Can Business Schools Tackle Poverty?

The Stanford Graduate School of Business recently announced that, with a $150 million donation, it will launch a new institute that will help alleviate poverty. Called the “Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies,” its aim is to develop research that can help business leaders innovate products and services that will build infrastructure and economic growth, which, according to the school’s website, will help relieve poverty in developing countries.

While relieving poverty may seem like a lofty goal, it might also be based on good business sense. Globalization and increased economic activity in developing countries have created and expanded markets for international business in ways that will play out for years to come. For example, a recent population report released by Goldman Sachs speculated that, because of explosive growth and continuing development in China, the Chinese middle class may be four times as large as America’s by 2030, and will undoubtedly represent a huge business market. It would be logical to assume that efforts to minimize or alleviate poverty elsewhere could generate a whole new class of consumers and associated business opportunities.

Of course, some socially-minded business entrepreneurs are already tuning into the idea that business ventures that create growth can also help impoverished people in different parts of the world. Successful implementation of microfinance lending, for example, can help create jobs and spur life-changing innovations for many people, all while creating economic growth.

And Stanford’s plan is also only the latest of similar business school-sponsored measures. In 1993, for example, Harvard Business School (HBS) founded its Social Enterprise Initiative, whose mission is partly based on the idea that “academic conferences, field-based research, and course development efforts at HBS have generated knowledge focused on the role that business and business-like approaches can play in alleviating poverty,” according to the initiative’s website. Similarly, the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School aims to “market-driven approaches aimed at finding solutions to poverty and environmental deterioration.”

For more on Stanford’s Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies, you can watch this video on its purpose and background:

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