How Universities Lead the Way in Solving Social Problems
16 October 2014
As social enterprise becomes an increasingly significant part of the business landscape, business education is evolving to teach students the techniques that will help them help others, while at the same time generating revenue for their organizations.
These days, most major universities have some kind of social enterprise business program, giving forward-thinking students the business skills, technology, and sociological know-how to help them succeed in the business world, as well as making a difference to those in underserved communities. Here are a few institutions that are doing their part to be at the forefront of the social enterprise movement.
The students not only crunch numbers, but also visit the organizations they are aiming to help.
The Data Science for Social Good paid internship program is a collaboration between Oracle and Georgia Tech, allowing students to work and study for ten weeks during the summer while helping local agencies and nonprofits solve problems with data. The students not only crunch numbers, but also visit the organizations they are aiming to help, speaking with real people who are facing real challenges in getting their projects off the ground.
The education works both ways – not only do the students learn how their data analysis impacts actual issues, but the nonprofits also get the opportunity to see how better data makes for more efficient progress.
Bayes Impact University Program
Rather than being a part of a specific university, Bayes Impact is partnering with select schools around the country to give graduate students access to the data that can help them solve social problems in the real world. At the moment the program is in an early testing phase, so only five institutions are participating – Duke University, New York University, Northwestern University, the University of San Francisco, and the University of California at Berkeley.
Students will work on a project for up to two semesters, which will generally be something socially-minded like using data to develop practical solutions for local homeless shelters, health nonprofits, or civic organizations. By being able to check in with the local branches in person, the students can see firsthand how their work makes a difference.
University of Southern California
The USC School of Social Work and USC Viterbi School of Engineering have created a bridge between the two departments, in what is being called a “social engineering” collaboration at the university. The goal is to find intersections where there are technical solutions to social problems, and to explore areas of overlap where both disciplines can contribute to the same areas of interest.
The collaboration gives engineers a chance to work on projects that benefit communities, while the social work students can discover ways to make their work more targeted and efficient.
The collaboration gives engineers a chance to work on projects that benefit communities, while the social work students can discover ways to make their work more targeted and efficient. Practical applications range from things like using knowledge of networks and data to help develop HIV prevention initiatives in the homeless community, or creating mobile health training programs for adults with disabilities.
The Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE) at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business was founded to acknowledge the increasingly blurred boundaries between traditional business models, nonprofits, and government agencies, and to help students explore new opportunities for using business knowledge to advance community projects and create solutions in the social sector.
Since 2002, MBA students at Duke have had access to CASE resources that have led to partnerships with over 50 community organizations, and the CASE summer internship program has helped business students get real-world experience in the social enterprise arena.
In addition to helping students, CASE also encourages a two-way flow of ideas, where local organizations can benefit from the knowledge and entrepreneurial skills in the department while providing students with practical ways to put their expertise to good use.
Local organizations can benefit from the knowledge and entrepreneurial skills in the department while providing students with practical ways to put their expertise to good use.
The Britt Technology Impact Series is a series of technology events at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. Each year the series takes on a new theme related to business and tech, with social issues often coming into play as part of the natural progression. This year, for example, the theme of the series is exploring how the “hyperweb” is connecting technologies in previously impossible ways, and how those connections are changing both the corporate and the social world.
One of the biggest challenges facing technology in social enterprise is keeping costs exceptionally low, so the communities that would potentially benefit from technological advances can actually afford to buy into them. This issue is the focus of the Design for Extreme Affordability course at Stanford University, affectionally referred to simply as “Extreme.”
Each year, the goal of Extreme is to match forty graduate students with five global partners, to take part in ten community-based projects. The students get hands-on experience working with the people they are helping, thus developing an empathetic connection with those who would benefit from their work.
Each year, the goal of Extreme is to match forty graduate students with five global partners, to take part in ten community-based projects.
As Dr. Paul Polak, author of Out of Poverty points out, design doesn’t have to be only for the wealthy. “I keep asking why 90% of the world’s designers work exclusively on products for the richest 10% of the world’s customers.” With the Extreme program, exactly the opposite is true – the designers learn to create products to help those in the greatest need, in the poorest communities where even simple technologies can make a huge difference.