The Oregon University Systems, including recently designated Changemaker Campus Portland State University, was host to sixteen student teams from eight Oregon universities who recently participated in the state’s first Social Business Challenge, keynoted by Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus. Each team was there to present a concept for a new social business: a revenue-generating organization created to address a social or environmental problem that reinvests its profits or is owned directly by the poor.
Among the speakers on the concept—including Governor John Kitzhaber and Portland Mayor Sam Adams—two stood out for their own experience creating successful social enterprises: Amelia Pape, co-founder of My Street Grocery, and Amanda West, co-founder of EcoZoom. My Street Grocery is a mobile grocer providing healthy, affordable food throughout Portland, and EcoZoom designs and distributes inexpensive, high-efficiency cookstoves in developing nations.
They shared more than just a commitment to business for good—both had participated in Portland State University’s (PSU) Social Innovation Incubator. The student founder of Elkarti, one of the PSU teams pitching at the event, is also a graduate of the Incubator.
In all, six PSU student teams participated in the Challenge:
- Bare Bottoms aims to start a for-profit baby goods product line and store to fund a diaper bank that will provide diapers to low-income families.
- Compass Rose will be a sustainable café with a job-training program for local disadvantaged youth populations.
- Elkarti, an ethical fashion line, partners with Moroccan artisans to create unique accessories and supports them through direct market relationships and educational programs.
- Open Source Medical Solutions has developed a prototype for a low-cost vision assistance device that will be assembled by engineering students and distributed globally through partner organizations.
- Waste-Not Warriors will collect local organic waste from grocery stores, food co-ops, and landscape contractors to be transformed into compost.
- Wealth and Health Gardens will establish a self-funding community garden and holistic health support group run by refugees.
Although Open Source Medical Solutions and Waste-Not Warriors advanced to the final round, a team from Oregon State University ultimately took top prize for their proposed sports league to serve children with disabilities.
Regardless of their final ranking, all the participants—and the audience as well—left with inspiring proof of what Muhammad Yunus said at the beginning of the event: “The problems that we see around us are not as intractable as they look from the outside.”