The Social Innovation Public Service Fund will distribute $14,300 among four student winners announced last night in its first-ever round of grants.
Kristin Trivelli (NHS ’14), Tommy Larson (SFS ’13), Tyler Eldridge (SFS ’13) and the Hilltop Microfinance Initiative will each receive grant money to fund four social justice projects.
“We’ve seen about 25 [applications] so far this year, which has really blown us away,” said SIPS Director Tyler Sax (COL ’13). “That incredible demand is indicative of that huge gap that we’re filling; it really demonstrates what a need for funding for these types of projects there is.”
The first round of grant recipients have proposed a diverse set of projects with a common focus on building relationships and sustainable service initiatives.
“Sustainability is a major criterion,” said Fr. Matthew Carnes, S.J., a SIPS board member. “We mean ‘sustainability’ both in terms of continuing involvement here on the Georgetown campus, but also in connection to the communities we serve.”
SIPS offers funding to projects throughout the year drawn from $50,000 earned from the interest of the $1.5 million endowment allocated by the Student Activities Fee Endowment reform, which was created in February. The initiative considers applications on a rolling basis.
The four student projects will target different locations: Ghana, India, Haiti and locally in Washington, D.C.
Trivelli will receive $3,500 to work as a student nurse in a hospital at a cleft center in Guwahati, India, over winter break. She will also volunteer at an orphanage and at the nonprofit Pratyasha Foundation, which cooks and delivers meals to impoverished children. Beyond these immediate goals, Trivelli aims to make the trip an annual venture with a different goal every year.
“My goal with this SIPS fund is to create a sustainable annual trip from Georgetown to Guwahati to volunteer at one of these nonprofits,” Trivelli said “Every year you go with one goal, whether it is teach them how to take care of their teeth or hair hygiene or physical activity.”
On the other side of the globe, Larson will travel to Haiti, most likely during spring break, along with Naman Trivedi (SFS ’16), Caroline James (COL ’16) and Alex Koeberle (COL ’14), who helped Larson apply. Using $4,000 from SIPS, the group will install a solar-powered charging station where rural entrepreneurs will be able to make a profit charging cell phones and other small devices in Fonds-Parisien, a rural area east of Port au Prince.
“Normally these stations are powered by diesel, but those are expensive to fuel, so the idea of this project is to replace the diesel with solar,” Larson said.
In the long term, the system will eventually pay for itself, despite its high start-up cost.
“One [of our goals] is to set up a self-sustaining business model that, once the money comes back into our account, can be rolled out again and again to other areas of Haiti,” Larson said.
Larson added that his initiative aims to raise awareness about the plight the country faces in hopes of involving more students with initiatives in Haiti in the future.
“We’ve got a country that is almost a failed state right off our shores, and bringing more talent there would be just a great way to get them exposed to issues of development and also get a few other kids hooked on Haiti,” Larson said.
Like Larson, Eldridge will bring a sustainable business model to a poor community when he uses $1,500 from SIPS to travel to Ghana during winter break to implement a water treatment facility in the drought-stricken northern region. Eldridge is also aiming to raise $3,000 on fundraising website Crowdrise by Dec. 10.
Eldridge will teach local women how to run the business in partnership with Boston-based nonprofit Community Water Solutions.
“At least two current students both went to Ghana last year and one of the directors of the nonprofit itself is a Georgetown alum,” Eldridge said. “I’d like to see it more of an institutionalized program at Georgetown.”
Alissa Orlando (SFS ’13), Alex Honjiyo (SFS ’13) and Craig Melcher (MSB ’13) of the Hilltop Microfinance Initiative will use their SIPS grant of $5,000 to launch a program to build credit reports for small business and citizenship loans.
Founded in 2008, HMFI has focused on giving out small business loans to help local entrepreneurs who cannot obtain them from banks, which has enabled business owners to purchase materials necessary for their businesses. The grant will be used to expand HMFI’s scope to issue small credit-builder loans of $600, which their clients will pay back for the sole purpose of raising their credit score. In order to issue these loans, HMFI must report to a credit agency, which requires them to have a secure office space and mailing address. Part of the SIPS grant will be used to fund the organization’s rent at a new office.
“This is really momentous for our organization because it really allows us to empower our clients to a much greater degree,” Honjiyo said.
HMFI is composed of 25 Georgetown students, making it a match for SIPS’ emphasis on widespread student involvement.
“We have a certain bias towards those [proposals] that use more Georgetown students,” Carnes said. “We especially like seeing dialogue with faculty and especially students.”
Since there is no strict funding timeline in place, SIPS wants to get as many people involved this year as possible, with four to five new projects likely to be funded early next semester.
“We wanted to make a process that reflected the fact that entrepreneurship and ingenuity don’t come on a schedule,” Sax said.
Moving forward, SIPS looks to build upon what it considers a successful beginning and create a community around the organization.
“It’s great to have a few dozen students who have great ideas and want to apply, but what’s more important is turning it into a sense of community around those ideas,” Sax said. “Part of the original mission statement of SIPS was not only funding projects but aiming to create a culture of public service at Georgetown.”