Johnson Student Team Receives Silver in Acara Challenge


Work in "Creative Design for Affordability" creates business model for improving maternal and infant health in Mumbai, India.

Johnson students brought home silver in the Acara Challenge for their team’s business venture concept, targeting India’s low-income population.  The Acara Challenge is a business venture competition involving 25 teams from universities in India, the US, and Mexico for developing sustainable solutions to challenging global social issues.

The winning Johnson team focused its efforts on helping reduce infant and child mortality rates. According to USAID, there are approximately 48 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in India, despite efforts by the Indian government, the United Nations, and various NGOs to reduce this number.  Yet research shows that with proper prenatal care and nutrition, the vast majority of infant deaths, premature births, and childhood health issues are preventable.  


Taking a different approach, the students proposed “Ujjwal,” a club for pregnant women in the slums in Mumbai, India, that provides education and consultation on health and nutrition, as well as a support network of other pregnant women through social gatherings.  

The Ujjwal concept originated in Johnson’s innovative Creative Design for Affordability class.  In the class, students utilize design thinking principles to address a social or environmental issue in a business context. Design thinking is a comparatively new strategic approach to solving business challenges through creative exploration.  

“The Creative Design for Affordability class is a unique way for students to engage in entrepreneurship and sustainable design for social change,” said Monica Touesnard, class lecturer and associate director for the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise. “By participating in the Acara Challenge, students also experience the realities of working on a global, multi-disciplinary team.”

Working in collaboration with students from the K.J. Somaiya Institute of Management Studies and Research (SIMSR) in Mumbai, student teams identify a need in a low-income community in India, generate ideas to address that need, and through an iterative process, develop a business concept.

"Working with a team several thousand miles away has been a real challenge, but we're very excited about the result and the opportunity to continue our work,” said Schuyler Blackman, MBA ’12, a member of the Johnson team.  “We know the need is great, and we think Ujjwal has potential to make a difference."

The Johnson team consisting of Blackman, Tathiana Reis (MBA ’12), Lani Shufelt (MBA ’12), Michael Pu (MBA ’12) together with one additional Cornell student   and four students from SIMSR, won a $  750 cash award, up to $750 in matching funds, and two tuitions valued at approximately $2,300 each to a summer program, where Ujjwal can be moved from concept to working program.  The Summer Institute, based in Bangalore India, is an intensive three week program to help budding social entrepreneurs refine their ideas and help turn them into reality. It consists of classroom and field experience, including time with successful social ventures in Southern India. 

Johnson’s Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise received a Course and Program grant from National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA) in fall of 2010 to significantly enhance and institutionalize the Creative Design for Affordability class that helps students conceptualize and develop new businesses that address global societal challenges.