At most business schools, students read about business in emerging economies in a text book. At Chicago Booth, MBA students live it.
Chicago Booth’s Global Social Impact Practicum (GSIP) throws MBA students into the heart of business in India, to work on real-life consulting projects driving social and environmental change.
Taught by Caroline Grossman, director of strategic initiatives at Chicago Booth’s Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation, the GSIP focuses on hot topics like international development and social enterprise in emerging markets. The course is supported by Tata Trusts, one of the largest philanthropic organizations in India.
In the course’s inaugural year in 2015, MBA students worked with Tata Trusts to explore the use of bamboo as a source for clean energy and a way to combat unemployment in rural northern India.
On the latest India trip, in December 2016, Chicago Booth MBAs worked to identify opportunities for social entrepreneurship in India’s urban areas. They developed a plan to help local social entrepreneurs in Bhubaneswar improve housing and sanitation in slum areas, and tap into slum-dwellers’ capacity to work in waste management at the same time.
Today’s millennial MBA students are stepping out from behind their Excel spreadsheets to drive social impact on the ground. We spoke to three Chicago Booth MBA students, who took part in the latest GSIP course, to find out more.
Lola Oladini, MBA ‘18
Currently pursuing a dual degree with an MBA from Chicago Booth and a Doctor of Medicine from the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine, Lola’s aim is to start her own social enterprise after graduation. She wants to help improve healthcare infrastructure in emerging economies.
On choosing Chicago Booth… As a soon-to-be physician with a long-term goal of running my own startup, I knew that I needed to understand the nuances of running a social business. Chicago Booth offered an opportunity to learn these skills while also providing an environment of constant self-reflection.
On the GSIP experience… I applied for the GSIP because it sounded like a wonderful opportunity to practice team problem-solving skills to uplift the ultra-poor in settings with political, cultural, and economic constraints. To me, Bhubaneswar was a raw representation of what most of the world looks like.
When visiting the slum areas in Bhubaneswar, I was struck that many of the people we met did not perceive the waste management issues that we were exploring to be significant. People simply cared about livelihood. We realized that aligning incentives between the slum-dwellers and the philanthropy would the key to finding an implementable intervention.
Personally, I was humbled by the level of ingenuity that the social entrepreneurs – particularly in Bangalore – showed, with market-driven interventions to improve the livelihoods of the waste-pickers.
On the future… After residency, I hope to build a startup that sources low-cost, refurbished medical imaging technologies for hospitals in low-income countries that have need to increase their diagnostic and interventional capabilities. The GSIP experience demonstrated the importance of creating value for both the beneficiaries and benefactors when hoping to improve the lives of the poor.
Haven Leeming, MBA ‘18
Haven spent six years working in local philanthropy in Chicago before deciding to pursue a dual degree at the University of Chicago – an MBA from Chicago Booth and a Master’s of Public Policy from the university’s Harris school. She’s co-chair of Chicago Booth’s Net Impact chapter and Board Fellows program.
On choosing Chicago Booth… In my work prior to graduate school, I found that in order to drive positive change in my local community, I needed to develop my management, business development, and policy skills.
The University of Chicago’s dual MBA and Masters of Public Policy degree allowed me to develop those skills and remain connected to my Chicago career network. The GSIP was the perfect extension of my interest, allowing me to flex my skills in an international setting.
On the GSIP experience… When you work in social impact, the core of your scope of work seems straightforward: how can you create social change that positively benefits the community? However, it’s never that simple: there’s always local politics that affect how a social enterprise operates.
In India, what stood out was how much we as the GSIP-team needed to learn about Indian-specific politics and policies in order to design a practical yet effective intervention. I enjoyed the challenge, interacting with all the stakeholders – officials, social entrepreneurs, and slum-dwellers – while gathering qualitative data in the field. It pushed me beyond the normal MBA experience!
On the future… I am aiming to return to the philanthropic field post-graduation – to lead a team working to identify and scope local community needs that could benefit from philanthropic dollars, whether through grants or impact investing.
The GSIP allowed me to be a part of a team doing just that: our final deliverable was the identification of four attractive social enterprises that could help reduce waste in slums. The experience proved to me that the skills I am learning at Chicago Booth will translate nicely into my chosen career going forward.
Renuka Agarwal, MBA ‘18
Renuka worked for big-name firms like LinkedIn and Goldman Sachs in New York before relocating for a full-time MBA at Chicago Booth. Whatever she does in the future, she’s determined to make a social impact.
On choosing Chicago Booth… I wanted time to fully explore what my future career trajectory could look like. While I had learned a great deal from my professional experiences in finance, media and technology, I wanted to explore the fields of entrepreneurship, consulting, healthcare and social impact.
On the GSIP experience… The GSIP class is one of the best experiences that I have had at Booth thus far. The opportunity to work with Tata Trusts on an issue directly related to other work that they were doing was a great learning experience, and made it more likely that our work would be implemented.
As an Indian myself, although I have visited the country many times, I saw it in a new light by speaking with slum-dwellers, social entrepreneurs and politicians. The experience of working with a small group of students across the University of Chicago's various graduate programs – Harris, Pritzker, Booth full-time and part-time – taught me a lot about my own personal leadership style and areas for development.
On the future… I am determined to make a meaningful difference in the world, whether this is running my own social enterprise or working on socially driven projects as part of a consulting firm or healthcare corporation. My experience during the GSIP has given me a fresh perspective on what ‘making a difference’ means, and I will carry this with me going forward.
Landscape images credited to Chicago Booth’s Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation.