Rustic Pathways Critical Issues Summit

Rustic Pathways Critical Issues Summit

July 16 to Aug. 2, 2019 | Southeast Asia

How will you impact our world? Start here.

The Rustic Pathways Critical Issues Summit is a unique two-week experience that will bring together 100 change makers from more than 20 countries around the world. During the first week, Immersion Week, students will examine one of three global critical issues in local communities. And the second week, Action Week, brings all students together for a conference-style event focusing on skills like design-thinking and lean startup methods, and will feature issue experts, workshops, and community building.

We’ve partnered with GiveBackHack to create real change by sponsoring a design challenge with an up to $10,000 prize that will allow the winning team to support innovative solutions to the critical issues following the program.

The Critical Issues

  • Vietnam – Access to Education: Is it a right for all people?
  • Thailand – Gender Equality: What’s the path to reaching equality?
  • Cambodia – Access to Water: Is there enough on the planet?

The Critical Issues Summit Itinerary

Arrive in Cambodia, Thailand, or Vietnam. Establish group dynamics and prepare for community immersion. Ground your understanding of the critical issue by meeting with experts such as NGOs or professors. Dive into the “empathize” and “define the problem” stages of the design thinking process. Head to a local community where you’ll develop your understanding of the human side of the issue and its impact locally through immersive homestays. Learn from the perspectives of local leaders and exchanges with local families. Analyze the international factors contributing to the issue, interview individuals working in the field, and reflect on your personal contribution.

Before heading to Udon Thani, prepare to share what you’ve learned with your peers and build on your experiences during Action Week.

Ignite new ideas through powerful speakers and engaging workshops with issue experts. As a community of learners from around the world, dive into topics like learning from failure, community building toward collective action, and designing for an unknown future. Work with facilitators from our partner, GiveBackHack, to foster the skills necessary to lead innovation. Progress purposefully through an Innovation Curriculum designed specifically for the Critical Issues Summit grounded in the principles of GiveBackHack, Design Thinking, and Lean Startup methodologies. Explore the five stages of the Design Thinking process: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test.

Working in teams, develop a Social Innovation Design Challenge project aimed at positively impacting one of the critical issues and pitch it to a panel of social entrepreneurs, innovators, and sustainable development experts.

Review the Daily Itinerary for Each Critical Issues Track

Choose from one of three Critical Issues to explore during Immersion Week before coming together as a group in Thailand for Action Week. Click below to explore resources for each critical issue.

Critical Issues Summit Webinar

Learn more about the summit by watching our recent webinar. Hear more detailed info about the itinerary, get tips about applying for scholarships, and more!


Nearly 300 students from 39 countries applied for 25 full scholarships to attend the Rustic Pathways Critical Issues Summit.

We now have students participating in the Critical Issues Summit from 15 countries, well on our way to our goal of bringing together future change makers from 20 countries.

Up to $10,000 Social Innovation Design Challenge and Entrepreneurship Incubator

Rustic Pathways will award up to $10,000 in seed funding to the most promising student-led project. Following the Summit, GiveBackHack will continue to work with the winning team, providing mentorship, in-kind resources, and support in allocating the $10,000 in a responsible and impactful way.

Judges will score each Innovation Challenge project based on how well it aligns with the Lean Startup principles and Design Thinking Framework. Students’ projects should be built around empathy for the experience of stakeholders; students’ assumptions should be validated with those stakeholders. Students should have clearly defined a problem, proposed a unique solution, and explained how their project will be executed towards creating an impact. Judges will also consider teams’ first prototypes or project iterations. Lastly, judges will score students on their plan to leverage the $10,000 of seed money towards their proposed solution.

Summit Partners and Resident Experts


GiveBackHack logo

GiveBackHack events bring together passionate community members to develop sustainable, technology-based solutions to some of our most pressing social issues. We are the launchpad for social innovation you need to turn an idea into a reality. We bring together community leaders, designers, developers, and other concerned citizens to create solutions that will help make a lasting impact.

Suzy Bureau

Suzy Bureau of GiveBackHack
Suzy is designing the Social Innovation curriculum and overseeing the $10K challenge. As a co-founder of GiveBackHack, she has helped launch a variety of new products through GiveBackHack and CoverMyMeds, Ohio’s first unicorn. She has facilitated startup weekends from Europe to Southeast Asia and has a global network of entrepreneurs. GiveBackHack is excited to be connected to the Summit through Suzy’s enthusiasm and passion for bringing social enterprise to young people worldwide.

