Students named finalists in sustainability challenge

USC Marshall School of Business students Suzana Amoes, Ryan Alam and Megan Strawther were named one of the top 10 finalists of the Morgan Stanley Sustainable Investing Challenge.

The challenge aims to use finance and investment tools to address a current environmental or social problem, and provides competitive financial returns to graduate school students all over the world. Amoes, Alam and Strawther are excited for their final pitch in Hong Kong, which will take place on April 15.

This year, more than 340 students from 64 schools in 21 different countries submitted pitches for the competition.

Amoes, Alam and Strawther focused on the revitalization of land usage and productivity by eradicating landmines and creating a new class of smallholder farmers in Angola. The group named their project “Terra Limpa,” meaning clean earth in Portuguese.

The idea behind the pitch, according to Strawther, was to focus on addressing the issue of landmines, which cripple agriculture in Angola and prevent revival of the economy.

“The majority of Angola being covered in landmines is behind the lag in the country’s agricultural sector,” Strawther said. “Angola is so dependent on oil exports that there is a need to diversify the market to include agriculture.”

Strawther explained that the proposal is currently focused on providing aid to around 5,500 hectares of land, targeting three different provinces in Angola which are suitable for agriculture but are hindered by the presence of landmines. The concept of the pitch focuses on giving people more land and converting it to a productive asset, thereby adding to the nation’s economy.

“There is a [large] amount of research to be done on the pitch to explore the situation in Angola,” Alam said.

According to Alam, Amoes will visit Angola to research the landmine issue and participate in talks with the chief of the Angolan Military, the Ministry of Agriculture and local farmers. She is also researching landmines for her thesis paper and hopes to contribute her results to the pitch, according to Alam.

The three students expressed gratitude to the contest for exposing them to an array of new knowledge in agriculture and successfully fusing their business ideas to make an impact. They also attribute part of their success to their mentor Nicole Chavas, who was a previous winner of the challenge, as well as USC professors Adlai Wertman, director of the Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab, and Fran Seegull, an adjunct professor at the USC Marshall School of Business.

“At last, it’s the opportunity for the system to change and for us to change the way people think about it.” Alam said.