Group provides the 'Spark' students need

By Paul Mayne
December 06, 2012

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SparkPaul Mayne//Western News
Western student Nancy Li heads up Western’s Social Spark initiative, a non-profit that aims to trigger change by cultivating the socially conscious and entrepreneurial spirit in youth.


When it comes to developing solutions for today’s challenges, youth can often be overlooked. Well, look no more, as a group of curious, resourceful and passionate university students are ready to leave their mark.

Social Spark, a non-profit that aims to trigger change by cultivating the socially conscious and entrepreneurial spirit in youth, has launched at Western and two other Ontario campuses (Ryerson and Toronto, where four students initiated the program).

Nancy Li, community manager of the Western program, said the focus is on empowering young leaders to solve problems through education and training.

“I saw this and got really interested in it,” said Li, a second-year Neuroscience student. “I like that it is a student-run start-up and that was exciting. This is doing something new. This one has a social focus to it, which I think is lacking now.”

Up and running since September, the group is open to both graduate and undergraduate students wishing to pursue sustainable solutions to complex social issues, through hands-on and mentoring opportunities.

“It’s a wide-open target field,” Li said. “It’s really for anyone interested in innovation, social causes and entrepreneurship who want to have a positive impact on society.”

Along with a monthly speaker series and case competitions, Social Spark features a Social Venture Challenge, where nine teams (three at each university), participate in an eight-month program with the goal of creating thriving social ventures. Participants will be provided with more than 90 hours of mentorship and education from experienced professors and practitioners, as well as access to funding and the opportunity to pitch to investors.

Western’s social initiatives include:

  • Addressing the issue of intra-hospital infections by increasing accountability and transparency within each hospital;
  • Applying a crowd-sourcing model to charities, with the hopes of decreasing administrative costs and increasing the quality of certain tasks; and
  • Organizing a scalable free-trade clothing network that pays works two to three times more in wages, and creating a platform and infrastructure to allow locals to export to foreign markets rather than over-saturated local markets.

Within the next three years, Social Spark intends to reach more than 3,500 youth and facilitate the launch of nearly 75 ventures.

“These are ideas that will have a positive impact on society,” Li said. “We want this to be a starting point for them to become social entrepreneurs. This is a springboard to future careers for them. I like seeing the challenges they work through. I’m learning so much about social causes just from watching the ideas of the students who are part of this. It’s so interesting to see what they come up with.”


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