Hult Prize Regionals 2019

By Xueying “Shelley” Chen

Hult Prize is the world’s biggest social venture competition that was established by Ahmad Ashkar. It crowd-sources ideas from MBA and college students after challenging them to solve a pressing social issue. This year the challenge was to come up with a solution to create 10,000 meaningful jobs for youth. Millions of young people are disconnected from meaningful jobs. I sat down with my teammates and we brainstormed ideas to solve youth employment problems for Indian girls who are at risk of child sex trafficking.

We competed as Boodana and we aim to combat child sex trafficking in India through job creation. In India, prostitution is legal, and 1 out of 40 girls under the age of 15 is forced into prostitution. Many girls in India become prostitutes as a means to support their families, because they lack the skills or opportunities necessary to work in other positions. Many girls in India are also sold into prostitution against their will by those closest to them, including friends, neighbors, or even their own husbands.

Team Boodana: (from left to right: Yaocheng (Sparrow) Tian ’22, Matthew Stein ’17, and Xueying “Shelley” Chen ’19. 

The worst thing that could happen to anybody is to start every day believing that every one of your tomorrows will be just like yesterday. Our plan is to ensure that, for girls in India who are suffering as a result of child prostitution, the days ahead will not be the same as those that are behind. Over 10 years, we will create a network of 100 healing centers in India that will each employ 100 girls who are at risk for becoming or are former prostitutes. At these healing centers, girls will be given paid apprenticeships to become certified yoga and meditation instructors. They will be taught by local yoga and meditation experts in India. Their compensation will vastly exceed what they could earn through prostitution, thereby providing incentive for a meaningful work alternative. We will also cooperate with local non-profits that are already working to rescue girls from brothels in India. Boodana’s healing centers will provide a safe space for these girls to heal – physically and mentally – while providing them with meaningful jobs.

India is the world’s top destination for yoga tourism, and Boodana will capitalize on the growing wellness travel market in India. Based on a preliminary financial analysis, we will be able to price our retreats competitively compared to India’s most popular yoga retreats and still generate significant profits in only 2-3 years. In addition, we will have a second stream of revenue by partnering with Universities in the US and other developed nations to provide classes and cultural exchange programs for students. Students studying international relations, Asian, or gender studies can travel to Boodana retreats to take classes from local Indian professors for course credit. By taking these classes in India, students will be able to immerse themselves in Indian culture and tradition, and also learn about gender equality challenges firsthand from the girls who have experienced them. Students will pay tuition for the classes, and discounted tuition can be offered to students who help teach/tutor the young women employees at Boodana (eg. tutoring in English speaking or writing, personal finance, or entrepreneurship).

During the weekend of March 8, we pitched our idea to a panel of judges at the Toronto Regionals. Even though we did not advance to the final, we felt very lucky to be a part of social movement that has the potential to create real impact for the world’s most vulnerable community. We will take the lessons from this competition to advance our future entrepreneurial endeavors.

Xueying “Shelley” Chen ’19 is a researcher, activist and writer of social entrepreneurship and a believer of impact-driven businesses. She thinks business is a vehicle to deliver profitable, sustainable and socially responsible returns. Shelley puts human-centered impact in the core of her daily business practice. Additionally, Shelley is an active member of the UR entrepreneurial community and she is a member of the Ain Team – a group of elite student ambassadors chosen to promote and increase the visibility of the department and the MS in TEAM program.