Professor Lynnette Widder and a team of five students from the Spring 2018 Integrative Capstone Workshop in the MS in Sustainability Management (SUMA) program are working to support Ashoka Mexico in developing a new approach to coordinating work among social enterprises to establish community resilience. The team is approaching this via localized systems that are less susceptible to disruption from large-scale events, such as natural disasters.
Ashoka Mexico is a Mexico City-based not-for-profit committed to promoting positive change by supporting social entrepreneurs through recognition, finance, knowledge, and other support. Ashoka has pioneered the field of social entrepreneurship, identifying and supporting the world’s leading social entrepreneurs since 1980. Social entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social, cultural, and environmental challenges.
The earthquake that struck some 100 kilometers south of Mexico City in the fall of 2017 has inspired Ashoka to create an integrated strategy to help increase resilience in response to shocks such as this earthquake. A fundamental aspect of this work is to extend resilience well beyond disaster relief. Distributed infrastructure can mitigate against the exposure that large-scale distribution networks have during extreme conditions. Many of the infrastructural solutions that operate off-the-grid also have substantial sustainability benefits since they do not rely on the heavily engineered approaches of the past century.
This spring break, the team visited Valle de Vásquez to collect data, develop decision tools, and produce metrics for evaluating the impact of this new approach. The students (Cecilia Coates, Adriana Neumann-Redlin, Timothy Wiranata, Briana Garcia and Carrie Bracco) worked directly with Ashoka Mexico’s team in Valle de Vásquez where they met with the community and worked on expanded data gathering to augment on-campus research on sustainable agriculture, resiliency literature review and GIS mapping. They also took water samples, started mapping water resources and measured water table depth cross-contamination risks.
In Mexico City, the SUMA team presented a resiliency matrix to their Ashoka contacts: Resilience definition, relationship to vulnerabilities, community assessment, examples of specific vulnerabilities. The team’s final report will highlight the way many of the interventions—which currently may include compressed earth block construction training, small-scale biodigesters, market access for women’s piecework, biotope preservation, and healthcare access—can support and stabilize the kind of businesses that are already thriving in Valle de Vásquez while expanding the type and quantity of people who benefit, and developing new opportunities in ways that also improve service over time, including the physical dimensions of sustainability.
The Integrative Capstone Workshop serves as the culminating educational experience for students in the M.S. in Sustainability Management Program, designed to integrate the distinct fields of the program’s sustainability management curriculum. Students must draw on both the practical skills and the analytical knowledge they have gained in order to address crucial sustainability management issues as consultants for a real-world client.
The M.S. in Sustainability Management, co-sponsored by the Earth Institute and Columbia’s School of Professional Studies, trains students to tackle complex and pressing environmental and managerial challenges. Visit our website to learn more.