The 2023 LIFT Challenge came to an exciting conclusion on Saturday, February 11, with Hempact Collective taking home the top prize of $10,000. This group of four undergraduate students from UNC-Chapel Hill proposed supplying micro-loans to farmers in India to harvest hemp – a carbon sequestering and much less resource-intensive crop. This would allow the farmers to sell hemp for hemp-fiber clothing, while reducing atmospheric greenhouse gases related to climate change. With over 200 students involved throughout all stages of the LIFT challenge and over 20 teams from around the world submitting proposals, Hempact Collective faced stiff competition. Finishing in second place, team Grain for Gain received $5,000.
Launching Investment for Future Transformation (LIFT) challenges both undergraduate and graduate students across the globe to develop blended finance strategies and proposals aimed at addressing issues that fit within one or more of the Sustainable Development Goals, with an emphasis on driving social equity and economic mobility. Blended finance uses public and/or philanthropic funding to de-risk investments in order to mobilize more private capital to facilitate positive social and environmental impact.
Hempact Collective decided to focus their solution on climate change, recognizing its potential to uproot huge numbers of people, specifically in impoverished and rural communities in the global south.
“We’re a technical assistance fund (TAF) supporting Indian farmers in the Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh, India,” said Shreya Shenoy, team member on Hempact Collective. “As a TAF, we aim to provide farmers with microloans so they can regularly harvest hemp as a part of their crop rotations. Additionally, we want to connect farmers to wholesale buyers of the crop to guarantee a profit for the fund and stakeholders.”
Second-place team Grain for Gain’s project centers on nutrient dense pearl millet production in Maharashtra, India to help combat hunger and malnutrition in the region. This year’s other two semifinalists were teams Hijau Indonesia and Project Ownership. Hijua Indonesia proposed to invest in sustainable natural rubber produced by smallholders in Indonesia to promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems and seeks to end poverty in all forms. Project Ownership proposed the use of private equity to revolutionize the hourly wage model in India by making each employee an owner in the business.
Judges were given the extremely difficult task of picking just one winner out of so many amazing proposals. This year, a diverse group of 37 highly qualified professionals served as judges, covering the fields of Banking, Investment, International Development, IT, ESG consulting, energy, climate policy and more.
The judges not only evaluated each proposal, but also served as mentors to the students, helping them work through potential problems that may occur while implementing their blended finance solutions.
“I was so impressed by the student teams that participated in the LIFT competition. They were clearly passionate about employing impact investing strategies to address Sustainable Development Goals, and they gave excellent presentations. Bank of America is proud to invest in the next generation of talent working to drive sustainable solutions, racial equality, and economic opportunities for all,” stated Amy Brusiloff, a community development executive at Bank of America and one of the judges of the LIFT competition. “It was an honor judging the 2023 LIFT challenge,” said Ben Hudspeth, IT Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Manager at EnLink Midstream. “As a second-time judge, I was impressed and inspired by the cases presented by all teams. These students continue to raise the bar with their innovative ideas, impact of their solutions and their passion for sustainability on a global scale.” The quarterfinals alone included students from Columbia University, Cornell University, Trinity College Dublin, University of Pennsylvania, University of the Philippines Diliman, The University of Queensland, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and University of Washington.
The LIFT challenge aims to raise awareness for blended finance and drive impact globally by addressing the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals. However, its influence reaches far beyond each team’s blended finance proposal. The students’ passion for impact and innovative ideas inspires all, giving hope to a future generation rooted in sustainability.