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A group of MBA students posing with Kenyan students
Photo courtesy of Garden of Hope Foundation

A Long-Running Course Connects Students with Social Enterprises in Kenya

Five teams of students traveled to Nairobi last month as part of the Global Social Entrepreneurship course.

The founders of Anzania, a proposed eco-park and museum that is planned for an abandoned 60-acre quarry in a wildlife conservancy near Nairobi, Kenya, have a grand vision for the future. The park will include botanical gardens, art exhibits, educational programming, conference facilities, and outdoor adventures, among other offerings.

For now, however, what they have is, literally, a “hole in the ground,” says Shivansh Chaturvedi ’25, who signed on for a semester-long consulting engagement with the organization as part of the Global Social Entrepreneurship (GSE) course taught by Tony Sheldon ’84, a Yale SOM senior lecturer and executive director of the Program on Social Enterprise, Innovation, and Impact, each spring.

The course matches students with mission-driven social enterprises in either Kenya or Brazil to collaborate on specific management-related challenges. In the case of Anzania, the organization wanted help refining its financial model in order to better understand the kinds of funders who might be interested in investing in the project.

“Part of the role we’re playing is figuring out what it will take to turn that hole in the ground into a beautiful eco-park,” Chaturvedi explains.

GSE in its current form was launched in 2008, growing out of a student club that had been arranging trips to work with social impact organizations in developing countries; a similar course pairs students with social enterprises in India. Sheldon says that GSE projects are true collaborations based on the needs of the enterprises involved.

“We don’t say, ‘Here’s what we want to do’ or ‘Here’s our framework,’” he explains. “We work with local organizations on projects they articulate.”

In the spring class, five teams of five students—who are enrolled at Yale SOM, the Yale Jackson School of Global Affairs, or the Yale School of the Environment (YSE)—attend weekly classes and work remotely with their partners before and after spring break, when they travel to the organization’s country for on-site engagements. The class benefits from connections made through the Global Network for Advanced Management; in Nairobi, students from Global Network member school Strathmore University Business School serve as advisers to the Yale teams.

The class “is a real bridge between academia and practice,” Sheldon says. “This is a crucible to apply what they’re learning as well as their past experience in a very practical, hands-on context.”

This spring’s cohort traveled to Kenya, where more than 35 organizations had applied to participate in the class. Sheldon tries to identify partners from a range of industries—such as sustainable energy, education, economic development, and health care—that face challenges in different business areas, including marketing, operations, and finance.

Some consulting engagements spawn lasting relationships. On this trip, Sheldon visited a past partner, the recycling enterprise Mr. Green Africa, that had just processed its billionth bottle. One year, a rural health clinic asked a Yale student to serve on its board; he ended up chairing it for six years.

GSE students don’t often work with startups, since, Sheldon says, “the principals are usually pulled in so many directions.” But in the case of Anzania, he made an exception.

“What they needed to figure out was very much aligned with what we could help with,” Sheldon says.

During their week in Nairobi, Chaturvedi and his colleagues, including YSE student Isabela Valencia, met with representatives from potential investors and peer organizations. Ultimately, they will prepare an anonymized report that summarizes the funding landscape for ecotourism in Kenya.

“It was pretty exhilarating,” Valencia says of the flurry of meetings the team took part in while they were in Kenya. “As somebody who is interested in exploring the nexus of public and private—business and policy—seeing the tensions but also the opportunities was really exciting, not just in thinking about Anzania but also thinking about my own future trajectory.”

In addition to Anzania, spring GSE student teams worked with EarthAcre, which develops and sells biodiversity assets; Garden of Hope Foundation, which empowers youth and women in informal urban settlements and underserved communities; Octavia Carbon, which manufacturers machines that filter carbon dioxide from the atmosphere; and Yajayo, a network of community-based bottle collection centers.

Chloe Kidder ’25 and her classmates are working with Garden of Hope Foundation on providing a picture of the organization’s overall financial health and funding gaps.

“This is why I came to Yale,” Kidder says. “The application of business and society—this class is exactly that. I am simultaneously learning how to build a financial model and working with an organization that is trying to meet the needs of really under-served communities. I’m just incredibly grateful for the experience.”