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Honors students bring social innovation organization to WSU

January 5, 2017

The power of social innovation is having such an impact at the University of Michigan that two Honors students want to make it happen at Wayne State.

Sophomore Psychology major Kavya Davuluri and sophomore Biological Sciences major Limi Sharif have teamed up to create OptimizeWayne, an organization that focuses on social innovation and gives students funding, mentorship opportunities, and workshops to help get their idea up and running.

Davuluri said that projects go from ideas to reality during the Social Innovation Challenge, a five month journey where “optimizers” come together with members from the community in order to help move their project along. During this time, monthly workshops bring together entrepreneurs and thought-leaders from the community to lead action-based sessions where teams and individuals can learn new skills and apply them to their projects. Additionally, monthly milestone reviews are held for optimizers to sit in small-group settings with community based mentors who give honest feedback about the progress of a project.

Finally, a spring showcase is held where teams and individuals present their projects to a panel of judges with the hopes of receiving $5,000 worth of funding. This year’s showcase will take place in April with monthly workshops beginning in February. Due to the shortened timeframe between the start of the workshops and the showcase, the workshops will be held twice a month.

The goal is to implement the full program beginning in Fall 2017.   

“Because the idea of social innovation is so broad, students can be working on anything from a phone application to an initiative out in the city to something on campus and it can be art, design, medicine, business, or anything,” Davuluri said. “So if there is a student that is working on (phone) apps and applications, that student can work directly with a mentor and be guided…to make sure they have a successful venture.”

She noted OptimizeWayne currently has individuals from Tech Town, Henry Ford Hospital, local non-profits, and faculty members from Wayne State who have agreed to serve as mentors for the organization.

The idea to start OptimizeWayne originally came to Sharif after she partnered with a friend from the University of Michigan to create a program using artwork to combat islamophobia, homophobia, and prejudice. She noticed the student project Michigan Urban Farming Initiative, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that seeks to engage members of the Michigan community in sustainable agriculture, was going to start urban farming in Detroit.

“We have Wayne State right in Detroit, and it seems odd that Ann Arbor, which is an hour away, is coming all the way over here and solving problems that Detroit students from Wayne State can solve themselves,” Davuluri said. “Wayne State is really focused on introducing students to Detroit and saying Detroit doesn’t deserve the bad rap that it gets, but at the same time there are all these problems that you can be a part of making better by volunteering, by getting involved.”

“I think that when you tell students you need to get involved, (they) can take (their) own creative ideas and create solutions from them. It empowers them in a way that they probably don’t get at other colleges,” she added.

If students are interested in checking out OptimizeWayne, there will be social innovation symposium on Wednesday, January 18th at 6 p.m. in the Student Center Ballroom C beginning at 6 p.m.

She added they are always looking for new members to join the organization. If interested in joining, the application can be found on the organization’s Facebook page OptimizeWayne, or by emailing optimizewayne@gmail.com. Applications are due by Saturday, January 28th.