The Heart and Soul of Entrepreneurship

Illustration: Wesley Bedrosian

On a nearly perfect summer day, 17 students from around the world chose to be in a classroom inside Gerber Hall. They sat, their desks arranged in a circle, listening intently to a fellow student talk about how the International Monetary Fund allocates its dollars. He was comparing monies spent on the hunger crisis in Niger to monies spent on the economic disaster in Greece. Millions of dollars in Niger versus billions in Greece. The student calculated the difference and ended his talk with the question: Is the life of a Greek worth 102 times more than the life of a Nigerien?

These students were the first to take part in a newly developed summer program, for which they earned credits, called the Global Leadership Development Experience. The students, nominated for the program by their schools, came from Canada, China, India, Mexico, Pakistan, Tunisia, and the United States (two Babson participants) to learn about and collaborate on solutions to various social, economic, and environmental issues. “The class essentially uses Entrepreneurial Thought and Action to contribute to the betterment of the world,” says Rachel Reiser, assistant dean, academic planning and strategy, Undergraduate School.

The course tied back to the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which aim to reduce severe poverty, hunger, and disease; promote environmental sustainability; and improve education, gender equality, and maternal and child health by 2015. The intense, four-week class combined a seminar that examined and discussed the MDGs with a project during which the students acted as consultants for four organizations with aspirations that relate to the MDGs. These establishments included American Capital Energy, which integrates and develops solar-electric power systems; Food and Truth, a nonprofit addressing health and nutrition with an initial focus on children; EV (Earthen Vessels), which helps empower, mentor, and tutor inner-city youth; and Made by Survivors, which helps survivors of sex trafficking become artisans and, thus, self-sufficient.

Elizabeth Swanson Goldberg, associate professor of English and Mandell Family Term Chair, taught the seminar, and Peter Bagley, adjunct lecturer of entrepreneurship, led the consulting projects. To further the collaborative nature of the class, students lived together in Mandell Family Hall on campus. They also took weekend excursions, including one to New York City for a meeting at the U.N. to discuss the MDGs and other issues.

At the end of the program, the students presented their consultation projects to an audience that included representatives from the four organizations for which they worked. For American Capital Energy, the students worked on a solar-powered mosquito repeller to be used in poor, malaria-affected regions. (ACE also announced plans to develop a prototype of the product.) Food and Truth received help with its business model. The focus for EV was on expanding its after-school program, and the team working with Made by Survivors helped create a micro supply chain for the artisans.

“This was a highly motivated, self- selected, worldwide group of students who are passionate and focused on serious worldwide problems,” says Bagley. “The creativity and genius that is produced when young people from many countries collaborate on a solution is the future model of entrepreneurship. It’s clear to me that their collective wisdom, ideas, and passion are how future ventures should be built and managed.”

Back in the classroom on that brilliant summer day, Goldberg talked about the vast scope of the course and the often heart-wrenching, entrenched human and economic issues it addresses. “Now that we’ve taken this big look at the system, does it feel too difficult to get anything done?” she asked. “Do you feel overwhelmed?” A student answered, “The problems are too big, but there is always a start somewhere. In my opinion, it starts with me.” —Donna Coco