Babson Social Innovation Lab
While the Lewis Institute is dedicated to drawing forth ideas through the meetings of diverse minds, the Babson Social Innovation Lab puts those ideas into action. New concepts in social innovation are prototyped, evaluated, and proved in real-world contexts. Funded by a two-year, $500,000 grant from the Toyota Foundation, the Babson Social Innovation Lab brings together a global, interdisciplinary community of students and mentors dedicated to building a better world.
The Lab employs Babson’s Uncommon Table methodology. Based on the precepts of Entrepreneurial Thought and Action and Giving Voice To Values, The Uncommon Table fosters “smart action” by convening multiple audiences in a collaborative environment where they draw on their abundance of strengths and unique perspectives to address critical dilemmas facing the world. With this framework in place, the Lab is currently involved in three action projects:
Food Solutions (Food Sol): While
two billion people in the world are starving, one billion are over-consuming, and the population keeps growing. How we manufacture, grow, and distribute food is a problem. Food Sol seeks to influence a world where all people can fully nourish themselves, their families, and their communities. This will require influencing and changing business, government, community, and consumer behavior around food. The business of food and its impact on the world is complex; Food Sol will focus on dilemmas that can be addressed through entrepreneurship and social innovation.
Affordable Design and Entrepreneurship: The Babson Social Innovation Lab is supporting this joint course between Babson and the Olin School of Engineering. The goal is to incorporate principles of lean thinking as an integral part of the design process. Students will travel nationally and internationally to work with community partners in developing and deploying innovations that generate income and meet daily human needs.
Women's Entrepreneurial Development Lab: In partnership with the Internatoinal NGO Made By Survivors, the team in Babson's Social Innovation Lab has evolved its Microsupply Chain production model into a more expansive Prosperity Model for business development. The Prosperity Model is built on the observation that small interventions do not help deeply marginalized populations. For example, teaching low-value skills with low-wage potential to trafficking or other surviors of oppression or violence does not raise their social or economic status enough to stubstantially improve their lives. The only way to help them aquire the skills, education, and opportunities that can result in middle class incomes.
The Babson-MBS Prosperity Model is built upon three principles that differentiate it from the standard model of "rehabilitation" from trafficking or other violations:
-A commitment to the large investment required to support women who have been constrained by poverty, discrimination, and the violence of forced marriage, domestic abuse, or trafficking as they move from social and economic marginalization to holistic prosperity. For MBS, that investment takes the form of substantial, innovative, college-level education prorams in entrepreneurship and design thinking, ongoing training in job skills and human rights; and, perhaps most importantly, a commitment to wages that are well above the standard low-level wage paid for handicrafts and other small-scale production in a majority of shelter home and NGO models. Indeed, MBS is currently benchmarking wages paid at its Kolkata jewelry production centers at approximately the level of a recent college graduate in India.
-A commitment to a migratory business and production model that will enable survivor-artisans to retain and leverage the job training skills received during their after-care treatment as they move back home to restart their lives. Currently, economic development programs are clustered in the destination sites where trafficking survivors who have been rescued are receiving aftercare. These sites are mostly in large Indian cities-Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi, Pune-which means that when survivors are repatriated to their homes in rural areas of Indian states or in neighboring countries such as Bangladesh or Nepal, all that they have gained by being part of a program such as MBS' jewelry training program will be lost (including the high wages that have enabled them to begin enjoying a free, independent, sustainable life). MBS' migratory business model solves this problem by attending to the conditions of poverty, lack of opportunity, and discrimination in source communities that contribute to the problem of trafficking in the first place.
-A commitment to helping to eliminate gender discrimination by providing a range of choices in livelihood, each of which comprises dignified, creative, sustainable, high value employment within the context of socio-cultural norms around gender, caste, and class. Economic development programs established by MBS are carefully constructed in order to respond and to push past such barriers. For instance, because metal-smithing has been a traditionally male-only profession in India, MBS is proud to say that we have the first cohort of trained female metal-smiths in India, thereby enabling our survivor-artisians to help demonstrate within their communities the power and reward of breaking down traditional gender-based constraints.