Emily Smith

Global Social Venture Competition Finals: “All it takes is one person with a dream”

From the start, this was not your average competition. Last Friday 15 finalists from India, the U.S., New Zealand, France, England, Indonesia and Thailand gathered at U.C. Berkeley’s Haas School of Business to compete in the Global Social Venture Competition (GSVC). The teams presented business plans that were financially viable and make a social impact to an expert panel of judges including Varun Sahni of Acumen Fund, Sam Moss of Gray Ghost Ventures and Victoria Hale of OneWorld Health. Although teams were technically competing for a grand prize, there was camaraderie among the group of finalists who all had unique approaches to changing the world.

By partnering with nine business schools from around the world, this year the GSVC attracted 311 entrants from 123 universities in 25 countries, making this truly a global competition. The GSVC serves as an international forum for entrepreneurs to showcase their plans, for investors to support ground-breaking social ventures and for all involved to establish an international network of social entrepreneurs.

This year’s winner, EcoFaeBrick, came from Prasetiya Mulya Business School in Indonesia, and were the first international team to win the Global Finals. EcoFaeBrick produces high quality and affordable bricks from the abundant cow dung in Godean and Sayegan, Jogjakarta. They also plan to process methane biogas to fire the kiln. mPedigree Logistics from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth came in second. Third place went to SolarCycle from George Washington University. Their primary innovation is a low-cost reflective material made from used plastic bags and the interior of metalized chip bags that can replace mirrors in solar concentrating applications.

These entrepreneurs join a distinguished group of past winners including Microenergy Credits (2008), d.light design (2007), World of Good (2005) and Prisma Microfinance (2001).

To cap off a day filled with inspiring entrepreneurs and world-changing ideas, Dr. Paul Polak, a hero to many in the competition, addressed the group at the GSVC Awards Dinner. Dr. Polak began his career as a psychiatrist and has since spent 25 years building IDE, enabling over 17 million people to move out of poverty. Polak wore his signature sweater vest (as he did during Rob Katz’s interview last year) and addressed the audience with a remarkable level of passion, humility and sincerity. He emphasized three simple recommendations: Go to where the action is, listen with your whole body to the people with the problem, and learn everything you can about the context of that problem.

After sharing his design philosophy, Dr. Polak shared more about the start-up ventures that are keeping him busy these days. His new for-profit venture, Windhorse International, aims to demonstrate how big business can profitably design and market products and services to $1-2/day customers. It will be exciting to follow the progress that the GSVC finalists and Windhorse International make in the coming year.

“All it takes is one person with a dream,” said Polak. GSVC is a powerful example of how people around the globe are transforming their dreams into realistic solutions to shape the world.

Editor’s note: Stay tuned for two follow-up articles profiling one of the finalists of the competition and chronicling the social enterprise symposium that took place on Saturday.