David Lehr

Learning about Market-Based Approaches for Reducing Poverty

HaasThis fall,?Jocelyn Wyatt and I?taught a seven week course at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, which?spanned the worlds of philanthropy, business and many of the way points in between. We were both Acumen Fund Fellows (class of 2007) and as?part of our post-Fellowship goals each of us wanted to find a way to get teaching experience and also share what had learned over the past several years.?

As good luck would have it, our next steps took us to San Francisco a year ago (David via Mercy Corps and Jocelyn via IDEO) and through one of the student leaders we met at the Global Social Venture Competition, we were asked to teach a one-credit course held for two hours each Thursday.The class was called Enterprising Solutions: Market-Based Approaches for Reducing Poverty. Each week, we took on a different theme with the overall goal of understanding where we had come from in the development field, what market- based approaches were, why they were so interesting and what were some of the macro issues, like trade policy, that impacted this work.??Other themes included?social enterprise, microfranchising, design for social impact, corporate responsibility, social investing, and trade.

We began each session by framing the topic and brought in guest speakers to dive in more deeply. Our phenomenal speakers included David Green, Kevin Jones, Dwight Wilson, George Scharffenberger, and many more.?? The readings were equally enagaging and included?leading thinkers that ranged from Amartya Sen to Roger Riddell to Paul Collier.

We were astounded by the number of students interested in taking the class. We expected 20 students to show up?and had 60 at the first class. Most rewarding of all, they kept coming back! By the end of the course, 110 students had come to at least one session. Each week the students came prepared and ready to engage. While about half came from the business school, students also came from public policy, public health, engineering, and the undergraduate program. They asked tough questions and had plenty of opinions which they openly shared.

Teaching this course was great!? There is something very empowering about sharing ideas and learnings.? There is also a heck of a lot of preparation that we had to put in to stay ahead of the students which finally forced us to read those books and articles that might have just stayed on the shelves.? It also helped us gather our thoughts about social enterprise, about?what works and what doesn’t. Finally, teaching the class gave us the opportunity to spend time with a group of truly inspiring students at Berkeley. We both finished the class feeling ready to do it again next year!
One of our biggest takeaways outside of the content: The world of social entrepreneurship is changing rapidly and attracting lots of talent from a wide variety of disciplines.? In fact, when we went to grad school (which for at least Jocelyn was not that long ago) courses in this area were just beginning to emerge and there were few with pracitical field experience.? That landscape is changing quickly with a proliferation of academic institutions offering classes and rapidly growing internship and employment opportunities (Nitin’s post from yesterday?being a great example).? That is good news.