Mason Students Have A Plan to End Hunger and Poverty

Posted: April 17, 2013 at 5:02 am, Last Updated: April 18, 2013 at 6:40 am

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By Catherine Probst

517284_makepovertyhistory_2005_1In a world where 100 million people are homeless and another 925 million people are malnourished, can four Mason graduate students really make a difference? They are certainly willing to try.

For Gordon Brown, a PhD candidate in education, the idea to help address the ills of poverty came to him nearly three years ago when he was taking an international education course at Mason. He kicked the idea around for a while until he met three other PhD candidates in education who shared his passion.

With many years of combined experience working in poor, urban areas, the four students — Brown, John Bordenkecher, Shelby McIntosh and Anthony Terrell — put their heads together and came up with a plan that, last month, landed them in the regional competition for the Hult Prize.

Open to universities, colleges and students on every continent, the annual Hult Prize has become the world’s largest student movement for social good. Each year, a critical social challenge is selected, and student teams from around the world are tasked with developing innovative social enterprises that aim to eliminate the problem. This year, the challenge focused on the global food crisis.

“Although we did not make it past the regional competition, the entire process has inspired us to continue developing our business plan,” says Brown. “Eventually, we hope to establish a holistic approach that leads to a productive and sustainable end to poverty.”

A Place to Stand

As part of the students’ plan, they envision creating a nonprofit organization called A Place to Stand. This organization will be built upon five pillars — food security, housing, education, healthcare and employment. According to Brown, each pillar will build upon best practices in the fields and weave in the latest advances in sustainability and smart technology.

Ideally, A Place to Stand will acquire buildings in depressed neighborhoods near other homeless shelters across the country. Each facility will be equipped to house a café, clinic, fitness center, classrooms, laundry service and 50 small apartments. In addition, the facilities will be modeled on zero-carbon-footprint building projects and will be fitted with solar power, rain catchers and organic gardens.

Based on their research of areas that need these services, the students plan to open facilities in Baltimore, Md., and Colon, Panama, within the next four years. Within 10 years, they hope to have 10 facilities in six countries.

Once the facilities are up and running, the residents will be introduced to various trades to help them learn a skill so they can ultimately support themselves and their families. They will also be offered courses in reading and writing, humanities and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Residents who wish to remain at the facility will be required to attend classes and maintain employment.
“What makes our plan unique is that we want to house all of these services together under one roof so we become a ‘one-stop shop’ for people who want to better their lives,” says Brown. “First we want to meet people’s basic needs, so they will be able to use the skills they learn to offer products and services to the public that will ultimately provide funds to sustain the facility.”

Partnerships for Services

To help provide necessary services to each facility, the student team plans to partner with local business, universities and colleges in the area. For example, the team envisions a partnership with medical schools or university hospitals that provide health care opportunities, with the goal of establishing quality on-site, full-service health clinics at the facilities.

While costs will vary depending on the country and city in which each facility is established, the team plans to raise at least $3 million to open each facility. They also hope to secure a combination of government grants, foundation funds and charitable donations.

Moving forward on the project, the team recently established a board of 11 professionals representing the fields and industries crucial to their plan. According to Brown, these individuals represent a wealth of international experience in the areas of medicine, law, technology, nonprofit development, business and education. They hope to have their first board meeting soon.

The team also plans to involve more experts who can help refine the architectural drawings for a model facility and research and develop more detailed operating procedures.

For more information, contact Brown at gpgordo@gmail.com.

Write to Colleen Kearney Rich at ckearney@gmu.edu

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