Social Entrepreneurship in South America

Timothy Mullen and his MBA class took the opportunity to travel to Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro, examining the prominent role of the cultural and social environment in regards to business and entrepreneurship. Please enjoy reading about Timothy’s experiences and perspectives.

“Our USD MBA went truly global early in 2016, with a group of us electing to travel for coursesmullen2 offered in South America. Argentina was the destination for a course in Global Entrepreneurship followed by Rio De Janeiro where we undertook a team based consulting project for real businesses. Argentina was particularly enlightening as we got much closer as a student body, living under the same roof in close quarters, sharing the same frustrations with taxi availability and exploring all the culinary and cultural nuances of our unique location together as a group. Even if by the end we couldn’t face another empanada or religious cut of beef for weeks to come, we were all so thankful for the experience.

The journey of discovery began when Dr. Meyskens set us the task of reading Bornstein’s “How to Change the World” and it set the tone for what was to be an amazing voyage of societal reflection throughout the inspirational excursion. David Bornstein through his book “How to Change the World” (2007) really opens the readers mind to the possibilities social entrepreneurship presents through business for social innovation on a global scale. It was an incredible read filled with heart-warming tales of idea champions struggling against adversity mullen1both systematic, economic and social. Bornstein uses ten case studies of individual social champions to strengthen his views about what defines a success and how the Ashoka organisation in particular, plays a role in developing small scale ideas into world changing visions with notable results. I think the book in general opened my eyes up to the kinds of innovative work individuals (in often really trying geographical regions) were performing, towards their own respective causes. Some of the struggles these individuals have overcome to render completely rewarding and often thankless results is astounding and often tugged at the heart strings. I was thrilled to learn about Ashoka’s individual based funding model recognizing elite contributors. I will keep with me, from this point forward, the six qualities of social entrepreneurs particularly a willingness to self-correct, and try to apply those principles to future strategic plans I try to enact whether socially beneficial or otherwise. I highly recommend anyone interested in civil sustainability or innovation pick up this book for a great timeless read or inspiration.

mullen3Following on from our exploration of the book we were fed valuable classroom insights into the social inequality currently facing Argentinians in their everyday lives due to a failing economy and job and welfare shortages. We visited and heard from many organisations in the Argentinian business landscape each championing a cause to correct social inequality. We were inspired by the likes of the Alamo co-operative employing those of less means to recycle and collect trash for sustainable employment, Idel who were training mentally disadvantaged adults by providing them with social training and employment possibilities, Acinder, a large steel corporation and the voluntary efforts they promoted through direct programs and government liaising and the almost militant worker groups at La Base and Chilavert printers championing the voice of the downtrodden.
mullen4We were further equipped with entrepreneurship tools and tasked to apply them to a venture of our own invention. Armed with a social entrepreneur geared business canvas model, the lean start-up philosophy and funding options and scaling principles for social ventures, we were ready to develop our own concepts. Wanting to better understand the class division and with an avid interest in healthcare already, our team decided to see what we could propose for healthcare in the Argentinian slums. I was really keen to understand the lives the residents and pitch our idea to the people who lived there to see if they recognised benefit. Filled with curiosity and a desire to help myself and the professor did a private tour of Villa 31 led by a mullen5volunteer evening school (Casa Abierta) teacher who lived there. She explained that our assumption that slum residents wanted to elevate themselves out of that living situation was somewhat misled. Most of the residents had moved to Villa 31 from the likes of Ecuador and Paraguay, as Buenos Aires in fact was a positive move even if it was the slums where they ended up. They weren’t looking to educate their children with the dream of ever leaving those communities but instead continue to work tremendously hard to make their communities a comfortable, viable and healthy lifestyle choice for all. It was share economy in the rawest form, they owned their predicament and weren’t seeking handouts, pity or sympathy. The slums were much more civilised than expected with running water, power, telephone coverage with internet access, security and functioning businesses. Issues remained like a lack of on-call emergency health services, police corruption and crime and drug proliferation, but these weren’t enough to dissuade the residents of Villa 31 from their intention to remain there and better their life in the slum. The professor and myself were even shown an adult evening education centre which was self-funded and volunteer steered, and we were also told of sewing co-operatives which had been developed recently. It was a very positive experience completely transforming my opinion of class inequality in Buenos Aires.

Our team’s concept MedRed was a non-profit healthcare app for the slum areas. Villa 31 had recently built a little medical room regularly attended by volunteers inside the slum so as to bring health care to the residents rather than have them walk up to one hour to the nearest facility, but it was manned to a schedule not around the clock and required one particular medical professional to champion the cause. Together with the adult evening school, he had begun a program of education for medical technician volunteers living in the villa who had access to the room and could perform minor duties. Our idea was to develop an app to connect those volunteers with a virtual network of logged in, on-call health professionals who would mullen6volunteer from local hospitals medical schools and universities and other practices. In the event of an alarm, the app would connect the volunteer with the professional to pseudo triage and treat the patient any hour of any day. Basically, an uber for volunteer doctors and their advice to the volunteers. The plan then was to expand the volunteer program and app to other slums in Argentina and then possibly the other slums of the world. Potentially a paid service for a GP on call could be rolled out to regular citizens in those countries to help fund the expansion. Our app concept was met with supportive praise from both the residents of the villa and the Argentinian business mentor whom we had to pitch it to and we felt rewarded that we’d developed a tangible solution to a very real issue.

I’m unsure as to whether our successful pitch will ever lead to a manifestation of the app in the real world, providing residents with a better standard of healthcare coverage, but nonetheless our journey to Argentina was tremendously rewarding and eye opening. We learnt much about ourselves as a student group and left inspired by real community efforts and ventures we’d both read about, visited and interacted with. It was amazing to learn that innovation in business didn’t have to be confined to the realms of efficiency and cost, but, all in all, I hope to remember that fantastic commercial opportunities exist outside of the regular “for profit” business world to strategize and innovate for real social change and balance.”

To check out more student experiences, visit our Study Abroad blog page.

Information on international opportunities can also be found on our website.

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