Worldwide, 1.6 billion people live in substandard housing and 100 million are homeless. In the United States alone, 95 million people have housing problems. Adequate housing is vitally important to the health of the world’s economies, communities and populations. If we are to succeed in the fight against poverty, we must support the expansion of housing both as policy and practice.

I’ve been a huge fan of Habitat for Humanity many years. I was a 15-year volunteer in Greater San Francisco and through past community development opportunities, I came to experience the magic that is Habitat. After 15 years of building technology companies in Silicon Valley, I joined Habitat for Humanity International in 2010 as the senior vice president of strategy to help lead Habitat’s effort on its five-year strategic plan, as well as charting our crowdsourcing and social media courses.

It’s very important to me that we continue on our journey of providing affordable housing to families in need. Habitat for Humanity International’s five-year strategic planning team believes that great ideas come from across the organization, and from outside it. I recognized the 2012 Hult Prize (formally known as Hult Global Case Challenge) as an invaluable opportunity to gather feedback from really intelligent students who would look at all of our successes and challenges and propose new and creative solutions.

The Hult Prize is the world’s largest crowdsourcing platform for social good. The 2012 Hult Prize’s theme is Global Poverty. Under the Global Poverty umbrella, three social challenge areas (education, energy and housing) were tackled through respective individual tracks of competition across five cities. The aim of the 2012 Hult Prize is to drive solutions around those key social areas, which organizers believe will have the greatest net impact on global poverty.

The Hult Prize seeks ideas from the world’s best and brightest future business leaders that will cause a step-change in the vicious global poverty cycle. This year’s challenge engaged thousands of students, representing more than 130 countries and six continents to find solutions to the global poverty themes.

Some of the creative ideas that have come out of the multiple hundreds of submissions to this year’s challenge are so new and innovative that they could revolutionize how we address poverty housing. In addition to finding new solutions to age-old problems, the Hult Prize has been, in my opinion, the ultimate brand extension exercise.

Many people think of Habitat as volunteering with their hands, swinging a hammer and building a house. That is an incredibly important part of our mission and engages the hearts and minds of our volunteers (like me) in deeply meaningful ways — but our work goes well beyond that. For example, Habitat has a housing program that helps orphans and vulnerable children who are affected by the HIV/AIDS crisis. We also have programs that provide drinking water to communities. Through the Hult challenge, these students have read our business case and are more fully aware of our work. They’ve spent multiple nights and weekends coming up with creative solutions to our challenges. This experience is going to be parked in their brains for another 20 years. That’s the type of place we want to occupy in the brains of 5,000 students from the top business schools in 130 countries who participated in the challenge.

While the Hult Prize offers Habitat greater exposure, one of our challenges will continue to be finding a way to engage the next generation of volunteers. We have to continue to get the under 25 crowd excited about Habitat.

What we must understand about this generation of students is that many of them go to business school and obtain advanced degrees because they want to be better managers. Finding ways to get them excited about taking on the challenges of nonprofit work, such as Habitat, is a refreshing opportunity.

Engaging the next generation isn’t the only challenge Habitat is currently facing. We also must focus on sustainability. That’s why at Habitat we’re considering innovative approaches to our model.

My experience is that people want a variety of ways to volunteer from swinging a hammer on a Habitat build site to helping to raise funds for affordable housing. Some also want to get involved by giving their best ideas and helping to form strategies that solve complex problems such as the global housing crisis.

The Hult Prize is the perfect way to gather those ideas. I would advise other nonprofits to tap into similar programs. Nonprofits are often thinly staffed and institutions like Hult can help bring in increased brain power in a structured way to help further their success.

As for the future, I think crowdsourcing will continue to be fundamental to all that we do and technology has only propelled the concept of getting the world involved to solve problems. To me, it’s all about idea creation. I believe bringing in students who have new ideas is a great way for an organization to think outside of the box. Creative thinking can foster change and sometimes we’re so close to the product that we can’t stand back and look at a problem differently. Habitat is excited to be part of the Hult Prize for this very reason.

Dave McMurty is the Senior Vice President of Strategy, Habitat for Humanity International. Follow Dave McMurty on Twitter:

Republished from the Huffington Post IMPACT, original article here.

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