Early this month, we helped design and lead a Student Summit sponsored by USAID’s Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN). We started with what we thought would be a simple idea – to visualize the work of eight university development labs and their partners funded by HESN. At the end of the summit, we came away with a greater appreciation of how students like us can be a driving force for change and innovation as we created story maps and presented our ideas in an Innovation Marketplace.
A major feature of the Student Summit was the “Story Map” competition sponsored by Esri. Students from different university development labs collaborated to create Story Maps depicting how the work of individual labs could be visualized, both geographically and topically. What we soon came to realize, however, was that the real value of this exercise was not in the mapping itself, but in the conversations it sparked among the students as we began to notice opportunities for collaboration across the network. While leaders of our labs discussed operations, we explored possibilities for student-driven cooperation and envisioned disruptive innovations to address development challenges across the network.
AidData Senior Research Assistant Cate Johnson works on her Story Map for the Esri student competition with Daniel Ninsiima from Michigan State University and Cauam Ferreira Cardoso from MIT. Their Story Map placed first in the competition.
Coming away from the Student Summit experience, we felt empowered. Cate gained a vision of how her work with AidData fits into the big picture of international development. Lauren was convinced that the value and impact of USAID’s HESN network grows as a result of giving students a personal stake in the work. Rachel understood that she doesn’t need to wait fifteen years down the road to have an impact on the international development community.
Working with our university development labs and USAID, our perspectives and ideas are being heard. Students created 6 dynamic story maps and presented 28 innovations to the leaders of USAID and our university development labs. From our perspective, this demonstrates that students are not only eager to learn, but also bought in to their potential to contribute meaningfully to the HESN network as USAID seeks to look at some of the most difficult development challenges in new ways.
As students at the College of William and Mary and research assistants at AidData, we saw the first Student Summit as a call to action for university development labs to find common ground with their students, foster collaboration across the labs, and use these relationships to fuel the next generation of innovative research and products that will be game changers in international development.If you would like to begin to see where the possibilities of these collaborative efforts lie, take a look at the winning StoryMap competition submissions depicting stories of the impact of HESN collaboration. These maps are just the beginning.