Colonials Compost

By Sophia Lin

I believe that it simply makes a lot of sense to create something so good, in the form of valuable, fertile soil, rather than something so bad, in the form of methane gas released into the atmosphere, from food we’re ready to throw out.

I am thankful for CGI U and the people I have had a chance to work with, from GW’s own social innovation coordinator, to my project partner who is also passionate about sustainability, all spurring me to take real action in addressing the issue of large-scale lack of composting at GW in the greater Washington, DC area.

My initiative, a student residential composting pilot, is to start a program on food waste diversion and composting. There are certainly a few major challenges to getting a composting system started. One is infrastructure. Bins of compost need to be made available to people, picked up, and delivered to composting facilities. A second obstacle is norms. Most people’s behavior and mindset may need to change in order for successful food waste diversion, the first step towards composting, to be a success.

The results of the pilot would hopefully be successful and lead to a pivotal report to show GW that residential composting is not only possible, but that it can also be scaled up and housed within the university’s facilities operations and sustainability goals. As one of DC’s largest employers and educators, this move would mark a major shift in creating a more environmentally-aware and sustainable culture among students, make the school a major stakeholder in demanding more land and facilities for the presently insufficient large-scale infrastructure for DMV composting, and help generate a mainstreamed dialogue and behavioral shift towards better use of resources.

I am excited that this project is a reality, and I will continue to monitor and adapt this project so that it can be as successful as possible. Having researched best practices, created a plan, and reached out to relevant stakeholders like university administrators and facilities staff, as well as student organizations and the dorm residents living in the selected pilot hall, this composting program just began last week!

The opportunity to attend the CGI U conference was awesome to get to be immersed in a super-saturated environment of inspirational, game-changing individuals who want to help create a positive impact. This energy is something I hope to continue embodying as I complete my commitment to action, as well as in my future aspirations and goals.



By Nic Johnson

My name is Nic Johnson and I have been working in Haiti for five years with organizations of all sizes determined to help the country develop following the devastating 2010 earthquake. From these experiences, I have learned the valuable lesson that conventional development organizations focus all too often on solving the end crises of systemic problems. While I deeply respect the work of organizations focused on providing food, sanitation, and other life sustaining goods and services, my goal is to supplement this work with new programs to promote sustainable community development and economic growth through social venture entrepreneurship.

My commitment to action is to identify, develop, and pilot local entrepreneur business plans in communities throughout Haiti. The program, called AID | Ventures, is beginning its ground operations in the summer of 2015. CGI U came at a critical time for the organization and the conference sessions provided advice on how to grow organizational capacity and establish monitoring and evaluation systems. It was also a rigorous practice opportunity to pitch the organization to CGI U attendees and network with other student organizations prior to donor outreach.

Grassroot Jam

By: Michael Bourie

After an early morning cancelled flight, waiting eighteen hours at DCA for a flight to Miami was well worth it. Even though I was exhausted when I landed at 2:00am on Saturday and knew I had a long day ahead of me, I was excited to have made it to Miami for the full Saturday at CGIU.

I am one member of a three person team working on Grassrots Jam. Grassroots Jam is a commitment to expanding the scope of The Grassroot Project’s HIV education program to impact behavior change in their participants’ most influential years. Grassroots Jam is a sports-based educational event the year before participants enter high school, a time when they are exposed to risky behavior and choices. It measures participants’ retained knowledge and evaluates their behavior change in regard to safer sex while additionally providing participants with a mentorship network. Feedback from Grassroots Coaches stating they want a way to stay in contact with their participants after the eight-week curriculum inspired Grassroots Jam. The event takes place a year after they complete the curriculum, which encourages coaches to stay in contact with and engage in a longer mentorship with the participants.

The first plenary session on Saturday morning discussed big data. One of the panelists said, “Data is a way we can make better decisions.” Data was not a top priority in regard Grassroot Jam, but this plenary session helped me see why it is so important. Later, in a skill session on monitoring and evaluation, the presenter mentioned when we collect data we must always ask why and what am I going to do with it. Although having a lot of data is important to making better decisions, it must all have a purpose. Collecting data for the sake of collecting data makes evaluation of a program much more difficult. You also have to understand that your impact may not be something you are measuring. The focus cannot be purely on collecting data. You need to observe all aspects of life and understand your influence may be an area for which you are not collecting quantitative data. These lessons on the importance of data and how to analyze it will be very helpful in improving Grassroots Jam as a yearly event. Creating a program that is successful each year and expands each year will require taking risks and involving the whole community, challenges we are now ready to face.

