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ASU team wins Social Venture Challenge at CGI U

ASU student talking to teammate at CGI U 2015
March 25, 2015

The Stair Gardens Project, a sustainable food source venture founded by Arizona State University engineering student Ngoni Mugwisi, competed and won against 191 other ventures at the 2015 Social Venture Challenge, held in conjunction with the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) conference March 6-8.

As the winners of the challenge, Mugwisi and his team earned seed funding, and Mugwisi received a Resolution Fellowship, which grants him special access to the Resolution Project network.

“The process was rigorous, and each step pushed me to think clearly and in specific terms about my venture,” said Mugwisi, whose team-developed Stair Gardens Project helps people in rural Zimbabwe sustainably grow vegetables despite limited access to water and fertile soil.

With the aim of addressing poverty alleviation, the venture incorporates the idea of using multiple levels of vegetable beds arranged vertically to save land space and increase vegetable output per area. The initiative also involves an education and outreach component.

The Social Venture Challenge is designed to inspire students to propose an impactful and socially-conscious project that addresses social issues in today’s world, and is restricted to students who were selected to attend the CGI U conference.

“CGI U brings together young social innovators and expert leaders to talk about sustainable approaches to some of today’s most pressing challenges,” said Mohammed Munir, Stair Gardens Project team member and fellow CGI U participant. “Ngoni and I felt that we belonged in such an environment because we are deeply passionate about applying our talents to advancing impactful innovations in our world.”

After passing the rigorous process of selection to CGI U, students interested in competing in the Social Venture Challenge completed an intensive, three-step submission process. In weeks prior to the CGI U conference, semi-finalists were notified of their advancement in the competition and invited to showcase their proposals to CGI U in front of attendees and a panel of judges. The top teams from the showcase were subjected to a final series of question and answer sessions from judges.

“It was a great and challenging experience, as it required that I provide every detail about my venture in a precise and well-thought-out manner,” said Mugwisi, who attributes a large part of his venture’s success to the brainpower and efforts of the project’s extended team members in ASU’s Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS).

Winning the Social Venture Project was not the only highlight for the Stair Gardens Project team. Both Mugwisi and Munir were selected to present their initiative on stage during a conference working session called "Reclaiming the Concrete Jungle: Investing in Urban Green Spaces." After their initiative was highlighted at the working session, Mugwisi and Munir were honored with a Commitment to Action Certificate, which is awarded to projects that demonstrate an “exemplary approach to addressing critical challenges.”

“In the future,” said Mugwisi, “I hope more and more ASU students will take advantage of the CGI U conference because there is a lot to gain from the experience, including broadened networks, shared knowledge and inspiration from accomplished speakers. I believe that Sun Devils have what it takes to not only attend the conference, but also excel there and become actively engaged participants.”

The annual CGI U conference is a highly anticipated event that convenes over 1,000 students from over 300 colleges and 80 countries. To attend, students must pass a competitive selection process by submitting compelling solutions, called Commitments to Action, to today’s problems in one of five focus areas: education; environment and climate change; peace and human rights; poverty alleviation; and public health. Students must also explain how their Commitments to Action are new, specific and measureable.