Thoughts from the Rollins College Hult Prize Competition Winning Team ‘SkilledConnex’

By Sonja Boos, Robert Mayper, and Nadia Abdi–members of the Rollins College Hult Prize competition winning team, SkilledConnex. Their winning idea focuses on the creation of a database that collects information about refugees, giving the refugees opportunities to develop skills, gain an education, and complete online job training. SkilledConnex will be presenting their idea in the Regional Hult Prize competition in March 2017 in San Francisco.


Ciara Nowak, the campus director for the Rollins Hult Prize competition, stressed to us when starting our journey that we should try our best to have fun with our project—and we certainly have. In light of recent stressful times, this experience with the Hult Prize competition has been a shining force of positivity in our team’s lives that we turn to for motivation in all things that we do. Our team proved that we could accomplish the task of winning the competition and now it is time for us to rise and push our idea forward. We fully realize our individual talents and have tapped into our true potentials through this opportunity.

Every moment that passes in front of our eyes provides an opportunity to access any untapped potential. For us, we strived to tap that potential not only in this competition but in our everyday lives. One of our members participated in an independent research study interviewing refugees in Germany. Another member of our team devotes nearly all her spare time to helping immigrant families in our Orlando community integrate and create a new life here. With our team’s diverse background, we have aimed to help those in need, and this competition was a natural extension of that.


Realistically, this is just the beginning of a great journey that allows us to make a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable people. Having the support and being able to make our world a better place for us all is what gives us joy and excitement in life. It is true, “the best way to uplift our lives is to do all we can to uplift the lives of others,” and this is what the Hult Prize Competition has done for us.

This experience with the Hult Prize has been amazing; the opportunity is unique, and the first outcomes of our efforts are all the more encouraging. We know that we have planted the seeds for a global enterprise and to us that is amazing. Even with such a huge project we are aware and are confident that we have the idea and tools to make the dreams of millions of refugees become a reality. We are a group coming from different cultural backgrounds with colorful life experiences, and we bring a high-quality international business network and seven different languages into our project.  Having traveled across the globe to get here, we know that dignity is something that comes together from being able to learn, grow, and work.


Without any doubt, our business model titled SkilledConnex is the result of our passions, visions, and life situations. We could not have come this far without the support from the Rollins community, the Holt School, the Hult Prize organizers, the judges, and our families and friends. Our thanks go to Ciara Novak, Mary Conway Dato-on, Natasha Gaye, Steph Murphy, Liz Cvercko, and the judges, Julie Colombino, Vinny Tafuro, Steven Campisi, Dayle Moore, and John Kluwin, for helping us in this journey.

The Hult Prize competition has been truly life changing. Not only because we have had the amazing opportunity to write this post, but also because of the education we have received about the greater issue at hand; this issue being the growing number of displaced individuals due to the conflict in foreign nations, and figuring out what we can do to help. Our team saw some amazing ideas when we presented ours a few weeks ago, and were stunned to see all these talented young individuals who are willing to get involved. The groups we competed against inspire us to push forward with our idea and try to create the best business model possible going into the next phase of the competition.


We would also like to bring special attention to The Holt School here at Rollins College as all of our team members are enrolled in the program. We wanted to prove that Holt students can perform at the highest levels and have been grateful to represent them. We spent many late nights working on our project, knowing that we had the night program behind us every step of the way. Those that are a part of the evening program push us to do our best and are a huge motivator for the team. Our friends and classmates inspire us to be better people every day, and we would love to see more of them participate in opportunities like the Hult Prize

One last message to those reading. Even if the problems before you seem insurmountable, keep trying to address them. Sometimes one idea is not enough to solve the problem, but that idea can be the force that guides you to what you are truly looking for. Don’t be afraid to try.


US Ambassador to India Visits with Global Links Students

On December 13, 2016, the US Ambassador to India, Richard R. Verma, visited with students from the Global Links Program in Kolkata, India. This article was released the next day in ‘Ei Samay’ newspaper. Translation provided by Shirsita Banerjee and Kalapi Dutta, Global Links Changemakers.


“Starting from scratch is the key to success,” says Richard Verma, U.S. Ambassador to India in an interactive session with students.

“You don’t need to be over-ambitious or create extra stress. Take some keen interest within your own circle like your family and your community, and that will be the first step towards leadership, “advised US Ambassador to India Richard R. Verma on Tuesday evening to the participants of Career Readiness Camp and Global Links Program at the American Centre in Kolkata. Mr. Verma also listened to the success stories of the students from these two groups.

In March 2017, the five members of the Global Links Program will visit Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida for a two-week training program. The students of the Global Links Program just completed an eight-month exchange of business ideas and mentoring with women business owners who hold loans from Bandhan Bank.


One among them, Surabhi Mishra, a Masters of Commerce student from Calcutta University, initially observed that the woman who had taken a loan for her T-shirt manufacturing business had no role in the business activities. Her husband and son took charge of the business. In those eight months, Surabhi taught the woman English and changed her mind set to be more active in her business.

Another member of Global Links, Kalapi Dutta, believes that any start-up needs a social cause. Swayan Ghosh, an MBM student of Calcutta University, suggested women should be well acquainted with online marketing strategy in order to see growth in any industry.


On the other hand, the 5 members of the Career Readiness Camp exclaimed that they had developed self-confidence and learned about different ways to create women empowerment through a three-week workshop. One of them, Sufia Jahan, an English Honors student from Lady Braborne College, shared that this camp helped her to take a leap forward in starting her professional life. Another girl from the Zoology department of Bidhannagar College, Upali Ghosh, declares that she made a lot of new friends from the camp. Steps should be taken to empower the transgenders, proposed Riya Dutta, a Bengali Honors student from Asutosh College.

With the initiative of the American Centre and an NGO, an examination was conducted for 12th grade students in twenty Bengali medium Government girls’ schools across the city for the Career Readiness Camp. Among the 1400 examinees 97 girls were selected. They attended workshops on spoken English, leadership traits and women empowerment conducted by experts from India, as well as abroad. The workshop was comprised of group projects, poster presentations, a library session at the American Centre, a scavenger hunt, and a gallery walk. Celebration of Earth Day and workshops for drama and film were also included in the program.


Global Links Program – An Initiative for Women Empowerment

By Rumpa Chakraborty, Global Links Scholar, Kolkata, India

–Dr. Chakraborty will be visiting Rollins College in January 2017 to begin the first phase of the Global Links Program as the new scholar–


Women empowerment refers to the creation of an environment for women to have opportunities for education and economic stability.  In doing so, women can make their own decisions for their personal benefit as well as for their families. As a woman, I realized that economic empowerment is necessary to equip women to be independent and reliant, developing positive esteem so they may face any difficult situation.   Economically empowered women will be able to participate in the process of decision making within society. I am confident such women are capable of making better decisions about the health and education of their children, as well. Moreover, economic empowerment of women is a prerequisite for sustainable development and growth of any developing country like India. Employment opportunities should be improved to reduce the barriers faced by Indian women. Economic empowerment increases women’s access to economic resources and opportunities including jobs, financial services, skill development, and market information.

Global links Program is a program that encourages women to be empowered through education and opportunity. The most important goal of the program is to build a synergy between economic empowerment of women and entrepreneurship. This cross cultural program will be an immense help to Indian women entrepreneurs to become leaders in business as well as throughout society. Being a part of this program, I am honored to represent my country. I feel proud to have this opportunity to work for future generation Indian women entrepreneurs.  I believe this program will enrich my knowledge so I can use my skills and abilities to promote more women in society to become the strength of our community in India.