Students aim to help welfare of India

Two teams from the University of Minnesota participated in the 2011 Acara Challenge.

The Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota hosted a celebration breakfast Wednesday at the St. Paul Student Center to showcase results from their annual Acara Challenge.

Acara, a program within the institute, gives University students a chance to plan and launch social businesses that can tackle many current environmental challenges.

As part of the program students take a course on âÄúDesign for Sustainable Development.âÄù The course provides the Acara curriculum to about 16 students each semester. Administrators plan on offering a two-credit course over winter break.

The course is co-taught by Julian Marshall, a civil engineering assistant professor, and Toby Nord, program director for the Strategic Management and Organization department in the Carlson School of Management.

Every year students in the program are given a challenge in a specific field and have to create pilot programs.

The 2011 challenge concentrates on food and water security in India. Students were given the task of developing solutions to this problem with the help of professors, industry mentors and the UniversityâÄôs international partners.

In May 2011, four teams of students were chosen from a pool of 21 teams from 12 participating schools in the U.S., India and Mexico. Two teams from the University were chosen to participate.

The winning teams received $5,000 in funding and a scholarship to attend the Acara Summer Institute in Bangalore, India, last summer. The three-week program combined field and classroom work and moved the studentsâÄô business plans forward.

The University teams were partnered with students from Teri University in Delhi. The students stay in virtual contact at all times, working to implement a pilot program to execute their plan.

Students proposed ventures that included a system to deliver information about food and water availability, using Google SMS group service, at various locations to get it in the hands of malnourished and resource-deprived individuals.

Another proposal the students put forth was a cooperative that would create and maintain toilet facilities in urban slums for a fee. The installment of the facilities would decrease the spread of food and water-borne illnesses and increase quality of life.

âÄúThe students were assigned to develop businesses that would address environmental and social challenges by looking at it through the eyes of a business entrepreneur,âÄù said Fred Rose, Acara CEO and co-founder and coordinator for the IonE.

Rose also hopes that interest in the program grows and more students get involved.

âÄúWe would like to see more students from the University involved and also expand on our offering of courses,âÄù Rose said.

Steele Lorenz, an alumnus who graduated in 2010 with a dual degree in marketing and management, was involved with the project as a student and is still working on the project he developed. Lorenz confesses it was one of the best experiences of his college career.

âÄúWhen I first started with the project, I just planned on developing the business plan and it was never supposed to turn into a passion. As it grew into a class and into a business, it became much more a part of who I am and how I think about the world,âÄù he said.

âÄúNow I canâÄôt imagine not being a part of this organization and having it not be a part of my life.âÄù