Scaling new heights

July 19th, 2010

Seven undergraduates design academic experience and work with social enterprises in India

Summer internships help college students acquire valuable life skills, but Amyaz Moledina, associate professor of economics at The College of Wooster, and a multidisciplinary team of students have taken the concept to a new level with the Global Social Entrepreneurship problem-based learning experience.

The program is similar to Wooster’s Applied Mathematics Research Experience (AMRE), which assigns exceptional mathematics and computer science majors to serve as consultants for businesses, educational institutions, government agencies, and non-profit organizations.

The latest endeavor has been “quite a few years in the making,” according to Moledina. “We were looking for ways in which to innovate from the AMRE model. We thought, why not try to do what we do so well in our local community, globally?”

As Director of Social Entrepreneurship, Moledina asked a team of students to design a unique global social entrepreneurship program that had a field component. Students designed and wrote a comprehensive social entrepreneurship education plan. On the strength of this plan, Moledina and one of his students, Marianne Sierocinski, traveled to India the previous summer to visit with 10 organizations and begin constructing a framework for the seminar and field experience. Moledina then organized and received approval for a special preparatory seminar. “We tried to set-up a situation where we could observe a problem through the lens of an organization that works with people in need,” he says. “The design of the seminar was unique in that I put the students in the driver’s seat and let them take charge of the learning process. I think this is the first time students have been involved in designing their own academic experience. I know of few other academic experiences that begin from a student-authored business plan.”

Shortly after the seminar ended in May, the students began their field experience, which recently concluded in Banglore, India. Student teams provided consulting services for two internationally recognized local social enterprises: Dream a Dream, which works with underprivileged children to inculcate life skills, and Enable India, which provides training and placement services to Fortune 500 companies for people with disabilities.

“Our goal has been to help the students use their skills to understand and solve the problem given to them,” says Moledina. “What’s interesting and exciting is that the problem is always evolving and ambiguous. This rarely happens in a regular academic experience.”

Dream a Dream is hoping to improve its impact assessment on the children it serves, and the Wooster students have been deeply involved in the effort. Enable India wants to look at various business models so that the organization can reach more people with its services, and Wooster students invested their critical thinking skills in that project as well.

The two organizations benefit from the free service, and the students, who come from a range of academic disciplines (including sociology, anthropology, economics and international relations), benefit from the experience of working with people of different age groups from different cultures.

“I believe that if we truly are a college that changes lives, we need to empower our students to learn continuously and help them connect to the world,” says Moledina. “The global landscape is changing rapidly, and we need to give students a chance to experience it as it happens. Their vision is evolving, and I don’t want to put any limits on it.”

To learn more about the students’ experience check out their blog and see the pictures on Flikr.

Students present ideas for social change!

April 30th, 2010

While most people celebrated Easter by taking a break, twelve students diligently put final touches to business plans for local non-profits. This years’ local SE group worked with four organizations: Goodwill, Every Woman’s House, Wooster City Schools and Cleveland Jazz Orchestra (CJO). In preparation for their final pitches to the Board of Directors of their respective organizations, students presented their plans to a group of their peers on Saturday, April 2 .

Early communication suggests that this year was a success. Erika Federman of CJO said,  our “board was impressed-as am I-by the quality of your work and by your professionalism. I loved your presentation-you did a wonderful job of presenting a LOT of information in a very succinct, easy to digest manner.  Your instincts and your line of thinking/questioning have been right on point. We will be implementing some of your suggestions in the very near future.”

Chris Miller presents Goodwill's Recycling Project

Students also report high levels of satisfaction. For example, Josh Madsen ’10 who worked with Goodwill Industries said, “Working in the capacity of business consultants through the social entrepreneurship program provided our team with a sense of confidence. Learning how to interact with a group of passionate and motivated student consultants taught our teams valuable collaborative skills that we will undoubtedly draw upon in a professional work environment.” Chris Miller ’11 also commented that the program “demands creativity, passion and versatility from students to be effective in ultimately satisfying the client. I am now comfortable communicating… with a wide range of professionals and entrepreneurs.”

To see more pictures of the day, follow our Flikr photostream.

