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Training professionals to design businesses with heart
by Beth Lipscomb
As Paul Hudnut finished teaching his first entrepreneurship class at Colorado State University in 2003, he found that several of his students had come up with a business solution to an environmental and social problem. One venture team had a creative combination of engineering, marketing, and finance students using technologies to help address air pollution in Southeast Asian countries, such as the Philippines.
Their efforts had resulted in the establishment of EnviroFit International – an organization that is still operating today, providing inexpensive cookstoves for families in developing countries to cook meals with less smoke in their homes, and to do it faster and more affordably.
“Soon after, we started to wonder what it would look like,” says Hudnut, “to have an M.B.A. program that would focus on designing enterprises around the world to create products that are good and services that serve – things like cleaner air and water, improving education, and reducing malnutrition.“
Today, Hudnut serves as director of the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise M.B.A. program, which provides aspiring international entrepreneurs with advanced business skills needed to build and manage ventures that achieve sustainability with results focused on the triple bottom line of economic, social, and environmental performance.
Taking the first steps
Before helping to create the program, of course, Hudnut, former director, Carl Hammerdorfer, and then-dean of the College of Business, Ajay Menon, needed to find out if there was demand for this type of education.
They discovered it was a promising approach, and that social entrepreneurship was becoming more popular as students wanted to be involved in businesses that directly and positively affected people’s lives.
Hudnut gained additional insights when he visited the Bainbridge Graduate Institute (now Pinchot University), the home of the nation’s first M.B.A. in sustainable business.
“I realized it wasn’t just about the curriculum,” Hudnut says. “It was about building a unique community and a good culture of collaboration. I think we’ve done a good job of that here too. There is a strong identity and shared experience in the GSSE program.”
After about a year and a half of research and planning, the GSSE M.B.A. – www.thegoodmba.com – program launched.
To date, GSSE M.B.A. graduates have tackled a number of social and economic problems while on their way to furthering their careers.
Andreana Castellanos, a recent graduate of the program, landed at CSU with a Fulbright award, after writing an essay on her wish to give young children in her native Guatemala a better head start in life. She had remembered asking a young child what he’d like to be when he grows up. His response: “Why are you asking this question? We can only be farmers.”
Years later, while working at an IT company, she came across a related issue: Companies were struggling to fill their high-tech jobs. “But the education system wasn’t supplying enough people with the skills for high-tech work,” she says.
Castellanos discovered that the skills necessary for high-tech work are actually instilled at a very young age. In fact, the first six years of the life provide the best starting point, but early education was not affordable or accessible for many families in Guatemala.
So, as their GSSE M.B.A. venture, Castellanos and her GSSE colleagues created Afinidata – a technological tool to help moms interact better with their children and maximize their potential from birth.
Making it work
“GSSE students are always being reminded that our solutions have to bring money in too,” says Castellanos. The Afinidata solution was to make early childhood development resources available to moms in Guatemala and beyond, while providing businesses with valuable consumer insights and data.
Afinidata uses a revenue model similar to YouTube and Spotify: Moms listen to ads or complete surveys to receive entries to onsite children’s workshops as well as app-based learning activities and ideas for engaging children, improving their vocabulary and motor skills.
“I think our biggest accomplishment is creating the ability for kids to learn outside of and before they go to school,” Castellanos says. “This is for every mom. They all love their children and want the best for them.”
And the program may soon be available in other countries as well. Start-Up Chile – the top business accelerator in Latin America – has awarded $30,000 to support Afinidata in expanded product development and marketing.