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From Pollutants to Playgrounds: Social Entrepreneurship Course Fuels Practical Solutions to Global Problems

When Al Quds Bard student Ahmad Hijawi, (AQB '23), set out to find a way to tackle the problems of industrial stone waste and discarded tires in his native Palestine, he had no idea he would also wind up creating useful household products and winning national entrepreneurship competitions in the process. Hijawi says the recycling project he undertook with his colleagues owes much of its success to the skills he developed while taking OSUN’s network collaborative course on Social Entrepreneurship in 2020, as well as the valuable peer feedback he received throughout.

OSUN’s network collaborative courses, co-designed by partner institutions and offered simultaneously at multiple campuses, connect higher education students worldwide so they can share fresh approaches that make a difference in finding viable solutions to pressing social and environmental problems. 

“The class had a great impact on helping me gain leadership and analytical skills, specifically in brainstorming solutions for the problems we wanted to tackle,” says Hijawi. Hijawi found that the methodical research, experimentation, and consultation with classmates in different countries helped his team find a solution that was both viable and innovative. Ultimately, the course’s collaborative processes contributed to the team realizing they could chop up discarded rubber tires then combine them with polluting stone waste and water to produce useful household products such as bricks, tiles, and rubber flooring.

“We not only solved a pollution problem but also produced something useful that could serve as safety padding in parks and playgrounds,” he says.
CleanPalCo, the recycling venture Hijawi and his colleagues consequently launched, won the Best Student Entrepreneurial Company Competition for Schools and Universities in Palestine in 2021 and is about to compete against entrepreneurs from 14 other Middle Eastern countries on the regional level. The company is also meeting with many municipalities throughout Palestine who are agreeing to use its services.
Hijawi says RebelBase, the web-based software platform used in the course to provide structured steps for learning entrepreneurial skills and to connect practitioners, was another key element in the project’s success.

Eliza Edge, one of several Bard College instructors teaching Social Entrepreneurship, agrees that the globally networked structure and the platform supporting the course were invaluable. “Getting comments and feedback from global peers can help others understand models that might already exist in other parts of the world,” she says. “Knowing that we don't want to recreate, say, a food delivery app everywhere in the world, our system allows us to share examples and ideas from our own lives and worldviews that can be very helpful for thinking outside of the box.”

In its second year, the course is connecting over 100 students from countries across the globe, including Bangladesh, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Taiwan, and the US, creating a brain trust of multicultural interactions that is not available in most classrooms. 

Empowering students with the skills they need to develop practical solutions to problems, like those Hijawi and his team successfully tackled, is a hallmark of OSUN’s network collaborative courses. Multidirectional sharing of knowledge and ideas across boundaries and experiences is the glue that makes it possible. 

Originally posted on opensocietyuniversitynetwork.org.

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Bard Graduate Programs in Sustainability

Bard’s Graduate Programs in Sustainability cultivate leaders who break through existing systems, innovating solutions to critical social, environmental, and economic challenges. Bard GPS students pursue cutting-edge master degrees in policy, business, or education that embed extended field-based practical training and individualized career support. Our alumni are changing the rules through environmental policy, changing the game through sustainable business, and changing minds through environmental education. Learn more about our three theories of change.