Open Elective: HONS 295 (Global Perspectives on Social Innovation)

In Fall 2017, I took my first Honors Special Topics elective course titled “Global Perspectives on Social Innovation”. This course counted towards the 8 Honors course minimum that is required of the Honors College.

Global Perspectives on Social Innovation explores local, national, and international initiatives for social change using civil and economic influences. We defined social innovation as a step beyond charity. Instead of donating money to a cause in order to put a band-aid over an issue, social innovation is developing a product or good to provide sustainable resolutions to issues on local and global scales. In this class, the students read literature about social innovation, explored social innovation in Farmville by visiting a local organization that practices social innovation, and exploring social innovation in our own country with a group project. These assignments were building up to the major aspect of the class, which was developing and presenting our own social innovation to a global issue.

To truly make this global, the students worked alongside Honors students from Windesheim University in the Netherlands in order to gain global perspective in the most worldly way. Students were divided into groups by interest in a global issue. For a large portion of the semester, the U.S. students and the Dutch students communicated with technologies like WhatsApp and Facetime to develop ideas to create a sustainable product in order to solve their global issue.

The presentation had two parts. The in class presentation mimicked the idea of the TV show “Shark Tank”. The U.S. and Dutch students pitched their innovation to a panel of American and Dutch judges via video chatting. The second part of the presentation was a poster presentation for the Honors Poster Presentation that is held each semester, where Honors students show off research and projects done in their Honors classes. This was an incredible opportunity to be able to participate in because we got to present in it as early as our first semester of freshman year, which is awesome! Because this was the first semester that this class was offered, this was an amazing way to display this challenging, interactive, and one of a kind course.

I have never taken a course as unique as Global Perspective on Social Innovation. It has opened my eyes to a new model of changing and saving the world and it has exposed me to some of the most clever and fascinating innovations that are actually being produced today to solve real issues. It challenged my imagination because the sky was the limit for our project. I was forced to think beyond “outside the box” in our project and to think through every single possibility. It also strengthened my communication skills because we were working with international students. Because English was not their primary language, it was interesting trying to illustrate my ideas in different ways because the way I would normally express ideas might not have translated to them on the first attempt. I think I was extremely lucky to take this class in my first semester of my freshman year because it was advanced in its demands for thinking and it was an extremely cool college course. It gave me a great first impression of what Honors classes are like and how they are different from traditional college courses. It was incredibly liberating in the sense of how creative and open our projects were, and it made me excited to be in Honors. Also, I saw this as being a helpful class to have under my belt as an Environmental Science major because of how we had to advocate for a global issue, and conveniently enough ours was related to the environment. I felt like this class had strong ties to my major and my aspirations of making a difference in the world, which we did in a different way than I would traditionally in my major.

The artifact I chose are two pictures: one of my poster that my partner and I presented at the Honors Poster Session and another of me and my partner. I chose this artifact because I was very proud on this day to show off our hard work making a social innovation to solve the global water crisis, specifically in Djibouti, Africa. We chose this location because one of our Dutch counterparts was Ethiopian and had great insight into their water crisis, being that Ethiopia borders Djibouti and often is a resource of water for them. On simplest terms, we designed a solar powered smart water bottle with a built in filter to sell in the developed world that could could connect to a smart watch to help track daily water intake. This would then fund a project in Djibouti to build a large scale ocean water filtration system to provide fresh drinking water. We imagined our product being sponsored by large companies like Adidas or the NBA in order to bring large attention to it to the United States and around the world in order to be successful and bring awareness to the global water crisis. I loved seeing the reactions of people at the Session when I was explaining our ideas and I loved bringing awareness to an issue that is generally not faced in the United States that often. When issues aren’t right in our face, society as a whole is blind to them. This is why I think this class was truly mind blowing, because I found myself thinking about issues I don’t usually on a daily basis, making me in the end better off as a worldly thinker.