You could be dancing a Dollu Kunitha in Karnataka, or a Kpanlogo in Ghana, or a Samba in Rio. Dance is integral to most cultures, and it’s also a social and fun way to improve physical fitness. It can help prevent cardiovascular disease and improve circulation, among other health benefits.
And that is the point that a group of Earth Institute students are hoping will win them a million dollars to finance their project, named “Health for All.” The team of five women is a regional semi-finalist in this year’s Hult Prize competition, an incubator for social enterprise which each year poses a challenge related to a pressing issue. This year, the focus is on how to reduce the prevalence of non-communicable diseases in urban slums.
The Columbia students’ solution: inspire more people how to dance, and to use it as a regular form of exercise to improve health and lower health care costs.
The students will compete in Sao Paulo on March 7-8 for a chance to win $1 million in start-up funding. Other regional competitions will be held in Boston, San Francisco, London, Dubai and Shanghai.
In July and August, six winning teams from the regional competitions will attend the Hult Prize Accelerator, a six-week program of intensive entrepreneurial seminars hosted by Hult International Business School. Participants will receive mentorship, advisory and strategic planning as they create prototypes and develop the proposal they will take to the global finals, held in New York in September at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative.
Chronic, non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes are responsible for more than 60 percent of deaths worldwide. An estimated 250 million of the world’s 1 billion slum dwellers suffer from these conditions, exacerbated by lack of clean water, sanitation, access to healthy food and exercise.
In India, 11 percent of men and almost 10 percent of women living in urban slums have diabetes, and in Peru, 47 percent of women and 44 percent of men had hypertension, with the poorest households experiencing the highest burden, according to studies cited in a UN report.
“Cardiovascular disease is a worldwide killer,” said Christina Wong, a member of the Columbia team. “And we know that eating healthier and exercising more are the best ways to combat that.”
Wong, from Virginia, Dianne Heiler of New York, Ame Igharo of Nigeria and Danielle Sack of New Jersey are students in the Earth Institute’s Master of Science in Sustainability Management program; team member Krystal Lin graduated last year from the MPA in Environmental Science and Policy program.
The Columbia team is one of 300 regional competitors, chosen from more than 10,000 applications received in over 150 countries. Health for All was the winner among nine graduate student teams who pitched their social enterprise ideas to a panel of judges at the Hult Prize at Columbia competition on Dec. 12. The competition was sponsored by the Master of Science in Sustainability Management program’s chapter of Net Impact, a non-profit organization that helps students network with professionals, and learn about the latest in sustainability, corporate responsibility and social entrepreneurship.
In partnership with the Hult International Business School, President Bill Clinton and the Clinton Global Initiative, the Hult Prize competition serves as an accelerator for innovative social entrepreneurs coming out of world universities, helping them start their businesses and offering them mentoring from the international business community. Clinton chose this year’s challenge.
At the September meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, the finalists will pitch their ideas in front of an international audience, and President Clinton and meeting attendees will select and award the winning team the $1 million prize.
The Hult Prize Global Champion will immediately work to launch their new social enterprise. Continued support, mentorship and advice will be provided by the Hult Prize Accelerator and its partners.