Students at Columbia Business School, in collaboration with Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, have awarded a $100,000 grant to the Mercy Corps AgriFin programme, an innovative fintech solution for small farms facing climate change. The grant was made through a unique joint programme with Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA) and Columbia Business School’s Tamer Center for Social Enterprise in which students analysed 100 of the top proposals made to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change competition.
AgriFin has already helped over three million farmers increase their harvest by leveraging mobile phones to catalyse a global network of partners, effectively creating digital ‘one stop shops’ to address needs from seeds to finance. The proposal submitted for this competition builds on that successful model. AgriFin is showcased on Lever for Change’s Bold Solutions Network, an online searchable collection of the highest-ranking, vetted proposals that emerged from 100&Change, a competition for a single $100 million to help solve one of the world’s most critical social challenges. 100&Change is managed by Lever for Change, an affiliate of MacArthur.
In addition to providing early stage funding for a vetted, philanthropic project, the process helped develop a sense of the rigor needed to create thoughtful and effective social change among future business and social sector leaders and demonstrated the value of making proposals submitted to one donor open to many others. From this experience, these emerging leaders have learned some of the critical skills necessary for tackling the complex systems and the immense challenges facing society and the planet today.
As a capstone project for their course on Global Philanthropy taught by RPA president and CEO Melissa Berman, who is also an adjunct professor at Columbia Business School, more than 50 MBA students formed a dozen teams that reviewed the top 100 proposals from 100&Change. Each team considered several projects’ capacity for systems change, authentic engagement with affected communities, and the use of bottom-up approaches, then selected one applicant they also felt would fulfil MacArthur’s four criteria: impactful, evidence-based, feasible, and durable.
At the conclusion of the presentations, the students voted for the Mercy Corps AgriFin project, Transforming Small-Scale Farming in the Face of Climate Change. The project leverages satellite data from NASA to provide hyper-local insights on soil moisture, and the best crops and timing for planting, and sends it directly to the farmers. Digital Green and other partners provide education in local languages and contexts as part of this initiative, which will also be accessible through mobile phones. With these resources and tools, the project will create a seamless network of 25 million small-scale farms and will help them adapt to a changing climate and become more sustainable.
‘We feel an incredible sense of momentum in this second round of the 100&Change competition,’ said Cecilia Conrad, CEO of Lever for Change and a managing director at the MacArthur Foundation. ‘We are excited to see Mercy Corps receive this award and recognition, and we are thrilled for the many ways that this initiative with Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and Columbia Business School helped to stimulate thinking, enhance conversations around systems change, and fund big ideas.’
‘The AgriFin initiative emerged on top because it effectively tackled inequity, poverty, and the impact of climate change. Columbia Business School students are incredibly rigorous and analytic, but also keenly aware of how multifaceted solutions to complex problems need to be. Given the quality, scope and range of the top projects, this was not an easy choice,’ Dr Berman of RPA added. ‘This method of assessing both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ factors offers a great model for philanthropy, and also illustrates how remarkable the final 100&Change proposals are.’
Inclusion in or exclusion in the Columbia Business School’s selection process for the $100,000 award does not in indicate standing in the 100&Change competition. MacArthur’s Board of Directors will select up to 10 finalists this summer to move to the next phase of the 100&Change competition. The $100 million award recipient will be announced by MacArthur in the spring of 2021.