USAID Ensures More Students Worldwide Ideate for Social Impact

By Anh-Thi Le, DIL Program Coordinator

The Big Ideas@Berkeley contest provides funding, encouragement, and yearlong support to interdisciplinary teams of undergraduate and graduate students who seek to create social impact. The program started in 2006, as a means to engage Berkeley students in social entrepreneurship. It has always offered prizes in multiple categories, to address a range of social and economic challenges.

This year, with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Big Ideas expanded the number of students and campuses eligible to participate. Through a partnership with USAID’s Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) and the Development Impact Lab (DIL), the program has launched three new “open” contest categories: Promoting Human Rights, Global Poverty Alleviation and Open Data.

These categories elicited active student engagement from 12 different universities, with 25 percent of proposals coming from HESN partners, including Duke University, the College of William and Mary, Texas A&M University, and Makerere University in Uganda.

“The HESN contribution has significantly enriched the Big Ideas ecosystem,” said Phillip Denny, Manager of BigIdeas@Berkeley. “The influx of bright students was reflected not only in the application pool but also through the Big Ideas Grand Prize Pitch Day and in the People’s Choice Video Contest.”

On the annual Grand Prize Pitch Day, Texas A&M University’s Wenjuan Chen placed first in the Global Impact Category for her project, Promoting Yogurt to Improve Child Nutrition in Far-Western Nepal, which aims to promote the feeding of safely prepared yogurt to children between 6 months and 5 years of age in households through Nepal.

Additionally, in an effort to generate more public awareness about this year’s projects, Big Ideas launched its first ever People’s Choice Video contest. Teams were asked to post a short video sharing their “big ideas,” and the public voted for the top innovative solution to a pressing social problem. 2013’s People’s Choice Video award went to the College of William and Mary’s Elena van den Berg for “The Recreation House,” a center for the development of teenagers and orphans in Vidin, Bulgaria. Van den Berg also won third place in the Promoting Human Rights category.

There will be new HESN categories in the 2014-2015 contest, which will draw more innovations from the student community. Visit to learn more about the Big Ideas contest, or access the USAID-sponsored Big Ideas Toolkit to start your own contest.