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TENWEST crowns pitch competition winner

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Sasha Hartzell | The Daily Wildcat Sharon O’Brien of Literacy Connects: 'Stories that Soar! High' shows her pride before the contest presentations at the Social Impact Summit Monday, Oct. 16.

The University of Arizona held the Social Impact Summit on Monday, October 16. A creation of the McGuire School for Entrepreneurship, the event launched the third day of Tucson’s TENWEST Festival. 

The summit was created to bring together the nonprofit and business communities with public and educational leaders in order to discuss innovation, collaboration, and social impact.

According to Rick Yngve, of the McGuire Center, “social innovation is taking off in other countries even more so than in the US. People are really passionate about it there."

Yngve felt the event was important for students to develop a holistic understanding- both of the needs in their communities and how they can make an impact. He believes recruiters for companies want employees that are passionate about causes.

The summit was considered unique because it not only looked at economic impact, but also incorporated social and cultural values.

Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR, was a common theme at the summit.  CSR is the idea that companies have a responsibility to focus on more than profit. In today’s world, businesses are expected more and more to be part of their community or contribute to the greater good. 

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“Millennials expect it now. Millennials as consumers are expecting it, and millennials as employees want it from their employers,” Yngve said. “For me, it would be a sad day if organizations were only concerned about money and didn’t care about their employees, didn’t care about their customers, and didn’t care about their communities. That is not a world I want to work in.”

CSR is one of the guiding principles for Microsoft- the Social Impact Summit’s major sponsor. Thanks in large part to Microsoft’s sponsorship, the Social Impact Summit was able to host a pitch competition. The competition was designed specifically for new ideas and ventures, creating an opportunity for great ideas to gain momentum.

There were twenty-two applications to the competition, ranging from high school students to seasoned executives. The field was further narrowed to six applicants, three of whom were chosen as winners Monday night.

First place, and a prize of $15,000, went to “Step it Up for Justice”, presented by Stacy Rupprecht Butler.  This project aims to bridge the gap between legal services and those who cannot afford them. Their goal is to provide $1,000,000 worth of legal services to Pima County’s low income population.

Second place and $10,000 went to the Literacy Connects program, Stories that Soar! High. They describe their project as an addition to high school drama curriculum, focusing on community literacy, leadership, and service learning.

A high school senior, Cole Lanning, was awarded third place for his project, Natio. Lanning's project facilitates quick donations for digital news consumers. It allows the reader to contribute to vetted nonprofits directly impacting the issue they’re reading about. His prize was $5,000.

Remy Arteaga, director of the McGuire Center, was impressed with the amount of award money they were able to offer the winners. “That the top prize is 15,000- that’s just crazy! But next year we’ll make it $25,000”, he said

The prize money is awarded to finance the launch and logistics of these projects.  After receiving their $10,000, the Literacy Connects team couldn’t stop smiling. “It is not only going to help us achieve some of the vision we talked about but it also just really motivates us." said team member Sharon O’Brien.

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The pitch competition was part of the Summit’s overarching goal, to seed ideas and collaborations. “This is just the beginning”, says Yngve. 

“Tucson is uniquely positioned in the Southwest to run a regional conference that can attract a global audience,” Yngve said. “If you had asked me in June, whether we would have people flying in from around the world, from around the country, if we would be having applications coming from New Mexico, Michigan, California, I would never have imagined it.”

Miguel Angel Gonzalez Palacios, a speaker at the event from the Corporación Universitaria Minuto de Dios in Columbia, is now considering how to build more partnerships between Tucson and Columbia. 

Currently, he says, there isn’t even a direct flight from Columbia to the United States. He is optimistic however, believing that “Tucson is a door to the states.”

Arteaga found the Summit to be an ambitious idea when it was first presented just a few months ago, “I even remember saying it was crazy,” he said.

For Arteaga, the main goal was to connect those who have an interest in funding, educating, and in launching and growing organizations in social impact. Did it succeed? “Yeah, I would think it has”, he said.


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