SE 2010 Update

March 26th, 2010

The SE program at the College of Wooster began 2010 in a growth mode. The SE program uses an experiential learning or “live case” approach. It promotes social entrepreneurship and problem solving by connecting clients with real organizational problems and student teams to find meaningful solutions. This year there are two parts to the program, a local seminar/internship and a global experience.


The local seminar is 12 students and a small group of teaching faculty. The are working for a variety of Northeast Ohio non-profits. The four projects this semester are:

These projects are advised by Dr. Lisa Verdon (Economics), Dr. Matthew Broda (Education) and Ms. Theresa Ford (Director of Assessment), Dr Jen Roche (Mathematics) and finally Dr. Russ Ormiston (Economics).

Global SE is an inter-cultural, inter-generational, experiential-learning, problem-based experience with two components – an on-campus seminar and an international experiential-learning consultancy. This experience was designed and developed by Wooster students last year. Facilitated by Moledina, a group of eight students, selected from a group of 25 of the best applicants to the program, are preparing to consult with social enterprises in Bangalore. They will work with Dream-a Dream and Enable India beginning in May 2010 and be supported by a local capacity building enterprise called the Center for Social Initiatives and Management.

  • Dream a Dream seeks to empower children from vulnerable backgrounds by developing life skills and at the same time sensitizing the community through active volunteering leading to a non-discriminatory society where unique differences are appreciated.
  • Enable India seeks to empower people with disabilities by offering training and job placement services.

To prepare themselves students partake in inter-cultural training, designing their own curriculum within the parameters of the project and are attending a heady number of seminars and on campus events. Part of the class is a series of guest lectures.

For example, students met Matthew Bishop, American Business Editor and New York Bureau Chief for The Economist. Philanthrocapitalism, his 2008 book (with Michael Green) on the business of philanthropy was described as “terrific” by the New York Times, and called “the definitive guide to a new generation of philanthropists who understand innovation and risk-taking and who will play a crucial part in solving the biggest problems facing the world,”

The SE program also designed a Social Venture Capital Clinic for students and clients. We welcomed Nell Edgington of Social Velocity, Jennifer Thomas of the Civic Innovation Lab and other notable speakers on January 30th in historic Kauke Hall in Wooster. The Clinic gave SE students and clients the opportunity to learn about HOW social enterprises fund their mission. Through interactive workshops led by practitioners, participants understood and gained practical tools to access the variety of financing options that exist for social ventures including non-profits. Some tips from the Clinic have already convinced some students to access funding from Sparkseed.

Finally, the SE program will jointly fund summer fellowships in innovative urban gardening projects in Northeast Ohio. Stay tuned for announcements.

Alumni spotlight: Rashmi Ekka

March 6th, 2010

rashmi-thumbnailFrom time to time, Wooster alumni that are engaged in poverty reduction or social entrepreneurship will post to this blog. Below is a thought piece by Rashmi Ekka. Ekka graduated in 2008 with an economics degree. Her Independent Study empirically assessed the efficiency and profitability of microfinance organizations with a focus on group lending.  Rashmi’s goal is to create financial institutions that are both socially and financially sustainable. While at Wooster she received a fellowship to attend StartingBloc’s Institute for Social Innovation and also developed a plan to start a microfinance institution for Adivasi’s (Sanskrit for indigenous peoples). Ekka works in DC as a finance
consultant for an international development firm. She is co-founder of Adivasi Development Network

Mainstreaming Socially Responsible Finance and Balancing Mission Drift

In the last edition of the Economist, there was an article which proclaimed that financial innovation for the poor had a place in society.[i] For the past thirty years microfinance practitioners all over the world, starting from Bangladesh to Brazil have been building up the microfinance industry and have taken financial services to over 100 million poor people (more than half of who are women) who were thought to be “unbankable.”

In the first 20 years, most microfinance institutions were non-profit organizations. Their focus was more on achieving social benefits and not much consideration was given to rigorous business practices such as internal controls, risk management and achieving financial sustainability. Repayment rates were high (often in excess of 95%) but many institutions continued to depend on donor financing. Even so, with its growth the microfinance sector became very vibrant, with each country having its own unique challenges and corresponding innovations. In India, where democracy and civil society movements and organizations are firmly entrenched, microfinance took on the form of self-help groups where women organized themselves into small groups and started saving in a common fund and using the group to access credit. These groups then consolidated themselves into federations, further bolstering the institutional structure and the women’s economic power.

