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A new program in sustainable enterprise will educate future business leaders in producing working solutions to global problems, for a profit
In 2002, students and faculty at Colorado State University in Fort Collins developed a technology designed to sharply reduce pollution from snowmobile engines. The next year—after non-governmental organizations in the Philippines were attracted to the technology as a way to reduce pollution from motorized tricycles—students and faculty formed EnviroFit International. The nonprofit corporation develops technologies that reduce pollution and enhance energy efficiency in emerging markets.
More businesses like EnviroFit are likely to grow out of a new Master's of Science program in Business Administration set to launch in August, according to Paul Hudnut, director of the Global Social & Sustainable Enterprise Program at Colorado State. The program, aimed toward those who want to specialize in global, social, and sustainable enterprises, will give participants an in-depth education in sustainable business, something that goes beyond the usual electives that are available in the second year of many MBA programs.
Participants will focus on ways to fix social problems including poverty, disease, and pollution. The three-semester program includes a summer of field work in a developing country. Students will create projects that they will develop either independently or on behalf of an already established company looking for an entrepreneurial enterprise. At graduation, some students will probably have the option to continue to develop their businesses. "This is a roll-up-your-sleeves business degree," Hudnut says.
Hudnut recently spoke with BusinessWeek.com reporter Francesca Di Meglio about the program. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:
What makes this project unique?
We took a look at what else was out there, especially in MBA and foreign-relations programs. Many schools have a course or two [in sustainable business] in the second year of the MBA. This is an entire program. Instead of doing casework on Europe or North America, we're looking at the developing world. You're more likely to study the Grameen Bank than Citibank (see BusinessWeek.com, 10/13/2006, "What the Nobel Means for Microcredit").
When did business students get a heart and start paying attention to social problems?
I was an entrepreneur and businessperson before taking on this job. I always had a heart. I gave money to many groups. But I eventually realized that investing my talent and time was equally important. Plus, there's a lot of money to be made. We have to figure this stuff out. We think we've tapped a need with this program.
Why is there more of an interest in sustainable businesses and developing economies?
We've seen that aid programs don't work. Organizations don't want to dump money into a leaky bucket. People are realizing that business is going to be the main leader of change. Entrepreneurial approaches are making big differences. The developing world is the market to reach. As C.K. Prahalad wrote, these aren't underserved markets, they're un-served markets.
Will one part of the world flourish more than another?
There are going to be winners and losers. We're trying to find countries where we can really make a working business. We're staying away from countries that are violent or corrupt. That's something our students have to struggle with—the fact that some problems can't yet be fixed.
What problems will your students be trying to fix?
There are lots of problems. One of my concerns is that sustainability is being taken over by the climate-change groups. There are many problems that can be fixed—from distribution issues to other kinds of pollution. I hope our students look at a variety of issues and don't limit themselves to just one.
A recent report says there's not much we can do about climate change. Do you think people will back away from trying to find solutions?
Many of these models aren't accounting for possible technology innovations. Progress might make a difference. It's hard to forecast the future.
What will be the takeaway for students who participate in this program?
They can use business to be someone who can create profound change. The world now is telling us shareholders that value isn't really reflected [in dollars and cents alone]. In retrospect, going abroad will be the highlight of the program. But it's not always great when you're in one of these developing countries. It's not a vacation. This is about spending a long time in places that are difficult. One of the rewards, however, will be working with leading organizations around the world. Our students will get to work and network with people who are the best in their field.