CGIU provided a great platform to kick-start Grassroots Jam, learn about how to solve potential problems and network and connect with other student leaders who are interested in helping spread Grassroots Jam. We are very excited about continuing work on Grassroots Jam with new inspiration and look forward to holding the inaugural Grassroots Jam in spring of 2016.

Makeshift Innovation and Engineering in the Third World

Tell us about your “Makeshift Innovation and Engineering in the Third World” course –what is it about and why do you feel passionate to offer it?

Makeshift Innovation and Engineering in the Third World is a course I came up with the uses the lens of international development to explain basic science and engineering principles through innovative solutions to global challenges. Students in the course come up with their own innovative solution to solve a global need.

What key concepts and skills do you want students to come away with?

The course has different goals for different types of students. Students with a background in science and engineering should come away with a better idea of the problems that exist today, and how they can use their technical expertise to design to solve them. Students with a background in international development should come away with a better understanding of basic scientific and engineering principles that build the world we live in.

Tell us about the connection between philanthropy and social enterprise–how are they distinct? How do they intersect or connect

Philanthropy and social enterprise share a common goal of helping people, but go about it in completely different ways. Social enterprises use the power of business to create social and environmental impact, and rely heavily on the principles of capitalism. Philanthropy by definition is promoting the welfare of others by generous donations. Think of it as this- philanthropy is giving a man a fish, but social enterprises are microfinancing fishing gear. Both are important, but to me social enterprises promote long-term growth more. However, without philanthropy helping in the short-term, this growth is impossible.

You’ve been a commitment maker and you have won the GWupstart Best For-Profit Social Venture prize for your venture, Pedal Forward. Did these experiences influenced the way you designed the course?

The course was definitely influenced by CGI and my work with the Clinton Foundation. I was able to bring in a lot of amazing guest lecturers who are experts in their fields through my connection with CGI that brought great perspective to the course. The application to CGI U and to the GW biz plan competition were both homework assignments in this class, so students were definitely encouraged to participate in both.

Give us an anecdote or story about the course–an “aha moment” or a compelling moment.

This past weekend seeing two of my former students at CGI U presenting and being named as Finalists in the Resolution Project was super rewarding. Their project was a great example of the what course is all about. They originally came up with an idea that had potential, but was untested. They were able to gather a lot of information through customer interviews to be able to pivot their model to a more human-centered design, that still needs site based testing, but is definitely more feasible and is gaining traction. You should ask them about it.

Will this course or a similar one be offered again soon? Will you be teaching other courses next year?

I loved teaching this class! This semester I am co-teaching a course with Professor Volker Sorger in the School of Engineering and Applied Science on Innovation and Technology, that uses a lot of the same principles from my last class, but applied to a more broad spectrum than solely international development and social enterprises. Unfortunately I will be moving to NYC for work, but would love to find a way to continue teaching this class, whether it be at a University in NYC, or even online through GW (what do you say GW? I’m in if you are!).

What has happened to Pedal Forward since you won? Where do you see it in the future?

Pedal Forward has is scaling our production to 250 bikes and just launched our new website where we are accepting pre-orders. We hope to continue to expand our domestic sales to increase our impact abroad.

Global Dance Initiative



An interview with Angela Schopke (Dance & ESIA BA ’14) about Global Dance Initiative: Transforming conflict to constructive dialogue through dance

May 18, 2014

Q. What does “social entrepreneurship” mean to you?

A. Social entrepreneurship is taking a dream about how to address a social issue and finding a practical way to make that dream a reality.

Q. If you met a peer not sure about making the move from dreaming big to stepping into the arena of action, what would you say to them?

