In May, Harvard Business School Online announced a partnership with Sustainable Harvest International (SHI), kicking off the second-annual Community Challenge. This year’s audacious goal? Reverse the effects of climate change by helping SHI scale up its business operations and create ventures that offset financial costs and increase farmers’ benefits.

Eight HBS Online Community Chapters from around the world submitted nine proposals and SHI executives selected five finalists: Istanbul, São Paulo, Tokyo, Boston, and Los Angeles.

“I was super impressed by the breadth of solutions proposed and the level of details included,” says SHI Executive Director Elliott Powell. “Each submission, whether a finalist or not, offers something unique to SHI for consideration. I especially appreciated the solutions that included detailed business plans, showing just how SHI could implement the proposed idea.”

Each of the Chapters spoke virtually with SHI executives about their proposals and made their pitch. After careful consideration and deliberation, the Los Angeles Chapter was named the Community Challenge winner.

“While every Chapter offered valuable ideas and insights for us, we ultimately chose the Los Angeles Chapter because they took something we already do and combined it with the earned-income component we hoped to find through the Challenge,” says Florence Reed, SHI’s founder and director of strategic growth. “We were impressed with the quality of their proposal, from the detailed financials to the graphics that brought the ideas to life.”

A Timely Proposal for Change

The Los Angeles Chapter’s solution centered around a subscription box program, which would allow ethically minded consumers to periodically receive boxes of goods produced by SHI’s network of rural farmers, such as honey, coffee, and banana products. Their solution also outlined community engagement opportunities, such as partnerships with hotels, social media influencers, and educational institutions with strong sustainability programs.

Many subscription boxes have experienced steady or increased growth during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic—notably food and beverage subscription boxes, as they help reduce trips to the grocery store. In addition, the stay-at-home orders have led to an increase in home-cooked meals and the willingness to try new recipes, according to food and beverage marketing communications firm Hunter. With 44 percent of Americans discovering new ingredients and 51 percent reporting they’ll cook more often even after the pandemic, a subscription box with new, sustainably sourced ingredients could be a welcome product.

“The indefinite hold on international travel has caused people to seek out adventure and culture in different ways,” adds Los Angeles Chapter Member Sarah Banch. “Receiving a subscription box with international products would be a new kind of adventure they can look forward to every month while supporting a good cause.”

Working alongside Banch were Los Angeles Chapter Co-Organizers Edgar Barillas and Mona Molayem and team members Hali Céspedes-Chorin, Jay Desai, Walter Iu, Shubham Modi, Paras Nanavati, Mafé Rabino, Camilo Ramos, and Mark Weeks.

“We are so proud of the Los Angeles Chapter and all the hard work this awesome team contributed to the Challenge,” Barillas says. “We had an incredible time supporting each other and growing through the experience. The team is excited to make a difference in the world through working with SHI.”

In addition to being passionate about SHI’s mission, the Los Angeles Chapter’s win was made all the more meaningful due to California’s recent wildfires.

“As our state of California is currently on fire due to climate change and unsustainable practices, we’re experiencing firsthand the need for global and local change,” Banch says. “As our own gardens are covered in ash, we see that the food supply is not to be taken for granted. We want to be part of the solution and feel our idea can do just that.”

Teaming Up to Make a Difference

Moving forward, SHI will use the Los Angeles Chapter’s solution—in addition to many ideas from the other proposals—to scale up their impact and help reverse climate change.

“Being a part of this Challenge has been a wonderful experience for all of us at SHI,” Powell says. “To have HBS Online Chapters from around the world with such talented and creative members put a microscope on our operations and propose viable solutions in support of our vision to scale our impacts in regenerative agriculture and beyond is an exceptionally unique and significant opportunity.”

The Challenge also inspired the Community to rethink the role they play in making sustainable choices.

“As I think about sustainability in my everyday life, I often focus on the aspects that affect my food and consumption habits further down the supply chain,” Molayem says. “When it comes to making green choices, it’s easy to overlook the source, but partnering with SHI has opened my eyes to the reality that working toward a greener planet does not start in your own home—it starts with the farms.”

Reflecting further on the experience, Powell emphasizes the importance of coming together to tackle such a far-reaching issue.

“Climate change and its impact on our lives is a complex issue that all humans share on this planet, some disproportionally more than others,” he says. “It takes partnerships and collaborations like this between HBS Online and SHI to find appropriate and lasting solutions.”

HBS Online is proud of its partnership with SHI on the second-annual Community Challenge and of the work of all participating Chapters on creating a more sustainable future.

Are you interested in meeting other business professionals and creating change in future Community Challenges? Join the HBS Online Community today.