This story originally appeared in our January 14, 2011 e-magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Can social entrepreneurship be taught in the classroom? Yale thinks yes with its interactive course that teaches business students about real world issues faced by social enterprises.

Course Outline
Now in its third year, Yale School of Management’s (SoM) fall course on Global Social Entrepreneurship (GSE) connects student teams to five social enterprises (SEs) based in India. In partnership with Morgan Stanley and Tata Consultancy Services, the four-month course serves as a real world assignment whereby students familiarize themselves with the challenges faced by social entrepreneurs. “I try to match up the backgrounds and skills of interested students with the best of the project applications,” Professor Anthony Sheldon, Executive Director of SoM’s Program on Social Enterprise explained. Each SE worked with its own GSE team to develop a plan addressing a particular management issue. The course concluded in early January 2011 with a two-day conference in Thane, India, at which each team presented its set of recommendations and lessons from their semester working with an Indian SE.

The course commenced during the summer of 2010. One student from each GSE team traveled to India, from two weeks to two months, to meet and gain an understanding of the SE she would be working with. Then in the fall, two representatives from each participating SE traveled to Yale’s New Haven campus for a one-week intensive module focused on working with student teams and learning the tools needed to develop a formal business plan. Throughout the fall semester, the Connecticut-based students maintained regular contact with their Indian SE partner via emails, conference calls and Skype. When the GSE teams arrived in India for the conference in Thane earlier this month, they first presented their recommendations on-site to the SEs with whom they had been working.

About the Projects
In 2009, the participating SEs’ operations were in areas including retail banking services, education and female-lead entrepreneurship. This year’s SEs were more diverse. Fifty organizations applied to participate this year and five were selected: Appropriate Rural Technology Institute (ARTI), Drishtee, micro Home Solutions (mHS), RUDI Multi Trading Company and Tea Estates India Limited (TEIL). “The final selection of five SEs was based on the skills the students could bring, as well as their expressed interest in the finalist candidates,” noted Professor Sheldon.

ARTI is a non-profit. The Pune-based organization was founded in 1996 to include rural India in technology development and innovation. It operates in a dozen Indian states. ARTI has developed a technology to produce biogas from urban food waste. The organization worked with a GSE team on a plan to answer the question: to what scale can ARTI’s biogas consultancy services increase earned income for the organization?

The Delhi-based SE, Drishtee, focuses on creating viable opportunities for women in rural India. With operations in eight Indian states, it sets up supply chain routes in remote locations, with each route serving, at most, 25 villages. A GSE team collaborated with Drishtee on a marketing strategy to increase the number of rural business process outsourcing (BPO) centers.

mHS is a new SE in New Delhi working on improving access to shelter, basic services and home ownership. With its Design Home Solutions (DHS) product, it partnered with community organizations and microfinance institutions to create customized assistance to low-income urban households wanting to invest in home improvement. mHS’s GSE team had to assess the DHS pilot in Delhi and come up with recommendations on how to scale it up.

RUDI is a subsidiary of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA). It wants to expand and become a national brand in India within the next decade. Its goal is to be a pioneer in rural production of goods and then sell those goods not only to the mass market, but also back to the villages. RUDI worked with a GSE team to develop an inclusive financial model as a business planning tool.

The final participating SE is TEIL. It is a Woodbriar Group Company, the largest private tea producer in India with 11,000 employees. In addition to its tea business, Woodbriar has also dedicated resources to a tourism business. A GSE team helped TEIL to create a marketing strategy to grow its eco-tourism business and make recommendations for TEIL’s four P strategy – product, price, place and promotion.

Student Experience
The GSE course offers a unique value proposition to its students. Usually, B-school students have the opportunity to put their classroom knowledge to practice during a summer internship between their first and second years. It is a rarity, though, for students to be able to actively contribute to the strategy of a company. In partnering with SEs, the GSE course offers its students a snapshot of both operational and sustainability challenges.

And the approach works. In seeking feedback from this year’s participating students, all feedback was positive and enthusiastic. Without exception, students found the hands-on nature of the course valuable and relevant. Interesting to note is that not all students participating in the course are from SoM; Yale graduate students from other disciplines are welcome to apply and be a part of the GSE course. There is a global perspective then not only due to working with Indian entrepreneurs, but also because student teams are comprised of people with varied academic specialties.

As companies innovate and find new ways to remain competitive, the profit potential at the bottom-of-the-pyramid (BoP) cannot be ignored. Whether or not GSE alum pursue a career in the social sector is irrelevant. Many students will likely still follow the path that leads them to the tony halls of commercial or financial institutions. Yale is giving its students the tools, however, to understand business from a different perspective. As businesses in the developing world continue to expand, it can be argued that because GSE alum have had direct, firsthand exposure to the unique challenges of Indian SEs, they would be more sensitive to the considerations – both business and otherwise – of scaling and sustaining businesses in emerging markets.

Yale, Photo credit: Flickr user CanWeBowlPlease

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