Big Ten’s initiatives against global povertyThe Big Ten Conference is joining the war against global poverty. The Big Ten’s member institutions are prominent universities known for Division 1 collegiate athletics and competitive academics. Now, the students and staff of these institutions are joining and creating projects to combat international inequality. The Big Ten’s initiatives against global poverty simultaneously educate young participants and help impoverished communities.

10 of the Big Ten’s Initiatives Against Poverty

  1. University of Illinois: Poverty Simulation — The Missouri Community Action Network Poverty Simulation is designed to educate students on the lives of low-income individuals and populations. During the simulation, volunteers receive roles where they must manage day-to-day family and community operations within strict resource constraints. The simulation is meant “to be a tool to re-frame issues of poverty and to inspire participants to take action.”
  2. University of Indiana: Trockman Microfinance Initiative — The Trockman Microfinance Initiative (TMI), which the Kelley School of Business sponsored, uses microfinance to benefit international impoverished communities. TMI encourages students to use their business and networking skills to help those who experience exclusion from the mainstream financial system through research and hands-on fieldwork. Recently, TMI partnered with the international nonprofit Flying Squirrel Outfitters to empower at-risk women in rural Thailand. The two organizations are working together to create jobs and implement sources of sustainable financing.
  3. University of Minnesota: U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — In support of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UMN SDG Initiative utilizes research and university assets across 17 categories to advance sustainability initiatives, especially in the education sector. For example, in 2021, the university signed a $4 million contract to improve higher education health sciences programs in Afghanistan. The program also offers grants to support student and staff research that aligns with SDG projects. Among the Big Ten’s initiatives against global poverty, the University of Minnesota is the only school partnering with the U.N.
  4. University of Nebraska: Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute — Nebraska’s success in agriculture has made it a fitting home for the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute (DWFI). Working with more than 170 partners, the institute promotes global food security through research, development and communication. In 2021, DWFI will host a conference where participants will discuss the future of global water and food security goals.
  5. University of Michigan: Michigan Foreign Policy Council — Teaching empirical social science writing processes, the Michigan Foreign Policy Council is a project-based, student-run organization that publishes non-partisan research. Five main categories allow for a broad range of topics and student individuality. Furthermore, finished articles are open to public viewing at a semesterly symposium and through online formats.
  6. Michigan State University: The Spartan Global Development Fund — MSU’s Spartan Global Development Fund (SGDF) teaches the benefits of microfinance to impoverished global communities, specifically in Guatemala and Nicaragua. Uniting students, alumni and professors, SGDF has donated more than $114,000 in the last 12 years directly to humanitarian nonprofits. Fieldwork and a student-run blog also enhance the versatility of the fund and its ability to aid communities abroad. Detailed profiles of the fund’s beneficiaries are available on its website.
  7. Northwestern University: Global Poverty Research Lab — The Kellogg School of Management sponsors Northwestern’s Global Poverty Research Lab. This initiative has hands-on projects in countries across the globe to understand the causes and consequences of global poverty. The lab addresses research in four key geographical and sector-based clusters: China, the Philippines, Ghana and research methods. Overall, the lab works to create a pipeline between development economics and effective policy action. Participants connect with policymakers and multilateral agencies to ensure engagement and accuracy in the research process. Opportunities to participate are available to both students and faculty interested in providing research support and participating in fieldwork.
  8. Ohio State University: Global Outreach at OSU — Once GlobeMed at OSU, Global Outreach at OSU has adapted to focus on health, education and equity-based projects in one community per semester. This past semester, the club focused on education inequities and donated to the Meherun Nessa Development Foundation, a fundraising platform dedicated to educating children in Bangladesh. The club also runs a blog for its members to contribute to, with its most recent publication centering around COVID-19’s impact on global food insecurity.
  9. Pennsylvania State University: International Food Safety Initiative — The International Food Safety Initiative at Penn State College of Agriculture Sciences manages projects that educate communities on properly handling, storing and preparing food. Partnering primarily with the USDA, the initiative works with 12 communities across four continents. Most of its projects are study abroad options open to undergraduate students at the university. The projects teach students to evaluate the impact of training on participants’ food safety knowledge and skills.
  10. Purdue University: Engineers Without Borders — Engineers Without Borders (EWB) at Purdue is a student chapter of the nonprofit organization Engineers Without Borders-U.S.A. EWB aims to improve livelihoods in the global communities it focuses on and develop project management skills in its members. The program offers five different focuses in order to draw interested participants from all spheres. EWB began its Bolivia Project in 2018, providing clean water and meeting other daily needs by creating a water distribution system in Colquechata, Bolivia. Data collection, analysis and fieldwork also contributed to the success of EWB assignments in Nakyeni, Uganda.

