International Student Collaboration Yields Honorable Mention in ACARA Challenge


Using design thinking principles, the multi-disciplinary, international team from Cornell and the Somaiya Institute in India crafted an innovative product and complementary business model, targeting female dock laborers. 

Halki KursiAccess to healthcare, financial services, and education were the focus of team projects in Johnson’s Creative Design for Affordability class – an award-winning, project-based course for graduate students that applies design thinking principles to developing-world sustainability challenges. The Cornell business concept that received an honorable mention in the ACARA Challenge was Halki Kursi, an affordable, compact seating solution for female dock laborers which is ergonomically designed to reduce physical pain and to improve overall worker productivity.

Working in collaboration with students from the Somaiya Institute of Management Studies and Research (SIMSR) in Mumbai, India each student team was charged with creating a viable business solution to address an environmental or social challenge in an economically disadvantaged area in Maharashtra, India.  The Halki Kursi business concept was developed after several field visits by SIMSR teammates to the Sassoon dock and slums to collect photos and speak with community members, as well as several group brainstorming sessions between the Cornell and SIMSR teams.

This year, the joint Cornell-SIMSR Halki Kursi team designed a chair specifically for women who are required to sit on ground for long hours cleaning prawns and fish in physical positions which lead to pain in areas such as the back, knee, and shoulders.  The Halki Kursi chair is lightweight, foldable, can be carried like a backpack, and has a place to carry their work tools.


Through a user-center approach to innovation, the Cornell team consisting of Sharon Bar-niv (MBA Exchange Student), Mary Fuller (MBA ’13), Carrie Howard (MHA ‘13) and Amit Gupta (MPS ‘13) was able to gain a better understanding of the many difficulties faced by the female dock workers and design a potential solution to address these problems.  The team used design thinking techniques such as observation, empathy, storytelling, ideation, and prototyping to better understand their potential users and to drive the creativity and innovation process. 

Halki Kursi

The Acara Challenge, run by the Acara Institute at the University of Minnesota, engages students in multi-disciplinary, multi-country collaborations to develop sustainable solutions and business models to challenging global social issues with the intention of incubating and implementing the winning plans into successful sustainable social businesses.

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 this new collaborative class that helps students conceptualize and develop new businesses that address global societal challenges.