Undergrad Global Poverty Class Produces mtvU Finalist

They didn’t win the grand prize, but three Cal undergraduates in Senior Lester Center Fellow John Danner’s Entrepreneurship to Address Global Poverty class came back with $20,000 after the judges of the Movers & Changers competition in New York made a surprise announcement that the two finalist teams would receive prize money.

The Cal team was composed of undergraduates Kyson Bunthuwong, BA 10 (International Political Economy); Stephanie Wu, BA 10 (Mass Communications and Interdisciplinary Studies), a student assistant in the Haas Marketing and Communications Office; and Joanna Kim, BA 09 (Interdisciplinary Studies).

The team was one of three finalists (the other two were from Tulane) in the Movers & Changers contest, a national competition sponsored by mtvU and NYSE Euronext to discover the nation’s top college student entrepreneurs. As a finalist, the Cal team spent a week in New York, where they rang the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange. They also will star in an mtvU reality show about their experiences this month. Catch it at moversandchangers.com.

Bunthuwong, Wu, and Kim's proposal came from a business plan called Bamboo Lota that they created for Danner's class last spring. Bamboo Lota (Lota means “to dream” in Chichewa, the local language in Malawi) proposed to teach the residents of Monkey Bay in Malawi how to substitute rapid-growing bamboo for older-growth lumber in the creation of charcoal, used by 90 percent of the east African nation’s population.

Bunthewong and Kim will use part of the $20,000 to go to Malawi this spring to initiate a pilot project. The $2,000 that the trio won in the National Peace Corps Association’s Africa Rural Connect competition will also go toward the project, and they will continue fundraising.

“It’s kind of like a whirlwind,” says Bunthewong. “We just jumped into these contests, and the fact that they turned out the way they did is beyond anything we could have imagined.”

Bamboo Lota: Joanna Kim, Stephanie Wu, and Kyson Bunthuwong