Nilima Achwal

An Insider’s Look at the NextBillion 2011 Case Writing Competition

Last Thursday, we announced the winners of the NextBillion 2011 Case Writing Competition, our annual academic business case competition that recognizes and publishes five top social enterprise case studies. The case studies are available for purchase here.

Competition judge Ted London, director of the Base of the Pyramid Initiative at the William Davidson Institute, described the utility of these cases in the MBA classroom: “All the cases were excellent, and it was a very difficult choice. I think educators will generate great classroom outcomes from using any of these. I certainly commend the various authors for developing such in-depth and thoughtful cases.”

This first-place case, “Village Capital: Using Peer Support to Accelerate Impact Investing,” chronicles the development of Villiage Capital, an innovative investment strategy that uses peer support cohorts of entrepreneurs to choose investees. Inspired by the “village bank” methodology in microfinance, the Village Capital founder commits to investing in enterprises in each cohort-but places the actual investment decisions in the hands of the entrepreneurs themselves. At the end of the case, the founder faces a few critical decisions:

  1. Should the company be a for-profit or non-profit fund?
  2. How should they select new sites (choosing between the developed world and emerging markets)?
  3. How can they develop secondary markets?

Written by Carol Gee and Associate Professor Peter Roberts from Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, with support from Ross Baird, executive director of Village Capital, this case challenges students to think through and tackle the most-relevant questions facing impact investors and the social enterprise world, today.

Competition judge Brian Trelstad, chief investment officer at Acumen Fund, explains: “It’s a testament to the growth of impact investing that two of the five finalists – including the winner – of the 2011 NextBillion Case Competition focused on impact investing. At Acumen Fund, we see these cases as a great way to help practitioners engage with academia to further that growth. And we’re excited to see the development of these teaching materials, which will help develop the next generation of moral leaders, who will use business and philanthropy compatibly in the fight against global poverty.”

In a similar vein, another judge, Stephanie Schmidt, managing director of Ashoka’s Full Economic Citizenship initiative, characterizes the case as “an insightful analysis of a venture that innovatively seeks to address the financing challenge of social entrepreneurs with self-sustainable enterprises,” representing “an important part of the new social financial services system that needs to be developed to enable social entrepreneurs to grow and make profound and long-lasting contributions to our society.”

The second-place winner “The South Pacific Business Development Foundation: Fighting Poverty in Fiji,” focuses on the microfinance organization’s expansion into Fiji. The complex and engaging case study described the dilemma: With ten years of success in Samoa, financial self-sufficiency, a 98 percent repayment rate for its female borrowers, and successful expansion to the neighboring Polynesian country of Tonga, SPBDF owner Greg Casagrande wants to begin operations in Fiji. Now, Casagrande must decide if SPBDF can simultaneously navigate an unstable political and economic environment, establish its brand in a market of competitors that already serve poor households, and diversify its product portfolio to meet client needs that differ from those in Samoa and Tonga. Partnering with an existing organization in Fiji is an option for Casagrande. Students must determine if entry into Fiji is worth the expected alterations to SPBDF’s already successful model of poverty alleviation.

This case by MBA students Jacob Hiatt, Matthew Hutchens, and Rocio Ortiz, under the supervision of Clinical Associate Professor Philip Powell at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, provides a realistic environment for the students, challenging them to factor in the complex interplay between business, the social sector, and political and cultural influences when making their decisions.

According to Schmidt, “The SPBDF case study provides rich teaching materials to reflect on the challenges and opportunities of replicating a social enterprise – in this case, a microfinance institution – in a different economic and cultural context. The refreshing perspective brings us to the South Pacific, beyond traditional large BoP markets.”

Other winning cases include: “Catch a Falling STAR: Sustainable Financing for a BoP Hospital,” “Good Capital and the Emergence of the Social Capital Market,” and “Habitat for Humanity: Implementing a Global Strategy Locally.”

The demand for these cases reflects a growing trend toward social enterprise curricula in business schools around the world. Schmidt accurately conveys the urgency with which business school professors should move toward a more holistic curriculum-or be left behind.

“We are witnessing a transformation in the way that societal problems are addressed,” she said. “Around the world, hybrid business-social ventures and collaborations between corporations and social entrepreneurs are enabling more people to become full economic citizens and access essential goods and services. This is a significant trend that is well worth teaching and studying about in business schools and beyond.”

Indeed, the interest and dedication of this year’s competition participants is a testament to the growing demand for high-quality, complex teaching materials in social enterprise for business schools around the world. We look forward to seeing how competition cases will continue to reflect relevant and poignant questions for the social enterprise sphere in years to come.

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Education, Social Enterprise
social enterprise, William Davidson Institute