Anooj Bhandari

Anooj Bhandari

Anooj has worked for more than a decade facilitating workshops with high school students, including community organizing more recently. He currently works as the Restorative Justice Coordinator with Make the Road New York at Bushwick Campus Community School, and on the education team at The Moth as a storytelling teaching artist. He works alongside VideoOut to elevate community voices using an intersectional framework

Yasmine El Baggari

Yasmine El Baggari

A native of Morocco and San Francisco-based, Yasmine launched Voyaj, a platform that connects people for meaningful exchanges to foster global understanding. She has worked with the World Bank, researched at Harvard, and served the U.S. State Department as an Engage America Ambassador. Yasmine has spoken at the World Economic Forum, the Middle East Studies Association, and Obama’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit. She has been featured in National Geographic, Forbes, and the Huffington Post.

Dalia Kamar

Dalia Kamar

Dalia Kamar is the Chief of Product at Founders Media, which showcases real stories about entrepreneurial culture, people, power and the future of the Middle East. She previously managed RiseUp Summit as a university student and created its core brand identity, rebranded it, and strategically positioned RiseUp as it scaled from a volunteer-run event to the globally-recognized gateway to the MENA startup ecosystem. Dalia was recognized among the “25 Under 25” youth of Egypt in 2017.

What Students are Saying About Rustic Pathways Critical Issues Programs

Student Feature: Creating Education Equity

After her experience with Rustic Pathways in Morocco, Josie Rey said she felt empowered to make a difference.

Josie, who’s in her first year at Stellenbosch University near Cape Town, wants to address “one of the biggest problems we have” in South Africa—the high school pass rate.

Only 37 percent of South African high school students complete exams that allow them to graduate, she said. When Josie returned from participating in Rustic’s Critical Issues program Peace, Wonder, and Understanding Islam, she started creating note packs for other students.

“It made me realize that I need to be in a career, in a position that enables me to create more positive change,” Josie said about participating in the program.

The note packs are adapted from Josie’s own study notes. They’re organized by subject and include summaries, study resources, past exams, and tips for how to succeed. Her business is called EduBuntu, a blending of the words education and ubuntu, the Zulu word for humanity.

Josie entered a few innovation challenges and won one, which provided some initial funding to create and distribute the note packs. EduBuntu will eventually become an online study hub where the subscription fees from affluent students would cover the cost for their less fortunate peers.

She said her goal is to “create education equity.”

According to the Global Partnership for Education, more schooling can reduce poverty, increase income, and promote gender equality, among other benefits. Josie’s starting with education, but she wants to do more to promote social entrepreneurship in South Africa.

“I think that all goes down to being inspired to be a change maker from last year,” she said. “I think I’ve always been driven to help people but I think Morocco was the catalyst for action.”

After my service trip, I realized that I don’t need to travel to far away places to help, I can also do that within my community and country. I now am more aware of what issues my own community is facing and how and what I can help with. I volunteer and fundraise even more now in my community and hope to continue to do so.

Quote by: Bronte Grimmer | Beijing, China Life in the Bateyes in the Dominican Republic, 2017

As a Muslim woman I felt that growing up I would surround myself with other Muslims because I thought it was more safe for me, but I was also always eager to talk to non-Muslims in my community about their perspectives on Islam and to change the stigma around it, but I was not quite prepared to do so yet. With the Peace, Wonder, and Understanding Islam program I was given a safe environment to learn and attain the skills I thought were necessary to bring back to my community in order to start dialogues on Islam and hopefully remove the stigma surrounding it—which I have been doing!

Quote by: Sulwan Ahmed | Portland, Oregon Peace, Wonder, and Understanding Islam in Morocco, 2017

My experience on the program was amazing and exceeded my expectations. On my trip, I learned just how reliant marine life is on the coral reefs and their ecosystems. We discussed the effects of rising waters, warmer water temperatures, and impact on the animal populations, and deforestation. Ultimately this is an issue that impacts all of us, particularly the poorest and most fragile amongst us. It was on this trip that I realized that my individual actions can create global change.

Quote by: Quentin Collins | Remsenburg, New York Impact of Climate Change on Marine Environments in Fiji, 2017

If you want to join the next generation of change makers but still have questions about the Critical Issues Summit, call 800.321.4353 or email to speak to one of our Global Program Advisors. Or click below to schedule a call.