Business incubator programs at Jesuit universities help social entrepreneurs alleviate poverty and provide lifesaving solutions. This piece first appeared in MarketWatch on Jan. 31, 2014.
In his recent papal exhortation, Pope Francis implored capitalists to stop being overly focused on profits at the expense of the poor.
In fact, he almost creates a new commandment: Thou shall not conduct capitalism that furthers inequality and poverty, that does not lift up humanity.
If this were indeed a commandment, it is very much in line with programs a growing array of universities—most of which, like Pope Francis, are Jesuit—have increasingly been pursuing through what is known as the GSBI Network. This group of schools puts business and other faculty, students, and an army of executive volunteers at the service of social entrepreneurs who lift customers out of poverty, alleviate toxic energy sources, provide life-saving health solutions, and pursue other socially beneficial objectives in a financially sustainable and scalable way.
At SCU, students work alongside faculty and over 80 Silicon Valley mentors to help early-stage enterprises master basics.
The GSBI Network started at Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley as a way to share a decade of work at the Global Social Benefit Institute with newer universities looking for ways to put their business school and student skills to work for social enterprises.
GSBI’s focus is entirely on advancing nonprofit and for-profit enterprises that address the myriad of challenges of the 4 billion people in the world who live in poverty, including more than 40 million in the United States. SCU's president, Michael Engh, S.J., described the work as “emblematic of the Jesuit ideal of creating a more just, humane, and sustainable world.”
At SCU, students work alongside faculty and over 80 Silicon Valley mentors to help early-stage enterprises master basics like target-market segmentation and distribution strategies, many from afar through online training programs.
More advanced social entrepreneurs participate in the 10-month GSBI Accelerator program to help them overcome whatever it is—a lack of a succession plan, dearth of employee talent—that keeps them from scaling impact by multiplying their beneficiary reach or expanding to new countries. GSBI Accelerator entrepreneurs come to the SCU campus for a week of customized training and meetings with investors.
Now this concept of leveraging university talent to work for poverty eradication is spreading to other Jesuit universities, such as Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines.
Rudy Ang, dean of the John Gokongwei School of Management at the university, explained: “We first met GSBI just when we were about to set up our own Center for Social Entrepreneurship. Our exposure to their programs and our access to their reservoir of knowledge and experience has helped us to jumpstart our efforts and to avoid many of the pitfalls that we would not have foreseen on our own. The global network of like-minded institutions and individuals that we have met through GSBI has allowed us to see best practices in business incubation from all over the world, and reminds us that we can achieve much, much more by working together than by working alone.”
The more than 200 social enterprises that have been helped through GSBI programs at Jesuit institutions form a virtual army very much in line with Pope Francis. In addition to SCU, the other five Jesuit universities that are in the network are: ESADE (Spain), XLRI and Loyola Institute of Business Administration (India), Ateneo de Manila (Philippines), and Javeriana (Colombia). A Jesuit university in Taiwan (Fu Jen) is likely to join soon.
The array of initiatives at these universities, and their impact on social entrepreneurs, is taking off:
• ESADE’s Momentum Program has trained 30 social enterprises serving disadvantaged populations in Spain. The program is now being expanded to Mexico and Peru.
• In November, Ateneo de Manila University hosted a GSBI Network gathering to coincide with a social entrepreneurship conference in the Philippines as well as a meeting of eight East Asian Jesuit business school deans. The deans meeting included a full session on incorporating social entrepreneurship into their curricula.
• At the November meeting in the Philippines, the deans of eight East Asian Jesuit university business schools (Taiwan, Indonesia, South Korea, and five in the Philippines) invited GSBI to return in 2014 for a “train the trainers” social entrepreneurship workshop. They will learn lessons from SCU’s 12 years of experience in how to train social entrepreneurs and how to get students involved in helping, researching, and fostering social entrepreneurs.
• The nine members of the GSBI Network (six of whom are Jesuit) will be meeting at Santa Clara University on May 19–22 with prospective new members from other American Jesuit universities. The focus will be on having students spend their “service learning” time—a staple at Jesuit universities, often at charity-supported nonprofits—helping social enterprises solve practical challenges through action research.
• The meeting in May at Santa Clara will also help all Network members launch and strengthen their social entrepreneurship incubating, mentoring, and student-immersion programs by sharing best practices and resources.
Even ambitious universities and business students can heed the words of Pope Francis: “to live charitably means not looking out for our own interests, but carrying the burdens of the weakest and poorest among us.”
Thane Kreiner is executive director of Santa Clara University’s Center for Science, Technology, and Society and Andrew Lieberman is new programs director at the center’s Global Social Benefit Institute.