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Annual social innovation challenge gains momentum

Society has developed many pressing social and environmental challenges that some people in New Hampshire have taken on, by participating in the Social Venture Innovation Challenge (SVIC), created four years ago by the UNH Center for Social Innovation and Enterprise.
SVIC is an idea–stage competition with the goal of inspiring large, diverse groups of students and community members to develop innovative, solution–orientated thinking, while providing a forum to shine light on ideas, according to Fiona Wilson, executive director of the Center for Social Innovation and Enterprise. Wilson said that the SVIC engages aspiring and practicing student and community social entrepreneurs in designing novel, sustainable, business-oriented solutions to some of society’s most pressing social and environmental challenges.
SVIC gives people the chance to make a difference be heard. With numerous dire issues occurring simultaneously world wide, like poverty and climate change for examples, this is a way to start putting some to an end.
“What I think is so exciting about the SVIC is that it shows that there’s a whole generation of people who don’t want to sit on the sidelines, but who are excited to use the tools of entrepreneurship and public policy to develop novel, innovative and more effective solutions to problems,” Wilson said.
The Social Venture Innovation Challenge is a statewide competition and the winners receive awards that help bring needed resources to advance the promising models. The first place winners will also receive $5,000, second and third will be given cash prizes at lesser values. Any individual or group may enter the challenge; all they need is a social or environmental problem anywhere in the world, a two–page proposal and a three–minute video on how to fix it. Video production help is also offered to contestants.
Students from 25 different majors from all five colleges at UNH are participating in the challenge. One of these students is junior anthropology major Emily Mierswa.
Mierswa wanted to challenge herself by doing something she had never done before and decided to participate in SVIC when she heard about it this summer through the Carsey School of Public Policy. The social issue she chose is the illicit trafficking of cultural heritage items, emphasizing the problematic lack of understanding and education surrounding the issue.
“My idea brings together all my interests of study: archaeology, cultural heritage, ownership, preservation and public policy,” Mierswa said. She also said that being an anthropology major with a focus on archaeology, she is often asked how much something is worth or where someone could sell a certain cultural artifact.
“These questions trouble me as they neglect the significance an object has to focus on its monetary value. Thoughts of an object’s worth or selling artifacts easily becomes buying illicit objects online from eBay without understanding the damage that person is causing,” she said.
Mierswa is currently looking for a partner, ideally a student in the Paul College, before the challenge registration deadline on Oct. 7.
The deadline for SVIC registered competitors’ submissions is Nov. 7. Challenge finals are Dec. 1. The challenge is made possible with the help from co-hosts: UNH Paul College of Business and Economics, Carsey School of Public Policy, UNH Sustainability Institute, UNH Innovation, NH EPSCoR and the student organization Net Impact UNH. Also, the generous financial contributions of outside sponsors: Kennebunk Savings, Pierce Atwood, PixelMEDIA, Timberland, Alpha Loft, New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, CCA Global, New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility and New Hampshire Business Review.

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