Dell competition fosters student innovation

Carly Coen

Suzi Sosa of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs continues to influence the world of social innovation as executive director of the Dell Social Innovation Challenge, a contest designed to find the answers to pressing social and environmental issues all over the globe.

Young adults from 105 countries entered socially and environmentally innovative ideas into the Dell Social Innovation Challenge last year. The competition challenges students to develop solutions to pressing global issues, including lack of electricity in developing countries. After a series of evaluations, one finalist or group of finalists is granted $50,000 to further develop their project. Sosa, associate director for programs at the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, was named executive director of the competition last year.

Sosa worked in the private sector before volunteering for three years as a judge in the final round of the Dell challenge. After the close of the competition in 2011, Dell granted an additional $5 million to expand student participation in the challenge to more countries.

Sosa said her goal is to transform students into social innovators and empower those students to make their ideas happen. There are many ways to get involved in the innovative process that students have not been educated about, Sosa said.

“All you need in order to get started changing the world is passion. You don’t even really need an idea,” Sosa said. “This challenge is about becoming an entrepreneur and an innovator.”

The grand prize winners of the Dell challenge in 2011, TakaTaka Solutions, developed a method of environmentally responsible waste management for rural communities. The Humanure Power Project won the popular student vote for the 2012 challenge with a design to harness human waste to produce electricity. 

One of Sosa’s former students, nursing sophomore Kruti Patel, said Sosa’s Undergraduate Studies class on social innovation changed the way she views an individual’s potential to change the world.

“Every time she spoke, you could hear how passionate she was about getting all of us to think of the problems in the world differently,” Patel said.

John Doggett, McCombs School of Business senior lecturer, collaborated with Sosa on the competition after she was named executive director.

“She really cares about students and has created an amazing new opportunity with Dell. I wish we had a thousand more Suzi Sosas,” Doggett said.

Printed on Tuesday, October 2, 2012 as: Dell competition fosters innovation