Since its launch in 2008, the Yale School of Management’s Global Social Entrepreneurship (GSE) course has sent dozens of student consulting teams across the globe to work with organizations in the developing world.
In 2020 and 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to the course’s travel component, but it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of Yale students who are passionate about using their business skills to improve lives and organizations.
“The pandemic certainly made our work more challenging, but thankfully we were already equipped to communicate virtually with our client, and in some ways, the global nature of the crisis actually fostered a greater connection,” says Sarah Thompson ’21, whose 2020 GSE trip to Kenya was canceled just four days before the student team was set to depart New Haven.
This year, Thompson served as a teaching assistant for a team working virtually with an organization in Brazil. “I’ve been impressed with the students’ ability to make the most of the pandemic’s impacts, but I know all of us are eager for a time when the full experience will be possible again,” Thompson says.
Tony Sheldon ’84, who teaches GSE, agrees. “There is no substitute for spending time in-country, getting to meet our partners and engage directly with the social enterprise ecosystem,” he says. “But the students have risen to the challenges of the pandemic with patience, flexibility, and an unflagging commitment to providing value to their partners.”
This year, the course paired eight student teams, totaling 30 students, with social enterprises in India and Brazil. Over the years, student team have worked in numerous countries in Africa and Latin America, as well as in India.
Yale SOM launched GSE in 2006. Sheldon, executive director of the Program on Social Enterprise, Innovation, and Impact and lecturer in the practice of management, has led it since 2009. The course grew out of the Global Social Enterprise student club, which offered students pro bono consulting projects in developing countries. In 2006, students asked that the student club’s programming be designed into a full-fledged course with faculty guidance.
Today, the popular elective course draws students from across Yale. GSE pairs student teams with mission-driven social enterprises in India during the fall semester and in a different country of focus each year during the spring semester. At each semester’s end, the student teams give presentations both to their partner organizations and to the SOM community.
“GSE gives students an opportunity to apply their studies and their professional skills to collaborating with mission-driven entrepreneurs grappling with strategic or operational challenges,” Sheldon says. “It’s a unique, hands-on experience.”
The course combines in-depth research and on-the-ground fieldwork as students grapple with how to help organizations address management issues. At the course’s end, students deliver a set of actionable recommendations to their partner organizations.
“I came to Yale wanting to work in social impact with a global focus, and GSE offered the opportunity,” says Kendra Nealon ’21, a joint-degree student at Yale SOM and the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. Nealon traveled to India in 2019 to work with an education nonprofit.
“They wanted a monitoring and evaluation framework for one of their newest programs, one that would focus on helping social enterprises that work directly in education, providing them with resources to scale,” she says.
GSE offered a chance to apply her skills in communication, collaboration, and project management, Nealon says, as well as an inside look at a social enterprise. “I gained new perspective on education in India, how social enterprises function and set goals, and how nonprofits and social enterprises approach impact evaluation,” she explains.
Nealon, who served as TA for GSE Brazil this year, also enjoyed bonding with her partner organization. “It was fulfilling to sit next to them as they developed the program vision and considered what would be important to monitor in order to evaluate impact,” she says. “It was also fulfilling to work closely with my classmates and get to know their work styles and personalities.”
The GSE curriculum has evolved over the years, Sheldon says. The course has broadened to cover diverse topics related to social enterprise, including theory of change, scaling, social metrics, impact, financing, and case studies, as well as topics tied to the practicum component: team dynamics, framing a consulting agreement, and receiving feedback on student presentations.
The course now taps the expertise of a wider swath of Yale SOM faculty, in areas such as organizational behavior, marketing, economics, and political science. It has also benefited from Yale SOM’s membership in the Global Network for Advanced Management, which the school helped create in 2012.
“In recent years, we’ve also sought to engage faculty and students from Global Network for Advanced Management schools in India, Brazil, Kenya, and Indonesia to help us select partner organizations and to have their students participate in the projects,” Sheldon says.
Sheldon purposefully builds diverse student teams. “I look for a wide variety of students—those with social sector backgrounds, of course, but also those who have worked in management consulting, banking, retailing, marketing, and technology,” he says.
Diversity in culture, nationality, and gender is also sought. “The richer the diversity of the teams, the more they tend to be able to grapple with the business and cultural issues that they encounter,” Sheldon says.
Anushi Shah ’21, who took part in GSE Kenya last year and was a TA for the India course this year, says the diverse team building pays dividends. “You get to work with students from the schools of the environment, public health, and the Jackson Institute, to name a few, as well as from different degree programs within SOM,” she explains. “This cross-pollination helped me understand problems from different perspectives and provide more value to our partners.”
Shah also appreciated the course’s real-world application.
“My team drew on some of the best practices we learned in The Workforce core course and brought it to our Kenyan partner to help them improve the career services they provide to disadvantaged students,” she says. “It was really rewarding to see that, within months of starting my MBA, I was able to use this knowledge to support a resource-constrained social enterprise halfway across the globe.”
Avnee Jetley ’21, who took GSE Kenya last year and served as a TA this year, says the pandemic also included an unexpected lesson. “Although we were unable to do our field work, the entire situation ended up being the perfect illustration of how teams have to pivot and find alternative ways to understand the context in which these organizations work,” she says.
“We ended up reaching out to a far wider variety of industry experts, academics, company employees, and people on the ground through our university partners. It was one of the best team experiences I have had at Yale SOM.”
By Karen Guzman, Associate Director of Communications