OnQ Blog

The younger generation achieves social impact through mobile solutions

May 11, 2016

Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

A low-cost latrine aid designed to give landmine victims in Uganda improved access to bathrooms.

A cost-effective device for HIV testing in low-resource settings.

An off-grid water purification system to supply small communities with drinking water during emergencies.

These are all ideas that local San Diego University students came up with while participating in the University of San Diego, Center for Peace and Commerce’s annual Social Innovation Challenge (SIC). Each year, contestants continue to reimagine the world as a more dignified and humane place.

There’s just one thing. When I look at the winners from years past, I’m struck by how few of them use mobile technology as a foundation for their innovations, especially since I believe wireless to be the most powerful tool on the planet to create social impact.

For that reason, Qualcomm Wireless Reach and Qualcomm Ventures, co-sponsors of the 2016 SIC, created a new Mobile Tech Track that recently awarded a $5,000 prize to two very deserving student projects that harness the power mobile technology to address a social challenge. This new track aligns with an important goal of our Wireless Reach entrepreneurship efforts – to provide avenues of social engagement through the use of mobile tools and solutions.

Grace Michel, the assistant director for the USD School of Peace and Commerce, is very excited about the new track. “We have found a synergistic relationship with Qualcomm, rooted in our shared vision for the power of mobile technology to advance social and environmental progress,” she said. “The current generation of university students have grown up with mobile technology as part of their moment-to-moment reality. Using mobile is like breathing for them. Through the Mobile Tech Track in the SIC, we aim to shift from technology for technology’s sake to technology with transformative purpose and social impact."

As the Wireless Reach program lead for our global entrepreneurship portfolio, I’m honored to have a role in nurturing the creativity and inspired thinking that drives the SIC participants’ projects. Throughout the school year, these students have access to elective classes, Idea Labs, and support services from local academic and business leaders who assist them in the design and implementation of their social impact programs, with the goal of preparing them to successfully pitch their ideas to a panel of judges, “Shark Tank” style, and obtain funding. 

The author presenting Wireless Reach programs at a USD SIC Idea Lab as an example for young innovators.

During the school year, I participated in an Idea Lab to kick-start the students’ thinking. Karen Henken, USD lecturer and CEO/Founder of Henken & Associates, delivered a crash course in developing a Business Model Canvas covering the importance of mission and vision clarity from the beginning of the student’s journey. She invited me to highlight the practices Wireless Reach uses to create our sustainable programs, utilizing advanced wireless technologies that strengthen economic and social development in underserved communities globally. I discussed the need and importance for public-private partnerships, aligning business objectives with social impact, and monitoring and evaluation. I also shared a few examples of our programs, which really generated excitement and inspiration among students, USD faculty, and other attendees.

I was honored to help coach and then serve as a judge for the 2016 SIC over the last few months. On April 29, on behalf of Wireless Reach and Qualcomm Ventures, I was able to present prize funding to TUTUroomi and Amigoes USD Carpool App for their innovative submissions using mobile to positively affect change in their peer’s lives; it inspired me beyond what I could have imagined and I can only hope that it also encourages more students to incorporate wireless technology into their programs next year. 

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