People, Planet, Profits — Peace

Friday, October 11, 2019TOPICS: Conferences and WorkshopsInternationalInnovation and Entrepreneurship

Kristian Krugman (left) and Reyanne Mustafa, founders of Soul Much, a startup that upcycles leftover  restaurant food ingredients to make cookies.
begin quoteMBAs who take part in the challenge say that it changed their career trajectories. They now define social impact in terms of what they can do to make for-profit businesses more responsible.

The University of San Diego Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge was spotlighted in the educational publication, BizEd, for its role in creating an experiential learning opportunity that teaches students that embracing business for good can solve problems affecting society and our environment -- and still be profitable. In the article, Professor of Operations Management and Strategic Advisor of USD's Entrepreneurship and Innovation Catalyzer Amit Kakkad discussed some of the challenge's recent winners while emphasizing that the "objective [of the challenge] is to help as many students as possible understand the power they will have as business leaders to change the world for better or for worse."

The Global role of B-Schools: People, Planet, Profits—Peace

Two global experiential learning initiatives show students the power they will have as business leaders to change the world for the better - or for the worst.

Most experiential learning is designed to help students develop their creativity, communication, and critical thinking skills. But could a single experience be even more ambitious? Could it also expand students’ cross-cultural understanding, build their global network of friends, and completely change their perspective on the purpose of business? Could it turn students into business leaders who prioritize responsible business practices, preserve the planet’s resources, protect people’s welfare, and promote global peace?

These lofty goals lie at the heart of two distinctive global learning experiences, each launched in 2012. The first, the Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge sponsored by the University of San Diego (USD) in California, invites student teams at universities worldwide to imagine new business ideas that generate profits while solving social problems.

The second, Summer Campus, is sponsored by the Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA), based in Moscow. This two-week global summit convenes more than 200 students from schools worldwide to attend classes, hear high-profile guest speakers, discuss social issues, and work on team projects related to each year’s chosen theme.

While Summer Campus is packed with business courses and guest presentations, its bigger impact might be the way it helps students adopt more unorthodox ways of thinking about business, explains Sergey Myasoedov, RANEPA’s rector and dean of its Institute of Business Studies. Students often have been educated “to see only a small window of life,” he says. Summer Campus was created to encourage them to see the world from a broader global perspective.

“We want students to make friendships with people from as many different countries as possible,” he says. “Then, wherever they go they will have friends who can advise them about how to do business in their countries.”

In the Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge, teams of undergraduates and graduate students compete for part of US$50,000 in seed money to pursue their business ideas. But the purpose of the event is not to launch new businesses, says Amitkumar Kakkad, clinical professor of operations management at USD’s School of Business.

“We don’t want to focus on the teams that win as much as on how the experience will affect the hundreds of students who participate,” says Kakkad, who also is the director of USD’s Center for Peace and Commerce, which runs the challenge. “MBAs who take part in the challenge tell us that it changed their career trajectories. They now define social impact not in terms of joining a charity or starting a nonprofit, but in terms of what they can do to make for-profit businesses more responsible. To me, that’s the biggest win we can have.”

Creating Solutions

USD’s first Global Social Innovation Challenge was started by Patricia Márquez, then a faculty member of the university’s School of Business. She viewed the challenge as a way to hone students’ passion for innovation and entrepreneurship, while also instilling in them a sense of responsibility toward society. The brief for each student team was to create social solutions that were replicable, financially sustainable, and measurable in their social impact.

At first, USD invited only students from its School of Business and Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies, where Márquez is now dean. Over time, the challenge grew, first to include students from other USD departments, then from universities across California, then from those across the United States and Mexico. Last year, USD invited students from universities anywhere in the world.

To participate, universities pay $2,000 by an early-bird deadline and $3,000 after that date—these fees cover about 10 percent of the cost of the challenge, which can reach up to $500,000, says Kakkad. An endowment from a donor helps fund the rest.

The challenge comprises three elimination rounds. In the first round, which starts in February, students work from their home campuses where they form teams, choose social or environmental problems to solve, and study what others already have done to address them. “Students must first identify what has been tried so they don’t end up trying something that others already have discovered is not going to work,” says Kakkad.

Each university chooses which of its teams will advance to the second round, held in April. At this stage, teams develop their ideas and work to ensure their solutions present more social benefits than drawbacks. Finally, in May, universities choose one to two teams to send to the June finals, held on USD’s campus. Finalists pitch their ideas to potential investors, who choose the winners and allocate the prize money among them.

Each school determines how it will structure the first and second rounds of the challenge. To make that process easier, USD gives participating schools access to its own template for running the first two stages, as well as to online resources such as workshops, speaker series, educational materials, and guides for mentors, coaches, and judges.

“Universities can leverage our resources as much or as little as they like during the first and second rounds,” says Kakkad. Some schools make the challenge a required part of a social entrepreneurship course, while others open it to students campuswide. One school elected to support just one team, which already had been working on a social venture, for all three rounds.

Schools also can determine what level of financial support, if any, they wish to provide their students. For instance, this year, USD offered $500 in initial funding to teams on its campus that advanced to the second round and $3,500 in funding to teams that advanced to the third round. Each spring, judges choose a range of winners.

Making a Profit and Benefiting Society Are Not Mutually Exclusive

In 2018, judges awarded $16,500 to Team Charcoal, a group from Heritage Christian College in Ghana. Its business, Environmental Solutions, has patented a method for turning human waste into sterile charcoal briquettes that can be efficiently burned for indoor cooking and heating. This product simultaneously addresses three social challenges faced by many people in emerging economies, says Kakkad. It “benefits the environment because people no longer have to rely on foraging wood from trees, it improves people’s health because it reduces indoor smoke inhalation, and it cleans up the community because it’s taking waste off the streets.”

The founder of another winning venture, San Diego-based Dreams for Change, was inspired by the fact that homeless individuals often cannot find safe, restful places to sleep—which means they might be too tired during the day to take classes, apply for jobs, or pursue other activities to improve their situations. Because many homeless individuals own vehicles, Dreams for Change created its Safe Parking Program, which provides safe overnight parking options that do not violate local ordinances that prohibit people from sleeping in their cars. In addition, the company’s founder launched a fleet of food trucks that sells healthy meals that can be purchased with food stamps.

Best of all, each of these businesses is profitable, says Kakkad, showing that making a profit and benefiting society are not mutually exclusive. 

Kakkad loves to share such success stories, but he also is quick to point out that the primary objective of the Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge is not to generate social ventures. Instead, its objective is to help as many students as possible understand the power they will have as business leaders to change the world for better or for worse.

He points to the following analogy to illustrate his point: Imagine that two people are walking toward each other along on a narrow path. There is not enough room for them to pass each other comfortably, so they have three choices...


Renata Ramirez
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