For the second year in a row, a team from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business has won Accenture’s Innovation Challenge, which brings in MBA students to tackle a challenge that one of its nonprofit partners faces. This year, the partner was USA for UNHCR, the leading U.S. nonprofit supporting the work of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The Challenge
The challenge involved helping USA for UNHCR create new strategies for its marketing and partnership efforts, with the dual goal of raising greater awareness of refugee issues in the United States and increasing revenue. The winning team did so by developing a “refugee ally” ambassador campaign. The team included Sean Pavlik, Erb Institute class of 2018, and Ross MBAs Ashlyee Freeman, Catalina Kaiyoorawongs and Caitlin Cordell. Ross teams have won the competition for three of the last five years.

The Strategy
The students were tasked with targeting either millennials or Hispanics for their proposed marketing efforts. The Ross team decided to focus on millennials and sought to engage them by using an ally or ambassador model, combined with a strengthened corporate partnership platform. Their efforts included strategies for connecting individual and corporate actors to the USA for UNHCR’s refugee work through targeted calls to action, Pavlik explained.

The team sought to communicate with different demographic subgroups within the millennial population in ways that would encourage them to pledge their support. “Millennials are more responsive to calls to action than other age brackets,” Pavlik said. “They want to know that their involvement has true impact.” The idea of “unified messages that connect people with the topic” seemed to resonate with the judges, Pavlik said. He brought to the competition his perspective on engaging supporters through his leadership with Out for Business, the LGBTQ business group at Ross, and its National Coming Out Week ally campaign, he added.

The team needed to prove that its messaging would connect with “persuadables”—people whose past behavior and other factors suggested that they could be persuaded to supporting the refugee cause, either financially or by other methods, such as showcasing a support badge on social media or in their daily lives.

For corporate allies, the team reviewed past marketing campaigns that had varying degrees of success. They worked to tailor messages with the aim of increasing awareness and financial support.

“There are 65 million refugees around the world,” Pavlik said. “We will need multiple industries and diverse stakeholders” to address the problem, and many corporations are stepping up in various ways. “There are more opportunities for individuals and corporations to get involved—there’s a lot going on in this space,” he said.

The Erb Institute
At the Erb Institute, sustainability is addressed “as a holistic issue including social elements—how we’re treating our fellow human beings,” Pavlik said. He added that, increasingly, “companies are advocating where they see alignment between their mission and values” and are are figuring out “how to use their clout and capability to support these large international challenges.”

Pavlik said the Innovation Challenge allowed him to test some of the things he has learned at Erb, and he enjoyed “working within a team environment and engaging with classmates with different knowledge sets and backgrounds.” He noted that the team applied the Michigan Model of Leadership to determine how to leverage their individual strengths, which proved advantageous considering the demanding time constraints.

“It has been one of the highlights of my graduate education at Michigan,” Pavlik said. “It was great to continue the tradition Ross has had winning the challenge.” The winning team members have received internship offers from Accenture.