Embedding social innovation in business school curriculum

Guy Pfeffermann and Jonathan Doh, respectively the chief executive of the Global Business School Network and the director at the Center for Global Leadership at the Villanova School of Business, recently wrote a column for the Financial Times espousing the importance of including the social enterprise in the core curricula of business schools.

They talk about the fact that, in recent years, business schools have been both advocates and developers of social innovation, often in collaboration with schools of design or engineering, in exploring promising new products that are intended to address both economic and social demands. However, despite their promise of great social impact, not many of these end up as market successes. They write,

Part of the problem may be that those engaged in social innovation activities at business schools operate apart from the mainstream curriculum. Indeed, perhaps more social innovations would attain scale if social enterprise activities were better integrated into the core curricula and business school graduates leveraged the traditional and emerging perspectives in their mainstream professions and entrepreneurial social ventures.

…Why haven’t these social innovations had the mass impact many would hope? Prices are often too high (or subsidised by aid donors, whose reach is limited and who offer little assurance of continuity or sustainability). In addition, long-standing incentives (and disincentives) may not be fully accounted for. As long as chopping down trees for charcoal is seen by local populations as a “free good” for example, incentives to switch to alternative cooking stoves are exceedingly weak.

Some examples do exist, of social innovations achieving market success, but this happens when “large commercial companies or NGOs ultimately found it in their interest to develop and market them.” An example of this is the microfinance model, as Pfeffermann and Doh describe:

It has been weaned away from continual dependence on aid… As traditional banks began to recognise the potential of microfinance – and the competition for saving and lending dollars from “base of the pyramid” clients – they found it profitable to open microfinance windows. In the same way, the use of mobile phones for financial and other transactions spread like wildfire when government regulators in Kenya, Nigeria and many other countries allowed phone companies to provide financial services and/or banks to operate mobile networks. Faculty and students of marketing, supply chain, IT and strategy could all bring something to the table in understanding how such products could be brought to scale.

They assert that, in the effort to scale up some of the potentially game-changing social innovations, “Governments and NGOs can play critical roles as catalysts, sponsors and partners, but ultimately private markets must see the benefits of these products if they are to become truly mass-market. As increasingly more people are beginning to realize the business potential of social enterprise and moving away from prior models of financial aid and philanthropy, there is a definite need for educational institutes to provide the kind of training required within this new scenario. As the authors posit, embedding social innovation within business school curricula could provide an immense opportunity for social enterprises to be a part of the mainstream, rather than continuing to function as independent islands.

About Ayesha Vemuri

Ayesha Vemuri is responsible for thought leadership and outreach efforts at CKS. She has undergraduate degree in Visual Art from Reed College in Portland, Oregon, where she also studied such varied subjects as biology, literature and the humanities. At CKS, she is responsible for curating the Design Public blog, managing our various social media platforms, organizing Pecha Kucha Nights and contributing to the intellectual content of the Design Public Conclave and other CKS initiatives. Find her on twitter at @ayeshavemuri.
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