Gates Foundation partnership expands GSEC’s global reach

February 22, 2012

A three-year partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is enabling more students in the developing world to participate in the University of Washington Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition (GSEC), which runs from February 27 to March 2, 2012.

The annual competition, hosted by the UW Foster School of Business Global Business Center, invites interdisciplinary student teams from around the globe to propose creative, commercially viable businesses aimed at reducing poverty in the developing world.

The Gates Foundation has supported GSEC since 2008, lending the event expert judges, advisors and speakers. Beginning this year, the Gates Foundation also is providing travel scholarship support to dramatically expand the competition’s outreach to the developing world.

The result? A record number of entrants from a record number of nations. For this year’s GSEC, organizers received 170 applications from students in 48 countries representing 28 universities.

“Being able to offer scholarships from the Gates Foundation directly contributed to an increase in applications this year,” says Kirsten Aoyama, director of the Global Business Center. “And the association with an organization as globally recognized and respected as the Gates Foundation certainly draws additional attention from universities around the world.”

From the initial pool of entrants, 17 have been selected to travel to Seattle where they will receive expert coaching, visit the region’s top companies, present their ideas to hundreds of professionals, and compete for more than $34,000 in cash prizes.

The semifinalists hail from Bangladesh, Denmark, Kenya, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Rwanda, Uganda, and across the United States. Their businesses include:

  • Inexpensive shoes for children in Bangladesh made from an overabundant native plant.
  • A web-based technology platform connecting Kenyan micro-businesses to a global market.
  • An irrigation system that extracts groundwater via solar tube wells in Pakistan.
  • A patented solar food hydrator to prevent spoilage in Cameroon.
  • A network of inexpensive cataract surgery clinics in rural China.
  • A vocational training program for rescued victims of human trafficking in India.
  • A network of small-scale hydro-power installations in Rwanda.

GSEC receives expert professional support from more than 200 UW alumni and local business leaders, as well a long list of organizations that includes Costco, Gray Ghost Ventures, Microsoft, PATH, Seattle International Foundation, the UW Department of Global Health, T-Mobile, Russell Investments, Seattle Rotary, the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA), the Grameen Foundation, and, of course, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“More and more, it seems, young people are applying business skills and harnessing the power of the market in order to tackle challenges in the developing world,” says William H. Gates Sr., co-chair of the Gates Foundation. “And that makes me very optimistic about the future.”