Last night, at the New York Public Library in New York City, an international team of NYU Abu Dhabi sophomores — Madhav Vaidyanathan (India), Songyishu Yang (China), Muhammad Awais Islam (Pakistan), and Gary Chien (Taiwan) — along with NYU alumnus Neil Parmar (Canada), took home first place in the energy track at the Hult Global Case Challenge for their plan to provide solar lighting to one million homes in Africa by 2013.
The team, which was presented their award by former US President Bill Clinton, was one of three winning teams that together earned USD 1 million for three non-profit organizations to implement their projects.
"We're not interested in far-fetched ideas that aren't actually actionable," said Hult Global Case Challenge Founder Ahmad Ashkar. Indeed, the teams were charged with finding a solution that would affect immediate impact. And the NYUAD team, who chose to focus their efforts on the energy track, put forward an idea that aims to provide solar lighting to one million homes in Africa sometime next year.
As Vaidyanathan explained to Salaam after the regional competition in Dubai, "We realized that the general opinion is that solar parts are too expensive and people don't have the disposable income to afford them. But people are willing, if you provide them with after-sale service." With this in mind, the team, supported by faculty adviser Professor of Practice of Chemical Engineering Ramesh Jagannathan, came up with a model in which African communities could be mobilized to be a part of the process. By making the community part of their "office aid," the team's model proved to be the most successful solution to addressing their case challenge.
In addition to being awarded a third of the prize money to pilot their idea, the students also had the opportunity to meet some influential attendees. President Clinton was in attendance to present the prize (the Clinton Global Initiative is a partner of the Hult Global Case Challenge), as was Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of Grameen Bank.
"On behalf of the NYU Abu Dhabi and broader NYUAD communities, I congratulate our phenomenal students on their victory in the 2012 Hult Global Challenge," said NYUAD Vice Chancellor Al Bloom. "Our students' success emerges from their extraordinary intelligence, imagination, perseverance, and commitment to humanity, and terrific support from faculty, staff, and alumni. Their achievement is a wonderful reflection of the intellectual qualities and core values of NYU Abu Dhabi."
The NYUAD team was one of 18 teams of undergraduate and graduate students from top universities around the world to advance to the finals from the regional competitions held in February.
The world's largest crowd-sourcing platform for social good, the Hult Global Case Challenge was created to foster innovative ideas and solutions to global social challenges. This year's challenge was focused on the global poverty crisis and participants were asked to tackle one of three tracks: energy, education, or housing.
Our students' success emerges from their extraordinary intelligence, imagination, perseverance, and commitment to humanity, and terrific support from faculty, staff, and alumni.