Brandeis team ready to tackle worldwide challenge

Student group prepares to compete for $1 million to change the world

From left: Di Luo, Melissa Nazareno, Eyad Fallatah, Yan Shi and Rachael Gold-Brown

The Winter Olympics are over but another international competition is about to begin, this one pitting opponents’ minds, not brawn, against the other and rewarding victors not with a medal but an opportunity to change the world.

The Hult Prize, in partnership with the Clinton Global Initiative, is an international start-up accelerator for student social entrepreneurs. Since 2010, the Hult Prize Foundation has challenged students groups around the world to imagine and pitch a viable solution to a global issue and awards the winning team with $1 million to implement their idea.  

A five-person Brandeis team was among the 200 teams chosen from 10,000 applicants to participate regional finals in six locations, including Boston March 7-8. The winner of each region will present their start-up solutions at the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting in New York this September.

This year’s challenge asks teams to build “sustainable and scalable social enterprises to address non-communicable disease in slums.” It’s a global challenge this global Brandeis team — hailing from the U.S., Saudi Arabia and China — is more than ready to tackle.

This team has a breadth of professional and academic experience. 

Rachael Gold-Brown studies Sustainable International Development and Coexistence and Conflict and worked previously in Rwanda, mobilizing women to start small businesses. Melissa Nazareno worked in healthcare management before deciding to pursue her MBA at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management. 

Eyad Fallatah is in the Computer Science program and before coming to Brandeis, he developed technical tools and web-based applications for nonprofit health organizations.  Yan Shi, a former HR executive for PingAn Bank in China, is pursuing her MBA at the International Business School. Di Luo, also in Sustainable International Development, taught financial literacy and entrepreneurship to young people for six years before coming to Brandeis.  

By relying on their differing backgrounds and education, this team won the Heller School’s first social enterprise start-up competition last fall, and Gold-Brown is convinced they have a shot to win the Hult.  

“We know what it takes to organize a community, we know what it takes to make a successful business, we know what it takes to create technology that empowers,” she says. “We are ready to make a difference.”

Non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease or cancer, present specific challenges. Often, non-communicable diseases are chronic, patients need access long-term treatment and monitoring, both of which take money and resources, neither of which are large supply in slums. 

“Our biggest challenge is to generate income,” Gold-Brown says. “These people don’t have social structures or strong medical systems to absorb the blow of illness — no health care, welfare systems or Medicaid for the poorest of poor.” 

If treatment was available, Gold-Brown says, it wouldn’t be affordable. The team aims to create a business model that would allow people in slums to make money and take control of their health care. 

Any technology created for those businesses needs to be simple and easy to use, says Fallatah.

“It needs to empower,” Fallatah says. “It’s easy to create technology for technology’s sake but the real challenge is to use technology to create a business opportunity.”

At the regional finals, Fallatah, Gold and the rest of the Brandeis team will be competing against such schools as Harvard, MIT, Johns Hopkins, and defending champion McGill University.  But Lisa Lynch, dean of the Heller School, is confident in her team. 

“These students, like all Heller students, are doers,” she says. “They are not put off by the scope of the challenge. It energizes them. They know how important these issues are and they know they have the capability to change the world.”

Categories: International Affairs, Student Life

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