Governments or nongovernmental organizations would use the data to connect unidentified people to currently inaccessible services. For example, grants can be disbursed to families through the nationwide cash-transfer system, Caixa Economica.

Executive Director Melanie Edwards, a Reuters Foundation Digital Vision Fellow, works with undergraduates Zachary Pogue and Amy McIntyre and Reuters Foundation Digital Vision Fellow Daniella Pontes on this project.

The fifth winning project, My Two Front Teeth, was not from the Public Policy 193 class. The project, a web-enabled charity service connecting indigent children with a gift wish, won $5,000. It was founded by former Stanford students Josh McFarland, CEO, and Dave Selinger, CTO, and is managed with current Stanford students Susie Cranston, CFO, and Jeff Ota, COO.


By Dawn Levy

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