Press Release

Columbia Business School Students, in Collaboration with Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Select Innovative Fintech Solution for Small Farms Facing Climate Change to Receive $100,000 Award

May 26, 2020

In a unique Global Philanthropy course at Columbia Business School, graduate students analyzed the “Top 100” proposals from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change competition and, based on criteria developed by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, selected one to receive a special grant.

New York, NY— As part of a unique joint program with Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA) and Columbia Business School’s Tamer Center for Social Enterprise, Lever for Change today announced a $100,000 philanthropic grant to the Mercy Corps AgriFin program. AgriFin was selected after a thorough review of the “Top 100,” the highest scoring proposals in MacArthur’s 100&Change competition.

AgriFin has already helped over 3 million farmers increase their harvest by leveraging mobile phones to catalyze 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 A. Berman, who is also an adjunct professor at Columbia Business School, more than 50 MBA students formed 12 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 fulfill 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.”

Other Top Contenders

The other top contenders selected by the Columbia Business School teams for the $100,000 award are noted below. Full information on each of these can be found on Lever for Change’s Bold Solutions Network, which showcases the highest-ranked proposals that emerged from 100&Change and each of the competitions Lever for Change manages.

Inclusion in or exclusion in the Columbia Business School’s selection process for the $100,000 award does not in any way 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.

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About Lever for Change

Lever for Change is a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation affiliate, whose mission is to unlock significant philanthropic capital and accelerate social change around the world’s most pressing challenges. Lever for Change helps philanthropists source vetted, high-impact opportunities in two ways: by designing and managing customized competitions and by matching them with the top vetted proposals from all of its competitions in the Bold Solutions Network, a searchable online database. To learn more, please visit www.leverforchange.org.

About Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors

Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA) is a nonprofit organization that helps donors create thoughtful, effective philanthropy around the world through research, advisory, management and project incubation. Continuing the Rockefeller family’s legacy of strategic philanthropy, RPA remains at the forefront of philanthropic growth and innovation, with a diverse team led by experienced grantmakers with significant depth of knowledge across the spectrum of issue areas. Founded in 2002, RPA has grown into one of the world’s largest philanthropic service organizations and, currently advises on and manages more than $300 million in annual giving by individuals, families, corporations, and major foundations. RPA has facilitated more than $3 billion in grantmaking and incubated 125 projects in nearly 70 countries. To learn more, please visit www.rockpa.org.

About the Tamer Center for Social Enterprise at Columbia Business School

The Tamer Center for Social Enterprise at Columbia Business School trains the next generation of leaders to address social and environmental challenges. The center provides a framework for students to think in broader terms about their role in business and society and equips them with the skills, knowledge, and experience to respond to the challenges of a rapidly changing world. Graduates draw on their expertise and talents to achieve social impact throughout their careers as business leaders addressing public policy and environmental issues, and as philanthropists, civic leaders, and directors of charitable organizations. To learn more, please visit www.gsb.columbia.edu/socialenterprise

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