Learning the Power of “And”

This post was written by first year MBA student Dan Baum, a CASE Fellow and Co-President of Fuqua’s Net Impact Club.  Before coming to Fuqua, Dan worked at The Redwoods Group (a North Carolina based B Corporation).

The word “and” is both what’s so special and so challenging about social entrepreneurship.

Finding a way to scale social impact and be financially sustainable at the same time is extremely difficult, but extremely powerful when you get it right.  Thanks to CASE’s Global Consulting Practicum in Social Entrepreneurship, I was lucky enough to work with an Ashoka Fellow on trying to get that “and” just right.

Ashoka Fellow Mukti Bosco leads Healing Fields Foundation, an Indian NGO that, amongst other things, teaches women from rural areas to be Community Health Leaders (CHLs).  The training equips them with the tools to change behaviors and create better health outcomes across their communities, but it currently doesn’t earn them any income.  As a result, most CHLs can only spend a couple of hours per week on health education and research.  If Healing Fields could find a way for CHLs to extend their positive impact on health outcomes and generate income to compensate them for their time, CHLs could spend more time on making a difference in their communities and drive even broader change.

That’s the challenge that Healing Fields asked our Duke MBA team to analyze: whether or not two of their pilot initiatives (CHLs producing and selling sanitary napkins; CHLs leading a community water and sanitation initiative) could provide both a sustainable impact for the community and supplemental income for the CHLs.

We worked on our project from Fuqua and then traveled to Hyderabad, India over Spring Break to work with Healing Fields on the ground. In two short weeks our team interviewed leadership staff in the office, attended a CHL training, visited the rural areas to speak with CHLs and the community members they educate, researched competitive options and alternative business models, ran a lot of numbers through Excel and somehow found time to stop by the Taj Mahal too.

In the end, we presented our interim findings to the Healing Fields team on our last day in country, sharing our analysis of the risks and opportunities present for each initiative, describing the most viable business model for each project, a set of hurdles they need to meet before bringing these initiatives to scale and a group of indicators they can use to continuously evaluate each opportunity.

All in all, helping such a great organization balance both sides of social entrepreneurship’s “and” was a tremendous learning experience.

On top of the work we did, spending two weeks in India was an amazing opportunity to get to know a new culture and use our Spring Break to make a really meaningful impact as well.  It was definitely a Spring Break I’ll never forget.