An online support network to help international students arrive and settle in safely in their host countries.

Student Project: Entrepeneurship Course, MFA in Design for Social Innovation

Team: Pragya Mishra, Mafe Perez, Jenny Emmons, Cova Abril Paredes

Role: Strategy, research, project management

Year: February – May 2015


As international students, we all personally knew the challenges of preparing for transition to a new country. It’s not just basic difficulties around housing and finance in unfamiliar circumstances, but also a matter of safety, security and access to help and support in case of emergency.

The international student population has been identified as more vulnerable to crime than the norm, but few resources are available to meet this population’s specific needs.

We designed an an early entry, school based peer support network to fill the gaps in access to valuable knowledge about safe living in the city – and reduce the potential negative impact on the lives of the students and their families.


Our inspiration first came from our own personal experiences as newcomer students to the US. After speaking with fellow foreigners we found that incoming international students don’t know what to expect and face difficulties around finding housing and funding, managing the systems of daily life and overcoming language and cultural barriers.

Students felt they were poorly prepared for arrival, especially by the school, and many reported making expensive beginner’s mistakes as a result – a sensitive issue given that foreign students come from different economies, have less access to financial resources and employment opportunities.

Parental involvement was another theme that came up in conversation which we incorporated into the user experience and business model, by integrating a feature for parents’ accounts.

However, our most significant insight actually came from what people were not talking about – safety and support in case of emergency. Not a lot of information is available about the security concerns and dangers posed to international students, though they have been identified as a population group that is more vulnerable to crime than the norm. With high campus crime rates and low reporting, we realized that in itself was a clue to a major gap that can have significant impact on stakeholders’ and their families’ lives.


We conducted surveys, interviews and a workshop with other international students at SVA to understand and map their needs and experiences, which we cross referenced with existing research on college crime and international students’ habits. We wireframed and designed a mockup of the platform, as well as a business model with the guidance of social entrepreneurship strategist Jane Englebardt.


Our final outcome addressed the users' unmet needs by making the network available on mobile and web from the day the student receives their acceptance letter as a dashboard where they can access crowdsourced information on relevant topics, connect with peers and mentors from the school directly, and nominate a circle of trust which can be easily reached in case of emergency through a help button. The design incorporates online communication and a buddy system.

We pitched our idea to SVA faculty and a panel of potential investors. We were happy to hear the school express interest in developing and prototyping the idea further.