Over the last four months, dozens of Harvard Business School Online learners have been brainstorming solutions to connect schools worldwide and build a global community. HBS Online partnered with United Planet for the third-annual Community Challenge and tasked the Community with crafting business plans to improve the reach and scale of the nonprofit’s Virtual Exchange Program.

Six HBS Online Community Chapters—Bogotá, Istanbul, Philadelphia, New Delhi, Tokyo, and the Global Chapter—submitted proposals, which were reviewed by the United Planet team.

“I was blown away by the depth of the work, the thoroughness, and the commitment of all six Chapters,” says United Planet Founder and President David Santulli. “The hard work they put in was extraordinary. The level of research they did was phenomenal, their curiosity was so impressive, and they really cared about what we’re trying to do. Their minds and their hearts were in this.”

Selecting the Tokyo Chapter as the Winner

After thorough deliberation, United Planet named the Tokyo Chapter the winner of this year’s Community Challenge. Their proposal detailed strategies for implementing United Planet’s Virtual Exchange Program in Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, China, and India; suggestions for innovative technology use; and a multifaceted marketing plan.

“The level of work here is just unbelievable,” Santulli says of the winning proposal. “Not only did they go in depth on Japan, but also identified a weakness that we should try to be in more countries throughout Asia, and then went in depth with various countries. They had some really strong recommendations across the board, and they definitely did their research.”

The Tokyo Chapter team consists of 14 members from eight countries: Emi Shitara, Hiroki Yamashita, Yukihiro Sato, Satomi Yoshida, Chuy Tong, Shohei Teruya, Masahiro Nakagawa, Sunny Ng, Animesh Hore, Subahagia Rendy Warman, Ma. Theriza Joy Lanche, Annabelle Aro-Gudiaga, Amber Cher, and Yin (Vivien) Wai Wai.

“The Tokyo Chapter members for the Community Challenge consist of excellent mid-career professionals and experts in their respective fields,” says Emi Shitara, Co-Organizer of the HBS Online Tokyo Chapter. “We are a diverse, talented team, with members not only from Japan, but also the Philippines, Myanmar, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Canada.”

The Chapter’s other Co-Organizer, Hiroki Yamashita, comments on the team’s commitment to communicating across cultures and using their varied perspectives to their advantage.

“Sometimes it was challenging to summarize ideas in our discussion due to the different cultural backgrounds,” he says. “We took care in the way of team communication to be respectful, encouraging, constructive, and productive with a good sense of humor to generate many diverse opinions from different professional, creative perspectives, which proved to be necessary and beneficial for our proposal.”

The United Planet team highlighted the proposal’s recommendations for breaking into Asian countries, its clear, actionable plans for expansion into each country, and the Tokyo Chapter’s local perspective.

To date, United Planet hasn’t been able to break into many Asian countries because of the time difference with the United States. Santulli hopes that with the help of the Tokyo Chapter’s proposal, they can establish workarounds for the time differences and connect students in the US with peers in Japan, India, and other nearby countries.

“We, the Tokyo Chapter, are confident in the viability of the development of United Planet’s Virtual Exchange Program in Japan, Asia, and the world,” Shitara says. “To raise funds for these impactful solutions, we’re confident in Japan’s popular crowdfunding service and abundant global networks of enthusiastic teachers, such as UNESCO, and technology development ideas to generate revenue for United Planet based on the strategy and market research in our proposal.”

Donna Lubrano, United Planet’s virtual exchange officer, emphasizes the actionability of the winning proposal.

“It’s ‘boots on the ground’ kind of stuff,” Lubrano says. “As we consider putting a program together for that whole part of the world, the proposal is cohesive and provides an understanding of how everything works and how we can put it together.”

The Tokyo Chapter’s proposal ultimately stood out for its level of research, its diversity of innovative perspectives, and its actionable steps to address a challenge faced by United Planet.

Selecting the Istanbul Chapter as the Runner-Up

With so many well-researched proposals, United Planet decided to name the Challenge’s first-ever runner-up: the Istanbul Chapter.

The Istanbul Chapter team—made up of Asiye Çerkezoğlu, Alper Ertuna, Tommaso Padula, and Eren Yağmuroğlu—also submitted an actionable, comprehensive proposal. Their submission consisted of strategies to partner with international high schools and NGOs, a detailed marketing and branding plan, and hands-on resources the United Planet team can leverage, such as lists of schools to pursue partnerships with in various countries.

Lubrano comments on the value of the resources provided by the Istanbul Chapter’s proposal.

“You can’t even imagine how many hours of labor-intensive work that is,” she says. “To have that presented to you as a gift is just amazing.”

Coming Together to Build Global Community

United Planet’s mission of creating a global community was the perfect challenge for the HBS Online Community, which comprises 34 Chapters worldwide.

As a network of professionals from across the globe, the Community Chapters came together with unique perspectives to work toward a common goal.

“This level of collaboration is what we aim for across schools and communities,” Santulli says of the Community Challenge. “This is what it takes to build a more united planet: people coming together, putting their minds and their hearts into trying to improve their local and global communities.”

Santulli feels hopeful that with the two proposals from Tokyo and Istanbul, United Planet can expand its Virtual Exchange Program and meet its future goals.

“They were very driven to do their best, and they obviously integrated many of the lessons learned from HBS Online,” he says of all six participating Chapters. “For us, it was a real privilege—we feel very grateful to have this level of support. It’s an amazing opportunity for us, and hopefully, it will help us take the organization and our programs to the next level. With this input from the HBS Online Community, I’m confident we can.”

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