In the 90s, there was a push in the microfinance industry for increased financial sustainability. Policy makers in many countries caught up with the sector and put in place enabling microfinance policies including the opportunity to start offering deposit services. Slowly some of the best microfinance institutions started reaching scale and becoming financially self sufficient.

With the increasing popularity of corporate social responsibility, microfinance has become the best answer to socially responsible investment needs. Armed with remarkable social and financial returns, microfinance institutions make good candidates for formal financing through the global capital markets. On the other hand, the big investors have found out that social investing does not only earn them karma points which are well-respected in the financial industry but also the diversification in the portfolio has proved to be a good risk management strategy during the global financial crisis. Calvert Foundation’s Community Investment Notes (bonds) have performed very well during the crisis and now there are several opportunities for institutional and individual investors to invest in microfinance.[ii]

In business there are always trade-offs. With all this good news from the commercial investors, many microfinance practitioners are concerned that they might not be able to adequately balance their financial responsibility with their social responsibility. SKS India is one of the biggest and the most successful microfinance institutions in the world with over 5 million clients. SKS has attracted a lot of interest from investors and those who are in, are expected to make a tidy sum. SKS is soon expected to have its first IPO and many in the industry are worried that the microfinance institution might suffer from mission drift – i.e. become so commercially oriented that its social mission is compromised.

So where does Microfinance go from here? The microfinance industry and generally the social finance industry is in a good place to be. Many industry experts have already banded up together to ensure that microfinance remains a double bottom line industry, i.e. be socially and financially responsible.[iii] With the industry being so quick in addressing mission drift, as well as accessing global capital markets for finance, the microfinance industry should continue to grow at a remarkable pace, expanding outreach to the many poor who are still unbanked. The current size of the industry is estimated at $25 billion and the market demand is estimated at over $250 billion. Let’s hope that microfinance is able to deliver on its promise!

[i] You can read the article brief here:

[ii] If you have $20 (or more) to spare and would like to make a microfinance investment, help the poor around the world and make anywhere between 1% to 6% annual interest rate go to

[iii] Microfinance practitioners have come together under the Social Performance Management Taskforce to ensure that the microfinance industry can be socially and financially responsible. To learn more about this, read the Social Performance Management Guide.

Migrant farmworkers in North Carolina

February 13th, 2010

Visual culture can be used as an instrument for social change. Our SE Program Associate, Laura Valencia ‘12 spent the summer of 2009 working for Toxic Free in North Carolina.

She researched the risks that pesticide exposure poses to migrant workers. Her picture documentary is posted on Photo Philanthropy. Also her video documentary is on the Toxic Free site. She won the 2009 student award from Photo Philanthropy! Congratulations, Laura!

Wild Ideas

February 4th, 2010

By Ashley Baxstrom

Social entrepreneurship: in the words of Eleanor Newman ‘10, it’s “not just about helping people – it’s about developing a business and also providing social value in a community.”

Since 2005, the College of Wooster has introduced students to the process and concepts of social entrepreneurship by connecting student teams and real-world clients to find solutions for financial and organizational problems.  The SE program offers a combination of experiential learning and cooperative problem-solving to develop business opportunities with sustainable social and economic value.

In the spring of 2008, a small team of students put their creative thinking to the test to create a business model for The Wilderness Center in Wilmot, OH.  Executive Director Gordon Maupin asked for help to put together a sustainable model for a regular podcast.  “It had been something I’d been looking at for a period of time, but hadn’t had time to make the business plan,” Maupin said.  “I thought computer-savvy college students could be a big help.”

The SE program had several students interested in taking on the challenge.  Newman, originally attracted to SE because of a poster, was intrigued by the responsibility and progressive thinking which was expected of students, “something you’d expect to see at graduate level.”  Thomas Stikeleather ‘10 was attracted to the environmental factor and the emerging technological issues.  With the help of their teammates and faculty advisor Amber Garcia of the Psychology department, the students got to work.

Newman had never heard of a podcast making any money, but thought the idea had a lot to offer.  “It struck me that there were people who knew so much about the wilderness and had so much to share” she said.  “It seemed like a great way to … be able to spread that knowledge to a greater community than the one that’s local.

