LiquidGoldConcept Wins Big Ideas 2020 Scaling Up Contest

When UC Berkeley alumna Anna Sadovnikova launched her successful social enterprise devoted to helping pregnant mothers overcome the challenges of breastfeeding, she never expected that she would need to reinvent the entire program — transforming an in-person breastfeeding simulator into a virtual training program. But that’s what she and her team did this spring.

Big Ideas Entrepreneurs Respond to COVID-19

For many entrepreneurs who come out of the University of California’s Big Ideas social innovation contest, the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic are motivating them to find creative ways to shift their business strategies to stay busy and afloat.

For many entrepreneurs who come out of the University of California’s Big Ideas social innovation contest, the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic are motivating them to find creative ways to shift their business strategies to stay busy and afloat.

Global Gains in Reducing Extreme Poverty

By Shankar Sastry

In a recent poll from Oxford University’s Our World in Data, a majority of Americans said that the share of the world population living in poverty is increasing—yet one of the trends of the last 50 years has been a huge reduction in global poverty. In fact, per World Bank data, the proportion of the Earth’s population subsisting on about $2 a day or less has dropped by more than 75 percent over the last four decades—from 42 percent in 1981 to 10 percent in 2015.

Just as remarkable, annual worldwide deaths of children under 5 have plummeted since 1990. Thanks to health interventions in respiratory infections, diarrhea, and preterm birth as well as massive success in vaccinations for measles, tuberculosis, and malaria—global child death rates have dropped by more than a half. We also are approaching 90 percent adult literacy and seeing large gains in girls’ education.

So why are so many Americans unaware of these tremendous global gains?

One reason is that whereas poverty, health, and educational outcomes are improving in developing nations, in the U.S. poverty shot up to 1960s levels in 2009 and the cost of health, housing, and higher education is thwarting socioeconomic mobility for too many Americans.  The regional, racial, and class details of this phenomenon are constantly in the news. In fact, in America— thanks to our always-on, click bait media—we are drowning ourselves in bad news.

Yet here on the UC Berkeley campus and at the Blum Center, we find students are not just well informed—many are brimming with hope and commitment to continue to fight extreme poverty in developing nations and to reduce inequality and work for social and economic justice in the United States. We also finding that in addition to students lending their energy and intelligence to established organizations, some are seeking to form news ones through startups and through incubators and accelerators like Big Ideas, CITRIS Foundry, and Skydeck.

There is also growing understanding among Blum Center faculty, staff, and students that higher education must adapt to the future of work. As my good friend Carnegie Mellon University President Farnam Jahanian pointed out in a recent World Economic Forum article, “There is an undeniable need to train the next generation in emerging digital competencies and to be fluent in designing, developing, or employing technology responsibly. At the same time, 21st-century students must learn how to approach problems from many perspectives, cultivate and exploit creativity, engage in complex communication, and leverage critical thinking.”

In this issue of the Blum Center’s Innovation Chronicle, we invite you to read about students combining these skills sets for a fairer planet. Please read about Kaloum Bankhi, a sustainable housing organization in Guinea led by Big Ideas winner and recent UC architecture graduate Aboubacar Komara. We also have an article about the forest economics research group led by Professor Matthew Potts, who is Vice Chair of the Graduate Group in Development Engineering. And we invite you to listen to our Global Poverty & Practice students about their poverty action fieldwork in the Philippines, San Francisco, India, and Colombia.

All their efforts, combined with the larger story of global poverty reduction, make me think that 2020 is a year for great hope and hard work for global progress. 

Shankar Sastry is Faculty Director of the Blum Center for Developing Economies and NEC Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at UC Berkeley.

Arts Entrepreneurship Comes to Big Ideas Contest

With all of the excitement and funding directed at artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain, and gene editing, it is hard to remember that one of the most consistently innovative and financially robust sectors in the United States is the “creative industry.”

With all of the excitement and funding directed at artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain, and gene editing, it is hard to remember that one of the most consistently innovative and financially robust sectors in the United States is the “creative industry.”

Inspired to Become an Innovation Ambassador

When Amy Liu was a master’s degree student in biology at UC San Diego, she met a recently immigrated Haitian refugee who desperately needed a doula. After four hours of waiting for a professional, Liu—who had volunteered as a doula for a year—assisted the delivery of the woman’s baby over a 35-hour period. Inspired to provide pregnant women with the support they need, she founded Junior Hearts and Hands in August 2017, to connect mothers with doulas in a time-sensitive manner. After receiving mentorship from the Big Ideas Contest, she became an Innovation Ambassador for both the 2018-2019 academic year and now the 2019-2020 one. Liu, founder and CEO of Partners in Life, chatted with Big Ideas about how the program has inspired her (and why you should apply).

Supporting Low-Income Entrepreneurs in Nairobi

Over the past five years, SOMO has grown from a proposal submitted to the Big Ideas Contest to a viable nonprofit, which receives close to 2,000 applications annually from Kenyan entrepreneurs looking to launch their business ideas. So far SOMO has helped launch 58 businesses, partnering with them for two years through its acceleration program.

