Students tackle pressing global challenges

Clinton Global Initiative University to boost social impact projects

From the air pollution crisis in India to the opioid epidemic in the United States, students at the University of Chicago are confronting some of the most important challenges facing people today.

Such social impact projects here and at universities around the world will receive critical new support starting in October when UChicago hosts the Clinton Global Initiative University. The transformative experience brings together more than 1,000 undergraduate and graduate students, including 150 students from UChicago, to meet with topic experts, academic leaders and other influential voices.

Hosting the Clinton Global Initiative University builds upon work at UChicago in social impact and entrepreneurship, including at the Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation at the Booth School of Business. Students at the University will bring to the meeting new or ongoing projects. Here are some of their stories:

Fighting the opioid epidemic with digital technology

Fiduscript, a company founded by graduate student James Lott, with support from his team, Mary Joyce Rooney, Victoria Constant and Maryiam Saifuddin, is working to fight the opioid crisis in America head on.

They’re focusing on increasing access to Naloxone, a prescription medication that can reverse the effects of an overdose in a matter of minutes, by creating Naloxone Exchange—an online marketplace that allows for easy purchase, training and direct delivery of the medication.

“In 2017 we had 72,000 deaths due to opioids,” said Lott, a student at UChicago’s Harris School of Public Policy. “We knew Naloxone was a life saver, it was just a matter of getting it out to everybody.”

Getting the medication into the right hands requires an interdisciplinary approach. Lott assembled a team of developers, policy and business students to deal with the unique challenge of contending with different prescription laws in 50 states, as well as building a platform capable of taking a large number of orders. The students are also leveraging support provided by the Social New Venture Challenge and the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation’s Accelerator program.

“One of our strengths is that we’re a UChicago team connected to the UChicago community,” Lott said.

The Fiduscript team sees their mission as imperative, driven by the idea that the next generation has a duty to ensure benefits from advances in science, technology and medicine are shared in an equitable manner.

Improving sustainable farming in Haiti

For undergraduate students Amy Tian and Dominique Janvier, their project to create urban hydroponic farming centers in Haiti’s urban areas was a case of the stars aligning.

The two met at UChicago and decided to pursue a project that combined Tian’s passion for the environment with Janvier’s passion for social development. Janvier’s family is from Haiti, making it a natural choice for the location.

“A lot of my family has been affected by the economic decline and natural disasters in the area,” Janvier said. “We thought it would be great to add onto what existing nonprofits are already doing.”

Natural disasters and deforestation in Haiti can reduce farmable land, causing food insecurity and threatening jobs. But by developing partnerships, teaching sustainable farming practices and building vertical hydroponics centers, Janvier and Tian hope to help create new sustainable sources of fresh food and jobs for Haitians.

The pair says the timing is right given that Clinton Global Initiative University is coming to campus. “The best time to start these projects is when you’re students, because there are so many resources available to you.” Tian said.

Combating air pollution in India

UChicago College students Shaili Datta and Preethi Raju have always been motivated by public service, but it was seeing how their families in India were affected by air pollution that created a call to action.

“My grandmother was hospitalized because the pollution had just gotten so bad in Delhi,” Datta said. “The fact that she was subjected to this in the first place was just a human rights issue. No one should have to go through this and have no options.”

In response, the two have tirelessly researched air pollution to design a sensor and app for their social enterprise named Pavan, which means air in Hindi. The app will allow users to monitor air pollution in their area, as well as buy preventative equipment like sensors or masks.

After competing in UChicago’s John Edwardson, ’72, Social New Venture Challenge earlier this year, the Pavan team felt the Clinton Global Initiative University was a natural next step for their work.

“It was one of the more philanthropic avenues that was available to us, and it’s being held at UChicago—there’s a lot of great support and great programming.” Raju said.

Reducing food waste through a pantry management system

The average household in America wastes approximately 25% of their food, costing them $1,350 to $2,275 annually, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In response, Matt Rich, Dip Majumder, Ali Imam and Harish Sukhavasi—all students at UChicago’s Booth School of Business—are developing a solution through their company, Locale Vine.

Their digital platform recommends recipes to families based on the ingredients in their pantries and procures the remaining groceries from local grocery stores, providing seamless and efficient meal planning, grocery shopping and delivery.

“We’re tackling the issue at the very root level, changing how you buy groceries more efficiently so you don't waste any food and save some money,” Sukhavasi said.

The team found the online grocery market is largely untapped, and Locale Vine, which would make money through sponsored products, could succeed where other food waste measures have failed. They estimate that their company could save users between 15 and 30 percent on their grocery spending, and also have a larger ripple effect outward.

“It all connects back to your community,” said Majumder, the team's technical visionary. “Wasting food means it takes extra resources to provide more food, so the less fortunate folk of your community are now paying more for the same products.”

Giving communities the power to pursue healthy eating

Zhipeng "Trista" Li, a recent graduate of Chicago Booth and Harris Public Policy, wants to bring fresh food and people closer together.

Her company, KitcheNet, which she launched with Harris student Julia Whiting and fourth-year student Richard Wu, is a hub-based produce delivery service to help people without easy access to fresh food or healthy snack options.

Li said her customers are often hard-working parents, teachers and caregivers who have to take time from busy schedules and make multiple trips by bus to get the food and supplies they need, as well as professionals who lack healthy snack options at their work. The company, which participated in the 2017 Polsky Accelerator program, also serves people with chronic diseases and senior citizens, for whom mobility and health is an issue.

“I’m passionate about increasing food selection and education,” Li said. “We want to help motivated individuals get the tools and resources to own their narratives, own their healthy lifestyles.”

Li and her team also promote the idea of food as medicine and tailor their food selection to be beneficial for people with certain medical conditions. They keep their ingredient selection relevant to their audience to fit preferences.

“Public service needs to get to the heart of the needs of citizens,” Li said. “A great service should be able to improve the system overall with some measurable evidence.”