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Building a Campus Movement One Step at a Time

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What would you do if someone asked you to donate blood every day for two months? You'd probably think they were crazy, even knowing that each donation you made could help up to three people in need. That's because it's an unrealistic task for just one person (let alone impossible, given that you can only give blood every six weeks). But imagine the impact if dozens of people - or hundreds, or thousands - each gave blood just once. That's the power behind the Small Steps, Big Wins Challenge, a nationwide competition from Net Impact sweeping college campuses across the U.S.

"I'm glad to give something to help people," says David Maye, a student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, who earned points for donating blood through Small Steps. David and hundreds of other students are discovering that one person can make a real difference - by starting with smaller choices that cumulatively add up to big change. Small Steps rewards students with points and prizes for taking a series of quick and easy social and environmental actions, pitching campuses against each other for the big win. Sponsored by the Alcoa Foundation, with Microsoft and other companies lending additional support, the competition is designed to make the act of doing good simple - and fun.

Participants aren't just changing the lives of others, either - they're changing their own lives. Take Alyx Coble-Frakes, a Wartburg College student who plans to join the Peace Corps after graduation. Alex won the Impact Prize during last semester's Small Steps challenge, netting herself a free round-trip flight on Southwest Airlines to anywhere in the country.

What's been really exciting for us is how participants have become catalysts for change among their friends and fellow students. Small Steps student leaders have made it easy for their peers to join the movement, spreading the word on campus, at student club meetings, and through campaign Facebook pages.

When Kennedy Ogoye, now a senior in at Cornell University, heard about the challenge last semester, he immediately signed on as a campus director. Strongly impacted by the poverty he saw growing up in Kenya, Kennedy had already launched a nonprofit focused on meeting the basic needs of poor African communities, and he knew how to rally his fellow students. By reaching out to them through the normal course of his day, spreading the word at student club meetings, and starting a campaign Facebook page, Kennedy brought the competition to students who knew that change is important but just didn't known where to start.

"You can do something very small that doesn't take you out of your comfort zone," says Kennedy, citing Small Steps actions like biking to campus or coordinating a clothing swap after a closet purge. "But if you have a number of people doing it, when enough people follow the lead, it can bring enormous change to the environment." And it doesn't hurt that every time an action is taken, teams earn points on the Small Steps leader board.

Kennedy himself earned enough points last semester to earn the Performance with Purpose Prize, allowing him to shadow PepsiCo's CSR execs first-hand. Other students have won everything from REI gift cards to Coachella concert passes.

"People talk about changing the world, but that's a huge task, and it can be hard to find the right place to start," says Kennedy. "With Small Steps, you'll find people can start making a difference by taking that first step together."

It's gratifying to see how students are not only making a difference themselves, but also forging a path for others to get involved. The Small Steps, Big Wins challenge has been so good at this, in fact, that we've expanded it across campuses nationwide. We're looking forward to seeing the incredibly creative ways our nation's students get into the game, get their friends involved, and discover that with one small step, they can make a big impact.