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UEA students tackle global issues in ‘Social Storm’

The power of collaboration as a way of solving complex issues will be demonstrated by University of East Anglia (UEA) students on 11 November, when they join other young people from across the world to create virtual teams, aided by virtual communication technology, to find solutions for real-life problems.

UEA is a founding partner of the “Social Storm” competition, which is part of Global Entrepreneurship Week (14-20 November) and has been running since 2014. This year, 42  UEA students will join more than 200 others from 20 universities in eight countries – the UK, Argentina, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Finland, Ghana and India - to form multi-national teams. They’ll work together over 24 hours to design a product or service that addresses one of two issues stemming from the United Nations’ Global Goals - food security or sustainable housing.

“This is an amazing opportunity for UEA students to show how they could make a significant and lasting difference in the world,” said Finbarr Carter, UEA’s Enterprise Development Officer. “Social Storm projects could change the lives of vulnerable people by applying an entrepreneurial mindset and skills to social issues. We’re passionate about encouraging and supporting all kinds of entrepreneurship and enterprising activity here at UEA. Social Storm shows how much can be achieved in a short time when we harness students’ creativity and resourcefulness and utilise the benefits of technology.”

Social Storm is unique in that it operates entirely in a virtual space, allowing students across the world to work together without having to set foot on a plane. This has been enabled through the generosity and innovative tools offered by tech start-ups, including Pivomo and Younoodle.

Ian Wathira, a third year Actuarial Science student, explains what he has got out of participating for the last two years: “Taking part in global Social Storm has been one of the highlights of my academic stay. It helped me network with like-minded individuals from all over the world, blossomed friendships that lasted more than the 24 hours and made me feel like part of the solution. Social Storm offers a platform to those who know that they can help make the world a better place a chance to hone their skills and, more importantly, to learn how diversified the world’s problems are.”

This year, extra efforts are being made to help students turn their ideas into reality. “We mentor our teams throughout the process and, after 24 hours, each team must produce a summary business plan and three-minute video pitch of the product or service they propose as a solution,” said Finbarr. “Although there can only be one winner, we’ll help students who want to take their ideas further by offering coaching, mentoring and access to networks and funding, as with our other student entrepreneurs.

“In previous year, ideas that have sprung from the event from our students include educational programmes aimed at reducing gender inequality, apps to connect tourists to local cooks to increase employment and crowdfunding-style platforms to promote investment in clean tech businesses.

“The opportunity for collaboration, creativity and experimentation is as important as the solutions themselves. Previous winners have included the idea of selling condoms in the developed world to raise money to create social change in the developing world and using the military to deliver education to the poorest parts of the world.”

You can follow the progress of Social Storm on Twitter @socialstormhack