This fall, the Idaho State Board of Education approved a Boise State proposal to create the Blue Sky Institute (BSI or the Institute), a collaboration that spans the university and the community to research and create solutions to complex social problems. Co-sponsored by the College of Health Sciences and College of Business and Economics, the BSI serves as a “neutral space” for stakeholders, including scholars representing diverse fields of study and practitioners across industries and organizations, to work together to find solutions to the biggest, most protracted problems we face as a society. These problems are often called “wicked problems” because they have multiple root causes, many stakeholders and are nearly impossible to solve.
The institute will play the role of facilitator, honest broker, researcher and funder for these collaborative efforts, seeking to leverage the wisdom and experience of diverse stakeholders who might otherwise not be inclined to work collectively. The first mandate is an exploration of the relevant population health issues present in our community and a deep dive into those deemed critical to community and campus stakeholders. Additionally, the institute will be home to the first executive in residence jointly appointed by two colleges when former Blue Cross of Idaho CEO Zelda Geyer-Silvia joins BSI later this fall.
As one of its first actions on campus the BSI is also helping to sponsor the HULT Prize at Boise State. This annual undergraduate competition, known as the “Nobel Prize for students” encourages student teams to launch start-up enterprises that tackle grave issues faced by billions of people every day, with the winning team receiving $1 million in seed capital to launch their social change solution.
Efforts are led by HULT Prize at Boise State Campus Director Connor Sheldon, a second year career-track MBA student who competed in the regional HULT competition in Shanghai last spring. Connor is eager for Boise State students to participate in this year’s challenge, which is building a social enterprise that reduces the human cost of involuntary migration. She is reaching across campus to encourage students from all disciplines to collaborate and launch their world-changing idea. Teams will receive support and feedback from campus and community experts, including pitch practice in advance of the pitch competition where a Boise State team is selected to progress to a regional competition.
“The mandate we have for the Blue Sky Institute is simple. We need everyone – faculty, students, community partners – on board to solve entrenched challenges like population health, poverty and climate change,” added Angeli Weller, Director of Boise State’s Responsible Business Initiative and a Blue Sky collaborator. “You actually need an engineer, a philosopher, a teacher, a scientist, a businessperson to all have a seat at the table if we have any hope of moving the dial on the world’s wicked problems.”