A. Dream big. Life is challenging. Paying bills is challenging. Work is challenging. Relationships are challenging. But, all of that doesn’t mean you can’t dream big. Maybe all that means today is writing down one sentence about your dream. Maybe that means writing a full business plan for how to make the dream become reality. You’ll find the time to make your dream happen when the time is right for you. Important to remember between now and when that dream does become reality, is to keep it in sight and to keep your alive.

Q. What issue are you addressing with Global Dance Initiative?

A. This year in Afghanistan, the US is withdrawing military support, international investors are leaving, the Taliban are temporarily out of power, the Soviets are long gone, and the British are even longer gone. For the first time after decades of occupied conflict, Afghanistan will find itself in a time of relative independence and peace. Now the question Afghans around the world are asking is, “What does it mean to be Afghan?”

For many years Afghan identity has been defined in relation to conflict. As Afghanistan seeks to transition from a period of conflict to peace, the notion of an Afghan identity is changing. Afghans are beginning to define themselves increasingly in relation to each other in an environment of deep internal economic and political instability, and the renewal of civil conflict looms as a real possibility. For the Afghan diaspora that fled the country, a path for reconnection and re-identification with their homeland is uncharted.

Q. How does your initiative actually set out to address the issue of Afghan identity and peace?

A. Perceiving the social, political, and economic ramifications of this period of uncertainty among the international Afghan community, Global Dance Initiative uses the culturally rich topic and medium of dance to give a “safe dialogue space” to Afghans. Our mission is to use dance to facilitate the rebuilding of a positive, stable Afghan identity and contribute to a long-term vision of peace in Afghanistan.

Why dance? Dance provides a relatively neutral entry point into otherwise very difficult discussions of ethnic, religious and gender issues. It can provide a space for Afghans at home and abroad to engage in constructive dialogue, and can also expand to engage non-Afghans passionate about social issues, cultural preservation, Central Asia, and the arts.

We will curate an online platform to which anyone can submit information about dance in Afghanistan, contributing to a collective, openly accessible ethnography of dance in Afghanistan. Our curation will include checking contributions for accuracy and providing light editing as well as translation services into English/German/Dari/Pashto. This section of our platform will also host a collection of sensitively moderated forums relating to dance on topics that bridge it with otherwise singularly contentious issues like gender, ethnicity, and religion. Our facilitation will craft a safe environment for discussing difficult identity-related topics.

Q. The theory of change behind your initiative sounds like a fine-tuned, time-tested one. Do you have any mentors who have blazed the trail and inspired you?

A. There have been so many people that have inspired me, mentored me, helped me, or worked with me. One person–though not the only–that stands out particularly strongly is Navy Captain Edward Zellem, who wrote Zarbul Masalha: 151 Afghan Dari Proverbs and founded and directs his own initiative called Afghan Sayings. Captain Zellem has provided tremendous social media strategy advice, and continues to inspire me with the great success he has experienced in making a safe dialogue space for Afghans and non-Afghans to communicate about important issues through the international language of proverbs. He has been a transformative mentor to which I am profoundly grateful.

Q. You became a CGI U Commitment Maker and were a semi-finalist in the GWupstart Prize Track of the GW Business Plan Competition. How did those experiences inform your efforts?

A. CGI U and the Business Plan Competition made a tremendous difference to how I see my venture. The Business Plan Competition helped me to both to strategize and understand the detailed steps that I would need to take to realize my venture. CGI U helped me to situate my idea in relation to others and most importantly to hone my venture through speaking to others about it, hearing about other approaches to common obstacles to realizing ventures, and creating a network of supportive entrepreneurs.

Q. How does your work on the Global Dance Initiative feed into your path as a professional?

A. During the couple months before graduating from GW just two weeks ago, I thought a lot about this question. I have two answers to it. The first, I realized that my greatest asset in terms of employability is a commitment to thinking creatively to solve real issues and to seeing that solution through with pragmatic steps. That is a skill that I have developed through pursuing my venture’s goals. The second, I think that pursuing my venture has and will continue to shape who I am and how I think about the world in the longterm. Both of these things are vital to realizing the professional goals I have for my lifetime.

Q. What’s next for Global Dance Initiative?

A. Make it happen! It feels a little like I imagine jumping off of a ledge might feel the moment before it happens–exhilarating, nervous, and a little reckless.