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New Haas grant funds community projects for social impact

The Haas Center for Public Service has selected two recipients for its Social Impact Grant, a newly created award that offers undergraduates and co-terms up to $1,000 to execute projects with the “potential to make a significant impact.”

“We’re funding either individual students or groups of students who have an innovation idea to address existing community problems,” said Lucia Constantine, public service leadership and postgraduate programs coordinator.

This year’s winners, Nishant Jacob ’13 and Haque Ishfaq ’15, were selected from 40 applicants in the grant’s pilot round.

Jacob had proposed the creation of a crowd-funding app that would raise funds on behalf of non-profits in India, while Ishfaq will use the grant to start a math camp for girls in Bangladesh.

“We were impressed by the scope of the projects and the different issues that they were addressing,” Constantine said of all submitted proposals.

According to George Wang Ph.D. ’09 P.D. ’10, who served on the selection committee, the proposals were chosen through a group deliberation process.

“We were looking for students that were really trying to do something relatively new, something creative,” Wang said.

The committee considered the novelty and utility of the idea, in addition to feasibility and likelihood of project completion.

 

Measuring Impact

Prior to the creation of the Social Impact Grant, the Haas Center only offered programs for internships and summer projects, not for smaller scale projects.

“We’re continuously looking for ways to expand those opportunities and make them more accessible to students,” Constantine said.

The new grant came about with the support of the Westly Foundation, a group that backs young Californian innovators. Constantine described the Social Impact Grant as a “mini-Westly” prize for Stanford students.

“It’s a really great opportunity for students to push themselves to come up with quick, innovative ideas throughout the year,” Constantine said of the grant’s learning component.

In addition to attending an orientation workshop, recipients of the grant are required to submit a final report of their experience, which will serve as a measure of the project’s impact.

“It’s hard to quantify and measure impact, but our hope is to put a little bit of money on a new idea that has the potential to do something great,” Wang said. “The amount of money per project is not a lot. It’s not the next thing that will cure cancer, but it is a little kick start to test out an idea.”

 

Challenges

Both Constantine and Wang acknowledged the challenges implicit in introducing the grant and determining awardees.

“Coming up with the right criteria for what we were looking for is one [challenge],” Wang said. “It was something that hadn’t existed before, so we weren’t sure what types of projects would surface.”

In addition to determining how to attract the right applicants, the selection committee also had to determine which projects would have the most impact, best fit the grant’s intention and best use the funds.

“Social impact can be hard to determine and it’s difficult to compare projects that have different metrics of impact,” Constantine explained.

However, marketing the opportunity to students proved to not be a problem, as the pilot application round for this grant received many applications.

“There were a lot of really good projects that we wanted to fund, but couldn’t because of limitations,” Constantine said.

For subsequent rounds, Wang said they would add more specificity to the questions. There will also be some more restrictions on student groups applying for grants.

“We had some student groups apply that hadn’t exhausted their ASSU funding, which they didn’t tap into [fully],” Constantine said.

According to Wang, the first round served as a learning experience that will help them to further establish the grant.

“We’re essentially taking what Stanford does really well, which is starting really cool companies and channeling that towards the public service sector,” Wang said.

 

Contact Clarisse Peralta at peralta4 ‘at’ stanford ‘dot’ edu.