The process was a combination of teamwork and individual responsibility.  Initially meeting every day, the students was able to bring their own ideas to the table and utilize their separate interests to put together a multi-faceted model.  “We worked really well as a group,” Newman said, but added “it was a very independent process – we were expected to get along and do our own thing.”  Separately they researched concepts like marketing, technology and profitability, and weekly met with each other, their advisor, and again with Maupin to gradually lay out what fit the proposal.

Stikeleather thought communication between the parties went very smoothly.  “They really had a passion about the project as much as we did.  I know other groups ran into hurdles (with communication), but they were rooting us on the whole way.”

“I thought they did a great plan and I was very pleased,” Maupin said.  The model was so feasible that in 2009 he went back to the SE program for help putting it in effect, and Stikeleather, involved with the College radio station, found himself working with the Wilderness Center once again.  Maupin assigned specific tasks of researching and finding the right equipment and setting everything up.

David Wiebe, Access Services Manager at the College library, was there to help.  With a background in technology and interest in the emerging field of podcasts, Wiebe advised Stikeleather on equipment and software.  “He was in my office all the time!” Wiebe said.  “He was what I saw as the conduit of communication.”

Wiebe, Stikeleather and Maupin met several times to revisit the business plan and nail down the application.  Wiebe had the technological expertise to advise on equipment and trained Stikeleather in software like Garage Band.  Stikeleather was essentially the producer, bringing people together, and handled issues such as marketing.

The process wasn’t without its share of hurdles, of course.  For Maupin, it was trying to incorporate the new technology at the Wilderness Center.  “Whenever you’re dealing with computers and technology, how can you go five minutes without some frustration?”  Stikeleather had to handle the difficulty of balancing his junior year independent study and activities with the very real complications of implementing a business plan.  “The thing about this kind of work is the business plan isn’t as definite a goal as maybe a paper is, so there’s more ambiguity about it; so in that time between developing the plan and letting them know you have to make some personal decisions, you’re not sure how you’re keeping up at all times.”

In the end though, everything came together.  The Wilderness Center’s Wild Ideas weekly podcast has been in operation for a year, boasting over 50 posts.  Every week presents a different topic in nature and the natural sciences, hosted by Maupin, other Center personnel and special guest expert speakers.  Its friendly, conversational tone has made it popular around the world: since being featured by iTunes, it has been downloaded (over 20,000 times) on every continent except Africa and Antarctica.  “It’s not terribly formal but that’s part of the flavor,” Maupin said.  “They get to listen to environmentalists chatting.”

Stikeleather also began playing the podcast on the College radio station Woo 91 (90.9 locally) this year.  “I think it has an enormous social value,” he said.  “It gives a local non-profit organization a voice that really informs anyone who’s interested and anyone who’s willing to tune in.”

Maupin says the Wilderness Center is optimistic the podcast will continue to grow, and is interested in furthering the marketing potential for it, especially in the new social media sector.  “Maybe we could get some students together and get some wild ideas flowing around,” he said, anticipating potential future cooperation with SE again.

Wiebe also enjoyed the opportunity he had to work closely with a student. “I don’t often have that experience, to see a student take charge … in a pretty comprehensive project.”  Since working on the project, he’s also become a regular at the Wilderness Center with his family.  “To make those connections with members of the community, I thought that was great.”

Stikeleather graduates this spring with a degree in urban studies, and will carry the social entrepreneurship lessons learned with him in his graduate studies and career in city planning.  “SE really requires us to assess the social value of anything,” he said, reflecting that it provides “a moral sense to anything that you want to shape, where you’re doing something that has benefits beyond yourself, and such action I think is commendable anywhere in the world.”

Newman, graduating from the department of International Relations and looking toward a career in non-profit work or journalism, also left the program with a strong sense of its potential value.  She recalled, “Karl Marx would talk about how relationships are no longer about how you were judged but what you could buy,” observing how businesses in the modern economy had severed their relationships with people.  She thinks American and global industry needs to move toward a more community-oriented model.  “If the idea gained some popularity and we started thinking about how we could build a better business and community, that would create a better world for all of us.”