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Dell’s Largest Grant to The University of Texas at Austin, $5 Million, Will Expand RGK Center’s Student Social Entrepreneurs Program

In what will be the company’s largest cash donation to The University of Texas at Austin, Dell has committed $5 million to the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service at the university’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.

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In what will be the company’s largest cash donation to The University of Texas at Austin, Dell has committed $5 million to the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service at the university’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.

The grant, which will be distributed to the RGK Center over five years, will build upon the existing Dell Social Innovation Competition (DSIC) to pioneer a new model of purpose-driven, engaged education targeting student social entrepreneurs worldwide.

“Dell’s gift is as strategic as it is generous,” said William Powers, Jr., president of The University of Texas at Austin. “The university’s mission is often referred to as having three parts: teaching, research and service. This competition and this gift are at the very intersection of those three: students, do research on problems and propose solutions, work with mentors and then harness their ideas to serve society in profound and enduring ways. This is exactly what a modern university should be doing, and Dell’s gift will make it even more robust. I’m so proud this is happening at UT.”

“Dell’s donation will help transform this competition into the world’s premier network for student social entrepreneurs, giving young people everywhere the access and opportunity to bring their entrepreneurial and humanitarian dreams to life through technology,” said Karen Quintos, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Dell.

The flagship social entrepreneurial initiative was introduced in 2007 as the RGK Social Innovation Competition with the aim of promoting the balance of money and mission in entrepreneurship in the nonprofit and for-profit communities. The competition invited teams of students to submit ideas for how to solve some of the world’s most pressing social problems. Winners were given seed money to turn their ideas into nonprofits and businesses. Originally open only to students in Texas, the competition expanded nationwide in 2008.

In response to a $400,000 gift from Dell in 2009, the competition was renamed the Dell Social Innovation Competition (DSIC) and expanded to include students from around the world. The DSIC has grown steadily each year. In 2009, the competition had 527 entries, which increased to 700 in 2010, representing 38 countries. In fall 2010, Dell worked with the RGK Center to begin expanding the DSIC to engage more students worldwide on a deeper level.

Participation in the 2011 competition reflected the increased international outreach, which included the RGK Center’s introduction of a global network of university partners. It also included the creation of a global mentorship program, for which Dell provided 100 executive-level mentors. There were 1,450 entries from 85 countries in 2011 — more than double the number in the previous year. This resulted in the need for more than 100 Round One judges, many of which Dell supplied.

“We are most grateful to Dell for being outstanding partners on this exciting journey of empowering and engaging students around the world in social entrepreneurship, a new way of tackling global social and environmental problems,” said Peter Frumkin, director of the RGK Center and co-creator of the Social Innovation Competition. “Now, through their generous contribution, we embark on a new phase of rapid global growth for the program, whereby students worldwide combine their deep understanding of the issues with creativity, leadership and know-how to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems.”

“We take great pride in the work of the RGK Center and share their excitement and vision for this important emerging trend of social entrepreneurship,” said Robert Hutchings, dean of the LBJ School. “We thank and applaud Dell, not only for their enthusiastic and energetic support of the Social Innovation Competition over the years, but for the generous financial gift that will accelerate efforts to foster an international community of social change agents.”

The RGK Center will lead a number of other significant projects related to expanding the scope of the competition, including designing and developing a global Web site to host the online competition, which will also provide a library of resources for students and universities. A key element of the next phase will be a fellowship program to build the capacity of high-potential ideas and entrepreneurs. The DSIC will partner with the Social Innovation Initiative, based at Brown University’s Howard R. Swearer Center for Public Service, to design and pilot this program. Featuring customized venture plan coaching, the fellowship program will host 15 of the most promising semi-finalists who did not qualify for the Finals. Fellows will receive one-on-one mentoring on their ideas, an expense-paid week of intensive in-person training and a stipend to use for summer fieldwork related to their idea.

The competition was originally conceived in 2006 by Tom Meredith, co-founder and president of the MFI Foundation, and Peter Frumkin of the RGK Center, and was called the RGK Social Innovation Competition. They recognized the potential of the emerging world trend called social entrepreneurship and wanted to bring it to The University of Texas at Austin.

Meredith and Frumkin saw that the university was well positioned to become a leader in this field, being a large institution with nationally recognized departments in dozens of disciplines, international reach and a location in a city with a thriving entrepreneurial community.

The MFI Foundation, through its longstanding association with the LBJ School of Public Affairs and the RGK Center, started the competition with $300,000 of seed funding. In 2007 the competition was open only to students in Texas, but it expanded nationally in 2008. In 2009, the competition went international with the help of Dell and its $400,000 gift, at which point the competition was renamed the Dell Social Innovation Competition.

Previous Winners of the DSIC:

2010 – Shining Hope for Communities
Shining Hope for Communities combats intergenerational cycles of poverty and gender inequality by linking tuition-free schools for girls to essential social services in Kenya’s Kibera slum through a holistic, community-driven approach.

2009 – Gardens for Health
Gardens for Health is dedicated to enabling people living with HIV/AIDS to improve their nutrition, health and treatment adherence through sustainable agriculture.

2008 – Husk Power Systems
Husk Power Systems provides power to millions of rural Indians in a financially sustainable, scalable, environmentally friendly and profitable manner by creating proprietary technology that cost-effectively converts rice husks into electricity.

2007 – AccessAbility
AccessAbility provides pedestrian-scale searchable maps to users with disabilities, offering detailed accessibility features such as hill gradients, curb cuts, ramps, automatic door entrances and wheelchair-accessible bathrooms.