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Tucked away on the fourth floor of the Harold B. Lee Library, a unique group of students is hard at work on a project that could potentially affect the way hundreds of charitable organizations help the poor all around the world. The students’ goal is to tell the story of a new and exciting social innovation that can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of lifting people out of poverty.

The class is part of a series of classes held in the library that brings together students from all different disciplines to work on a project that will affect the social good. This specific project includes advertising, animation, graphic design, media arts (film), and instructional psychology and technology majors working together with Fundación Paraguaya since the beginning of winter semester to bring the vision of Martin Burt, the founder of Fundación Paraguaya, into reality. Burt wants to provide an easier way for charities around the world to ascertain the poverty levels of individual families and address how they can change their situation.

At the beginning of the semester, the class’s professors, Todd Manwaring and Jeff Sheets, introduced the students to Burt, who was the selected social innovator. Manwaring’s job as an expert in economic self-reliance is to help the students understand their partner and how they can effectively work with them. “I’m the one who brings in the partner. I’m the one helping them [the students] understand what this world looks like, how these organizations see themselves differently from others,” explained Manwaring. Sheets, on the other hand, handles the story side of things. He helps the students decide what story they will tell and how they will tell it. Because of the importance of telling the right story, the students spend the majority of winter semester really getting to know and understand the group’s partner. “A big part of creativity, innovation and design is deeply understanding who the client is and what they really need,” said Manwaring.

Once the students had a firm idea of what Burt expected from them and how they would accomplish their task, they began brainstorming and creating prototypes they could share with Fundación Paraguaya. Through video conferences with Burt and their class collaborations, the students decided to create a commercial and a short documentary to describe the partner’s new method for measuring their impact on solving poverty. This new method is called “Poverty Stoplight” and is an efficient way to individually assess a family’s needs and provide data that has not been available in the past. “Organizations will do a sample study, but the problem with statistics is what happens to one person won’t happen to another person,” said Manwaring. “On the other hand, sitting down with people individually takes a lot of time and money, so people don’t do it.” Poverty Spotlight addresses these problems through a virtual checklist. Volunteers meet with families in Paraguay and present them with three options along with pictures for each category. The family picks the situation that most closely resembles their own and the whole process is done within a matter of minutes. The data is then recorded and used to better understand where specific areas are lacking.

Once the students formulated their plan for representing their partner’s new ideas, a smaller group from the class was selected to take a trip down to Paraguay to meet with Burt. Since they had decided to create a commercial and a documentary, the students spent a week and a half in Paraguay filming and interviewing to get the footage needed for their project. Throughout the spring and summer terms the students cataloged all their material and began the process of determining what story they actually had filmed and how they were going to edit it into the final product. The project will hopefully be complete sometime in September 2014.

Find out more about Fundación Paraguaya here.
Burt image under Creative Commons 2.0 Generic license here.
Paraguay image source here