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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University November 26, 2007 | Vol. 37 No. 12
SAIS Team Takes First Place in Business Innovation Competition

By Felisa Neuringer Klubes

A team of five international relations graduate students from Johns Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies finished in first place out of more than 100 teams competing in the Sustainable Innovation Summit Challenge hosted by Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Ariz.

SAIS was the only non-MBA school participant in the group of 10 teams from around the world competing in the final round of a competition held Nov. 8 to 10 in conjunction with Thunderbird's Sustainable Innovation Summit. MBA teams from Thunderbird won second and third prize.

Tania Askins, Chris Meyer, Michael Ralles, Sarah Rotman and Genevieve Taft made up the first- place SAIS team, taking home a $20,000 prize. Another team of SAIS students — Alan Cameron, Sean Michaels, John Moyer, Sarah Naimark, Matthew Walsh and Kim Wattrick — was also one of the eight finalists.

In all, more than 100 teams representing 51 universities in 13 countries took part in the competition.

Students in the final round were challenged to develop innovative and sustainable business concept plans addressing real-life challenges faced by two global corporations, Johnson & Johnson and Arizona Public Service.

Arizona Public Service asked the teams to formulate opportunities for the utility company to use business process improvement and make sustainability a core business value.

The SAIS students developed an E2Co meter, a matrix that would allow the APS Sustainability Group to score a proposed project considering three different criteria: environment, economics and community (hence, "E2Co meter"). If an idea scores high enough on the meter, it could be worth a certain amount for a cash award — say $100 — to the employee who brought the idea to the Sustainability Group, thus providing incentives to all levels of employees to think about their work and potential projects in a sustainable way.

Johnson & Johnson's challenge was to find an effective means for addressing the medical needs of diabetic patients in China.

The SAIS team's proposal was based on leveraging the concept of "social capital" to provide greater access to diabetes monitoring services. As a starting point, the students focused on the retired people who meet daily in China's public parks to do group exercises. The students proposed identifying one person among them to become a Johnson & Johnson "friend" trained in basic diabetic monitoring and equipped with a J&J tester and data collector. Benefits to Johnson & Johnson would include the selling of more testing strips, accessing a new sales channel and markets, and obtaining new data on diabetics. At the same time, the diabetics would receive better monitoring and information about their condition, with the goal of reducing complications from the disease.

Chris Meyer, captain of the winning team, described the summit as challenging and said that his group's strategy was different from others. "For the APS proposal, our plan was viewed as straightforward, engaging all levels of the workforce and easily implemented. In the second question, we focused our Johnson & Johnson proposal on the grassroots level and how to deliver benefits directly to the underserved population in China."

The winners were announced at an awards dinner capping the three-day competition, which reflected a commitment to economically, environmentally and socially sound business practices.

Greg Unruh, director of Thunderbird's Lincoln Center for Ethics in Global Management, said, "This year's Thunderbird Sustainable Innovation Summit produced truly innovative thinking by the finalist teams. They were able to demonstrate the real business value produced by new approaches to businesses that integrate economics, ecology and societal concerns."


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