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Student-Led Growing North Project a Finalist in Google Impact Challenge

By Will Sloan

Growing North Greenhouse

Vote Growing North in the nationwide Google.org Impact Challenge.

Two startups with roots at Ryerson are among the 10 finalists for the Google Impact Challenge, a competition of Canadian non-profits that seek to build a better world through technology.

Growing North and Rumie will compete to be among the five winning teams who will receive $750,000 each, plus technical support from Google and the LEAP Centre for Social Impact. The rest of the 10 finalists will receive $250,000.

Launched by Enactus Ryerson and now an independent non-profit, Growing North built a $250,000 greenhouse to Repulse Bay, Nunavut in 2015. Designed to generate a sustainable food source in a remote and underserved area, the greenhouse enjoyed its first harvest last summer, currently employs both a full-time and part-time manager, and runs a student co-op program.

“We trained our Arctic farmers for two months, then helped them out as they were learning how to grow, and still touch base with them on a weekly basis,” said co-founder Stefany Nieto, who graduated from TRSM in 2016. “We’re not at the self-sustaining stage yet, seeing as we’re only five months old growing-wise, but it is going well. We went from Arctic farmers who have never grown anything in their lives to Arctic farmers who can grow in the greenhouse.”

Going forward, the Growing North team plans to use the award money to build a second Nunavut greenhouse in the town of Arviat.

“We’ve been putting all of our time and effort into this over the last couple of years, and to see this become a real business is something we’re really excited about,” said Nieto. “In addition, for the team, it means we might be able to work on this full-time, which is something we never had the luxury of doing before. This Google Impact Challenge represents an opportunity for Growing North to expand at a rate we hadn’t even dreamed of.”

The DMZ-based startup Rumie provides access to free digital education to underserved communities worldwide. The company offers tablets containing an extensive encyclopaedic database of information, crowd-sourced and vetted on Rumie’s LearnCloud technology by thousands of people from around the world. The information is uploaded onto the tablets and can be accessed offline.

Working with partner organizations in international communities, Rumie distributes the tablets to children without access to basic education. It has helped communities in 21 nations, including Cat Lake, a fly-in aboriginal community in Ontario, and numerous Syrian refugee camps.

“We only have one incentive: it’s impact,” said founder Tariq Fancy. “We only have one bottom-line. There’s no profit-motive at all. We’re all in it—our board, are team, everyone—to find the most innovative and cost-effective way to drive positive social impact.”

Already making an impact in Canada, Fancy hopes to grow Rumie’s presence in the country’s underprivileged areas. “We’re at the 150th anniversary of Canada right now. Canada has done some amazing things to become a beacon of freedom, tolerance, diversity. … But at the 150th anniversary, we should also realize that there are communities right here in Canada that are disconnected; that are not necessarily sharing in our dreams of equality. If you look particularly at Indigenous education in Canada, the high school graduation rate in Canada is nine out of 10; it’s four out of 10 in many of these communities.”

Public voting for the Google Impact Challenge is open until March 28. On March 30, finalists will give a 90-second pitch to a panel of judges. Four winners will be selected, with a fifth chosen by popular vote.

Support the Ryerson teams by voting in the Google Impact Challenge.

 

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