Global studies students take on some of the world’s most pressing problems

Advancing human progress—that’s the mandate of the Pardee School of Global Studies. In March of 2015, Assistant Professor of International Relations Noora Lori established the Forced Migration and Human Trafficking Initiative (FMHT) to address one heightened barrier to human progress: the refugee crisis.

In the new graduate-level seminar, Lori asked students to propose a digital initiative that could have a direct impact on the lives of displaced people. Her students answered by forming an NGO called Urban Refuge and creating an app that helps Syrian refugees in the urban area of Amman, Jordan, find necessities like food, shelter, and medical care.

This past year, Interim Director Kaija Schilde gave her class a similar assignment, this time focusing on the European Union, her area of expertise.

“We faced a number of hurdles,” Schilde explained. “We were trying to do the same thing, but there were a lot of obstacles just because the E.U. is very different from Jordan.”

The students’ ideas were good, but implementation was proving difficult and the stakes seemed so high. What would happen if they failed? Schilde turned to Questrom’s Peter Marton, a lecturer on strategy and innovation, to help her better communicate—that they are acting as entrepreneurs and that failure is a part of the process.

“It was almost a religious moment when Peter came and told us, ‘That’s how you do it, by failing and failing fast,’” Schilde explained. By using the language of entrepreneurship and innovation, Marton was able to bolster the students’ confidence.

The class became involved in helping refugees at the now-closed camp in Calais. “We worked with a youth center that wanted to figure out how to continue to communicate with 1,000-plus minors whom they had been caring for,” Schilde said. “They wanted to be able to have a face-to-face relationship to monitor safety and help prevent human trafficking. We came up with a solution that was slightly off the shelf: adapting a mass texting platform.”

Since completing its initial pilot phase, the students are now looking to adapt the app for more youth centers and other groups in the E.U. particularly vulnerable to human trafficking.

There is a Hack For Good event is in the works for this spring, as well as a Migration Innovation Incubator, which will aim to corral disparate initiatives like the FMHT into a larger coalition that can work together.

The class is running again for the Fall 2017 semester. “We may fail spectacularly,” Schilde said in regard to this next round of ideation, innovation, and execution, “But then we will know so much more about what we need to do next.”