When David Santulli returned to the United States after nine years living abroad in Japan, he reflected on everything he learned—both from his overseas experiences and the friendships he made across cultures, locally and internationally. Shortly after that, the September 11 attacks on New York City happened, reinforcing what he knew deep down.

“I thought there was a tremendous need to build understanding and respect across cultures,” Santulli says. “We can all see the difficulties that arise when we have friction and troubles across the boundaries that exist at home and around the world, and we have to do so much more to build bridges, trust, and partnership.”

That’s what the nonprofit he founded, United Planet, is all about: building a global community, one relationship at a time. United Planet connects volunteers who want to make a difference with communities in more than 40 countries around the world, where the volunteers learn, teach, work, and immerse themselves in a new culture.

And now, the HBS Online Community has a chance to help the organization achieve its mission. HBS Online is proud to announce it’s partnering with United Planet for the third annual Community Challenge.

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The Challenge

One of the global experiential learning opportunities United Planet offers is its Virtual Exchange Program, which connects middle and high school students throughout the United States with students from countries around the world, such as Morocco, Iraq, Jordan, and Mali. Over the course of eight weeks, the students work together in small groups and engage in cross-cultural sharing and collaborative, project-based learning focused on global goals, such as sustainable development and public health.

“Physical exchange has typically been the providence of a very specific few who had the time and money to do this activity,” says Donna Lubrano, the virtual exchange officer for United Planet. “Now, with technology, this opens the door for so many other people. It creates that equity in education that we all long for.”

This year’s Community Challenge is focused on helping United Planet increase the total engagement of schools in its Virtual Exchange Program. Community Chapters can develop a full business plan or concentrate on one of the following aspects of the program:

  • Create a marketing plan to reach more schools that will benefit from the program
  • Identify ways to reach partners and sponsors that offset the program fees for schools in under-served populations
  • Explore innovative technologies that would help this program reach more countries in need

Solutions must be cost-effective and support United Planet’s long-term goal to engage at least 50 percent under-served populations in their programs.

“We’re hoping to tap into the diversity of the HBS Online Community and seek your guidance and input on this pressing challenge,” Santulli says.

How to Get Involved in the Challenge

If you’re interested in helping United Planet grow its Virtual Exchange Program and aren’t already part of one of HBS Online’s 34 Community Chapters, sign up for the Chapter closest to where you live. Once you’ve joined a Chapter, let your Chapter Organizer know you’re interested in participating in the Community Challenge. Organizers will be coordinating with their Chapter members to determine when to meet virtually to brainstorm and develop solutions.

Submissions are due by July 16, 2021. Please visit the Community site for more information on submission details.

Once submissions are in, HBS Online and United Planet will review all the proposals and select up to five finalists who’ll get to speak directly with United Planet executives. The Chapter with the most viable, impactful solution will be chosen as the Community Challenge winner from there.

If you’re interested in learning more about our past Challenge winners, explore how the New York City Chapter helped the Greater Boston Food Bank come closer to achieving its mission of ending hunger, and how the Los Angeles Chapter teamed up with Sustainable Harvest International to fight climate change.

As Santulli says, each individual can drive change: “The impact of United Planet speaks to the ability to each and every one of us to make an important difference in the world. We should all do what we can to step up and contribute to our communities, and contribute to building bridges and bringing about a more sustainable, peaceful, and united planet.”

If you want to make a difference while networking with like-minded business professionals, join the HBS Online Community today.