Providing Accessible Medical Care through Low-Cost Fracture Detection

Treating bone fractures in the developing world is increasingly difficult due to the lack of x-ray accessibility. Emily Huynh, a senior at UC Berkeley studying Bioengineering, thought: if bone fractures were diagnosed and treated properly in an affordable way, large populations of people could avoid the chronic pain, disability, and socioeconomic disadvantage that mistreated fractures cause. This past spring, Huynh and her team won third place in Big Ideas’ Hardware for Good category for a medical device that provides orthopedic care in underdeveloped countries and remote settings called Fractal.

In Salute and Celebration of Women Social Entrepreneurs

By Shankar Sastry

At the Blum Center, women using their entrepreneurial and discipline-specific talents to start innovative projects and organizations has been a goal since our founding. The difference today compared to 13 years ago is that there are more networks and investment opportunities for female founders. Yet barriers still exist (to be broken).

At the October 1 CITRIS Women in Tech Initiative “Inclusion by Design: Practical Tips for Improving STEM Equality,” the Blum Center’s Phillip Denny was part of a panel discussing ways to increase the participation and success of women and under-represented people in entrepreneurship.

“Networks and mentors are extremely important for female innovators, as they are for everyone,” said Denny who directs the Big Ideas Contest.

Recently, Denny documented in a Stanford Social Innovation Review article that in Big Ideas there is a correlation between female participants’ success and the number of female judges in the pool. The researchers also found that women mentors, who advise on project plans, offer much needed perspectives and networks and have a better understanding of some of the types of products and services that women are proposing.

In this month’s newsletter, we are featuring several women entrepreneurs who have come through Blum Hall.

Maria Artundauga, 2019 winner of the Big Ideas Contest, discusses how her personal and professional experiences led her to found Respira Labs, a Skydeck startup, and how she navigates male-dominated spaces as a woman of color and an immigrant.

Also in this month’s newsletter is an interview with Jill Finlayson, Cal graduate, longtime Big Ideas Contest mentor, and director of Women in Technology Initiative at CITRIS (Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society) at UC Berkeley, where she supports research and initiatives to promote the equitable participation of women in the tech industry.

Also featured is the work of Vicentia Gyau, a Mastercard Foundation Scholar and Global Poverty & Practice alumna, who co-founded the nonprofit Education Redefined for All to  improve public education and workforce development in Ghana.

In addition, October was another tremendous month for Blum Center Education Director Alice Agogino and her startup Squishy Robotics, which makes shape-shifting robots for first responders in disaster situations. The Professor of Mechanical Engineering was named one of the 30 women in robotics by Robohub, and her invention won the Grand Winner Award at 2019 Silicon Valley TechPlanter competition in the global accelerator category.

Please join me in the celebration of these and other women founders and social entrepreneurs at the Blum Center, at UC Berkeley, and beyond.

And please take a look at Jason Liu’s article on the Development Engineering course Design, Evaluate and Scale Technologies (DevEng200), which is being taken by 44 UC Berkeley STEM and social science students, more than half of whom hail from outside the U.S.  

Shankar Sastry is Faculty Director of the Blum Center for Developing Economies and NEC Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at UC Berkeley.

Mentoring and Marveling at Founders

There are few people as committed to judging the Big Ideas Contest as Jill Finlayson. A lifelong advocate of mentorship and a graduate of UC Berkeley, Finlayson has been a Big Ideas mentor since the competition’s inception in 2006. She currently serves as director of Women in Technology Initiative at CITRIS (Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society)at UC Berkeley, where she supports research and initiatives to promote the equitable participation of women in the tech industry.

Empowering Women of Color in the Medical & Technology Field

Although Maria Artunduaga, a Colombian-born translational physician and entrepreneur, says that racial and gender bias has played a major role in shaping her career, she doesn’t view it as an obstacle. Instead, she views such experiences as motivation to close the gender and racial gap, particularly in Silicon Valley.

How Universities Can Support Women-Led Entrepreneurship

When Maria Artunduaga won a University of California award in 2017 for her team’s technology to manage pulmonary disease, she noted a critical factor in the victory: contest-organized mentorship from Jocelyn Brown with the Rice 360˚ Institute for Global Health.

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Host and Fellow Responsibilities

Host Organizations

  • Identify staff supervisor to manage I&E Climate Action Fellow
  • Submit fellowship description and tasks
  • Engage in the matching process
  • Mentor and advise students
  • Communicate with Berkeley program director and give feedback on the program.

Berkeley Program Director​

  • Communicate with host organizations, students, and other university departments to ensure smooth program operations

Student Fellows

  • Complete application and cohort activities
  • Communicate with staff and host organizations
  • Successfully complete assignments from host organization during summer practicum
  • Summarize and report summer experience activities post-fellowship