March 12, 2013

Working to expand SIPA’s offerings in the discipline of social enterprise, Professor Sara Minard helped to develop and recently co-taught an innovative field-based course called Social Enterprise and Sustainable Development in India.

The pilot three-credit course brought six SIPA students and seven MBA students in India to urban and rural areas in the southeastern state of Andhra Pradesh — Hyderabad and Bhimavaram, respectively — where they conducted interviews, field work, and market analyses to examine delivery mechanisms for social services. Because the course required two weeks of intensive residential study, it was scheduled over SIPA’s winter break, at the beginning of calendar year 2013.

“Social enterprise is a way of looking at the world, a question of how to create value in society in everything we do,” says Minard, whose doctoral work in the nascent field was supervised by the Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen. (Minard also attended SIPA herself, graduating with a dual-degree MIA with Sciences Po in 2003.)

She said service delivery provides a good foundation for studying social enterprise because “the principles are the same whether the resource delivered is water or IT infrastructure.” Minard said. A key question for social enterprise, she added, is how to scale projects to make them more evidence-based, and take greater advantage of market principles.

Minard said the students spent only about an hour each day in classroom settings, devoting the great majority of their time to work in the field. The daily schedule varied considerably, but a typical day might include a morning reflection, followed by a short lecture, field work, preparation of an experimental campaign, and a presentation to conclude the day.

Students also worked with a public appointee in local government— a collector and district magistrate who helped demonstrate the link between social enterprise and public policy. Such experiential education, Minard said, helps to underscore where theory and practice meet in the real world.

The course worked in close partnership with the India-based Byrraju Foundation, and was co-designed and co-taught by Sutia Kim Alter, a development practitioner with more than 20 years of experience in the field of social enterprise.

Students represented diverse nationalities and multiple concentrations including IFEP, EPD, and USP, with one participant pursuing a joint degree in public health.

Minard, whose teaching and research focuses on social entrepreneurship and development using a multi-disciplinary approach, works closely with other SIPA faculty who are pursuing social enterprise solutions to development — including Professor Ellen Morris, who directs the Energy and Environment concentration, and Sarah Holloway, who directs the Management specialization.

As social enterprise gains traction in both academic and professional arenas, and interest among students rises, Minard and fellow faculty are routinely gathering students to debate and discuss hot topics and key issues in this “emerging social enterprise space.”

As this course and other opportunities in and outside the classroom evolve, Minard said she hopes SIPA becomes a hub for policy research and experiential education. She and her students are organizing an information session in April for prospective students, faculty, and administrators.

Some of the participants shared insights:

While I found the experiential learning approach of this course intriguing, I was also initially apprehensive about what I would be able to achieve in a relatively short span of time. As it turned out, there were plenty of hard skills on offer, and we received classroom instruction as well as practical training in areas as diverse as consulting for social enterprises, resource mapping, field research, focus groups, interviewing techniques, data analysis, writing of evaluation reports, and making client presentations. I can't think of a more efficient, effective and downright enjoyable way to pick up these skills, and am thankful to Professor Minard for providing SIPA students with such a fantastic opportunity."

— Shree Sinha MIA ’14

My time in Andhra Pradesh was eye-opening on many levels, but maybe most of all in getting to bear witness to the thriving culture of creativity and innovation among the individuals we had the honor of meeting. As a student of public health and economic development, I am used to thinking about policy and practice at a very macro-level: big problems call for big solutions, with strong institutional frameworks and political will for execution. However, the exposure I gained to entrepreneurial "bottom-up" solutions to social problems changed the way I think about development and health promotion. The "bottom of the pyramid" have assets and ambition that, through social enterprise, offers hope for a better future and sustainable economic security.

— Sara Rossi, MIA/MPH ’14

I came to India prepared and bearing stereotypes most people had. I have to say that many of them are true; there are gigantic social problems in India, such as poverty, corruption, and inequality etc. None of them are easy to tackle, and I understand this because I come from China, another developing country with its own huge developing challenges. But through daily interactions with Indian people from different castes, I came to realize how much enduring efforts social entrepreneurs had put into the community they lived, and though seemed to be the same on the surface, there were subtle but real changes from generation to generation in India. Younger generations, especially girls, were more insightful and critical toward social issues, and they wanted real changes. My three-week experience in India makes me realize that when it comes to social problems, you can only see problems if you only see them as problems. But in fact social problems are everywhere in the world, and the ultimate victory always belongs to brilliant and determined minds.

— Yewen Chen, MIA ’14

The best part of the course for me was field work. I really enjoyed talking with different stakeholders and the process of detecting reasons behind the problem though our interviews. I just want to say I really enjoyed every part of this trip. The load of work was heavier than my expectations, but I also discovered more of my potentials as well as shortcomings through these work and assignments in both rural and urban areas of India. It is always more impressive to learn from experience than from books.

— Lin Shi, MPA ’14