Global Innovation Challenge (WMGIC): Student Innovation x Applied Research



William & Mary
Organizations/areas of the university involved

Led by a group of dedicated undergraduate exec board members, WMGIC is made possible by student participants, a network of over 75 multidisciplinary judges and mentors, William & Mary’s Global Research Institute, Institute for Integrative Conservation, Committee on Sustainability, Cohen Career Center, and more.

United states

WMGIC is the premier intercollegiate hack-a-thon style international and sustainable development case competition aimed at encouraging interdisciplinary collaboration to create innovative solutions to current global issues.

The Global Innovation Challenge (WMGIC) is the premier intercollegiate hack-a-thon style international and sustainable development case competition aimed at encouraging interdisciplinary collaboration to create innovative solutions to current global issues. Teams indicate a preference among four streams of problem-solving (governance, social entrepreneurship, technology, and business consulting) and then present proposals evaluated by a panel of professionals. The top teams are chosen as finalists and runner-ups, give a public presentation and are considered for cash prizes.


Past topics include Climate Change and Resilience in the Sunderbans; Enhancing Human Security and Peacebuilding in Darfur; Kiribati – Angling a Drowning Island; Promoting Sustainability & Equity in Guatemala; and Reducing Barriers to Regulation in the Kalimantan Palm Oil Industry.


Established in 2017, WMGIC is the only recognized student organization at William & Mary that centers itself around the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). WMGIC provides undergraduates students worldwide a platform to collaborate with their peers, faculty members, and knowledgeable professionals and for students from diverse disciplines to collaboratively analyze and propose innovative solutions to globally important problems in the field of international and sustainable development. The competition increases students’ knowledge about holistic sustainability, innovative processes, problem-solving methods, policy entrepreneurship, the specific case study, and the SDGs.


On-campus, WMGIC’s work has gained the attention, support, and partnership of the Global Research Institute, Academic Departments, Business School (Entrepreneurship Center and Innovation and Design Studio), Career Center (partner on Career Expo), Reves Center, Student Assembly, Sustainability Office (won two Green Fee Grants), Student Organizations, etc. Off-campus, WMGIC has a 75+ judges and mentors network, ranging from the World Bank to USAID, Chemonics, Deloitte, Google, and more. WMGIC is an organizational member of SDSN Youth and in a partnership agreement with the Society for International Development – Washington Chapter.


The student executive team is also expanding the competition’s scope beyond just 24 hours by incorporating a new research initiative with William & Mary’s Institute for Integrative Conservation (IIC). The new innovation-driven research model will leverage the executive board’s expertise and build upon the winning teams’ creative solutions to translate innovative ideas into new, unconventional solutions to pressing global challenges.


Learn more about WMGIC at

Results and impact measured or expected

The Fifth Annual Global Innovation Challenge (WMGIC) was hosted virtually for a second year and welcomed over 120 students and 50 guests from eight time zones. Thirty student teams from 15 top universities, including William & Mary, Harvard, UPenn, Georgetown, the University of Virginia, Scotland’s University of St. Andrews, and Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, competed for $4,750 in cash prizes. Students presented innovative solutions tackling the core research question: “Reducing Barriers to Regulation in the Kalimantan Palm Oil Industry.” WMGIC’s 24-hours of event programming included an interactive Career & Networking Expo, Opening Ceremony with a Keynote Address by Michal Zrust of Lestari Capital, collaboration sessions with mentors from various backgrounds, presentations to professional judges, and final pitches to a high-level judging panel, including fmr. USAID Chief Innovation Officer Alexis Bonnell of Google and Goldman Sachs’ fmr. Chief Risk Officer Craig Broderick.


Learn more about WMGIC V at

Connection with the SDG framework

WMGIC serves as a model for Education for the SDGs (ESDGs) at and beyond William & Mary. The successful transformation of WMGIC from a local event to a premier intercollegiate hack-a-thon style international and sustainable development case competition started with the explicit linkage of the competition’s casebook with the SDGs and WMGIC’s membership association with SDSN Youth. In the Fall of 2019, William & Mary’s Committee on Sustainability (COS) supported WMGIC with the Green Fee Grant, allowing the team to rebrand the entire organization around the SDGs, becoming the first ESDGs initiative on-campus. WMGIC is now embarking on a journey to conduct SDGs relevant research alongside external partners to conduct research that will translate innovative, student-generated solutions into applied solutions.


WMGIC’s successful ESDGs experience has been featured at the International Conference on Sustainable Development 2020’s Panel Presentation, the United Nations Association – National Capital Area’s “Youth and the SDGs event,” and more.


Learn more about WMGIC’s Green Fee Grant at

Barriers and follow up

As a student organization, WMGIC’s most significant challenge has been finding a permanent “home” to institutionalize the case competition event and the applied research program. Although WMGIC has multiple partners on and off-campus and an extremely dedicated network of over 75 judges & mentors from the field of international and sustainable development, student-led organizations can sometimes be fragile without permanent institutional support. WMGIC’s solution to the challenge is to demonstrate its value to the university through expanding its scope (mentors and judges, sponsors and partners, participating universities, cash prizes, etc.), strengthening its communications (social media, news articles, op-eds and blogs, ESDGs, etc.), deepening its impact (pilot innovation-driven research model, demonstrate resiliency).


Learn more about WMGIC’s resiliency and adaptability at

Transferability of the initiative

WMGIC’s successful expansion into covering eight time zones and welcoming student teams from 15 worldwide demonstrates the organization’s impact and transferability. To further accelerate ESDGs in universities, WMGIC is actively exploring the possibility to franchise the Global Innovation Challenge’s 24-hour international & sustainable development hack-a-thon case competition model and offer it at higher education institutions across the United States and the world.


As a student-run organization, WMGIC highlights some of the best William & Mary has to offer, from driven and intelligent students to chances to create meaningful, impactful change.


Connect with WMGIC via LinkedIn at