Moving Forward

The Big Ten’s initiatives against global poverty raise awareness of conditions in impoverished communities through research and regional policy mobilization. Prospective students, current affiliates and interested locals alike can donate and participate in each school’s studies.

Julia Fadanelli
Photo: Flickr

A recent University of Illinois study indicates that including trees in the agricultural industry has the potential to reduce poverty in Africa. Lead researcher Daniel Miller reported that one-third to half of rural farmers in Ethiopia, Malawi, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda incorporate trees into their farming plans. Miller explained that within the target group, trees alone contributed 17% to the annual household income. He acknowledged that the trees were a very important source of economic benefits for these households. He discovered that the most popular tree types were fruit trees and coffee trees. Timber and fuel-producing trees were also found, but only five percent of the farms studied contained them.

Colonial Law No Longer a Stumbling Block

In addition to using satellite images and comprehensive surveys, Miller’s study relied heavily on personal interviews from farmers in the five countries.

Miller’s research delved into the ramifications of an old colonial law in Nigeria concerning tree ownership. He reported that the old law gave the government the right to claim any tree as being within the domain of forestry. As a result, farmers shied away from having trees on their farms because authorities would have a legal right to enter their land and claim the trees for the central government.

Miller indicated that the law in Nigeria recently changed to allow farmers more control of the trees on their land. He explained that this was a clear case of where previous government intervention adversely affected the decisions of landowners. Nigerian farmers are beginning to incorporate more trees into their farms, albeit slowly. Miller reported that of the five countries studied, the prevalence for trees on Nigerian farms was the lowest, at 16%.

Climate Change Mitigation

The weight of climate change is also a major consideration in the effort to reduce poverty in Africa. Miller’s results indicate worth for increased attention on farms incorporating more trees, especially considering food security and poverty-related policy concerns. Miller reports, “Trees are climate smart because they aren’t as fragile as agricultural crops are to extreme shifts in climate…trees can continue to produce when you might have a crop failure due to a drought.”

Diverse Sustainability for Farmers

Miller’s study found that farmers incorporating trees into their agricultural plans had greater food security. In his report, the uses of products harvested from trees included self-consumption, cash income, storage, and even gifts.

With the hope to reduce poverty in Africa at the forefront, Miller remains optimistic about the potential of future studies. “We see significant scope for future research…to gain a complete picture of the dynamics of rural livelihoods in Africa over time.”

Gisele Dunn

Photo: Flickr


The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is offering one of the most useful courses available for free online. As open educational resources, or OERs, are gaining more and more popularity, creating classes on subject matters that affect everyone globally is a sure way of increasing an OER’s audience.

Introduction to Sustainability is taught by Dr. Jonathan Tomkin, a man with as much research experience as any top university department could wish for. He has studied the interaction between climate change, glaciers, and landscapes in areas such as the Swiss Alps, Patagonia, Antarctica, and the Olympic Mountains.

The 8-week-long course which starts on March 11th will debunk common myths on the future of the earth’s survival and discuss ideas on how science, the economy and societies can alter the future. The concepts of this course provide the foundation for furthering our understanding of sustainability through cross-disciplinary studies. With a comprehensive education on population growth, engineering, ethics, global change, resource limitations and cultural history, students in this class will develop a clearer vision of the different options humanity has for the foreseeable future.

Environmental ideology is becoming a more influential part of our lives. Whether for policymaking in the Western world or teaching farming methods in a third world country, sustainability techniques are as unique as the people who use them. What works in America obviously wouldn’t have the same effect in India or even New Zealand. The 8 weeks of study will cover topics ranging from temperature statistics and trends to the idea of the “disappearance of the third world”, and even the role of ethics in sustainability.

For those who may not have the time to manage the 8-10 hour weekly workload, Dr. Tomkin has made the course textbook, which he co-authored, available online for free (and yes, even in tablet-reader format). Such open-access resources can benefit people globally and drive a more informed and educated response to critical global issues such as environment and sustainability.

In order to understand what changes need to be made to level the playing field for all humans, whether they live in poverty or comfortably in a Californian suburb, universities need to dedicate more class time and teaching positions to such topics and also make them widely available through the dozens of technological mediums for people living in any part of the world.

– Deena Dulgerian

Source: Coursera
Photo: Palm Beach Schools