Moses Lee

Business Students Can Change the World

studentsThis post is the second in a two part series on how to get involved in the base of the pyramid movement. Part 1 was a personal story of involvement, and Part 2 focuses on the role of students in bringing social transformation.

I recently attended the Social Enterprise Knowledge Network (SEKN) colloquium at Harvard Business School and had a conversation with a professor about the role of students in BoP ventures. He left me with this parting insight: “Don’t forget – students change the world. Many social movements throughout history have been started and led by students.”It wasn’t a surprise for me to hear this at the SEKN colloquium. One of the main objectives of SEKN is to empower business school professors with knowledge, research, and insights on social enterprises in order to influence students — who will ultimately drive social transformation. “SEKN seeks to advance the frontiers of knowledge and practice in social enterprise through collaborative research, shared learning, case based teaching, and the strengthening of institutional capacities in management education.”

During my time at the colloquium, I was able to rub shoulders with a number of HBS professors who had a lot to share about students and BoP ventures. Michael Chu, who teaches a base of the pyramid class at HBS, said his class is always oversubscribed. Another indicator of this enthusiasm on campus is the fact that HBS’s base of the pyramid club has the highest membership of all student clubs.

Chu, who is also the Managing Director and General Partner at IGNIA, also told me that he receives significant interest from MBAs about working at his fund each year. IGNIA, a social venture capital firm, “supports the founding and expansion of high growth social enterprises that serve the base of the socio-economic pyramid in Latin America.” “Many students are willing to forgo offers from McKinsey and Goldman Sachs to work for a social venture capital firm,” says Chu. “One summer, there were a number of MBAs who volunteered their time at IGNIA after their formal internships ended.”

The situation at HBS is similar to what is going on at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan (my alma mater), where interest not only comes from MBA students, but also BBA students (undergraduates). BoP ventures are often the most highly sought after projects in Michigan’s multiaction disciplinary program (MAP), a core cirriculum component that gives students a hands-on experience tackling real business problems. And similar to HBS, Michigan’s base of the pyramid club is the most popular student group.

I’m positive that this trend is occurring on the campuses of business schools around the globe. With this in mind, a few thoughts/ideas for students who are interested in getting a job in the BoP space:

1. Find a summer internship/full time job at a BoP venture: This might be easier said than done, considering that the majority of BoP ventures are not out recruiting at top business schools. (Most don’t have the budget for campus recruiting.) If you want to work for a BoP venture, you’ll probably have to go through unconventional routes. This underscores the importance of networking in this field. My suggestion: email social entrepreneurs, pick the brain of your BoP professors, read and contribute to this blog, attend a BoP related conference, join a BoP club at your school (start one if your school doesn’t have one).

2. Be willing to take a pay cut: If and when you do find a BoP job, remember that there will most likely be a financial trade-off. And it could be quite significant. It’s just a fact that a microfinance institution is not going to be able to pay the same salary as that of a large multinational financial institution. But I assume that if you’re considering a career in this field, money is not the only thing you are chasing.

3. Take risks: If you can’t find anything at an existing BoP venture, sometimes the best way to get involved is to start a BoP venture yourself. There is a lot of room for one more BoP venture. Additionally, it may just make sense to go to a developing country in search of a BoP venture to work at. I was in Indonesia recently and discovered a plethora of BoP ventures that I otherwise would not have known about. Most BoP ventures are not widely publicized, and you won’t know what’s out there until you go.

4. Study hard: Probably not what you wanted to hear, but your business education is extremely needed at BoP ventures. Most people in the world do no have access to the type of training you are getting – so it shouldn’t be taken for granted. Diligence in the classroom will translate into impact on the ground.