Business schools spend a lot of time teaching students how to create value for their companies and their associated stakeholders. It is part of the Smith School’s vision to also teach students to create social value for themselves, their communities and their world. In fall 2009, the Smith School’s Center for Social Value Creation (CSVC), was launched to help students gain an educational core competency for exploring and solving the business model issues that currently limit organizations in their pursuit of socially responsible corporate culture.
CSVC is the most student-centric of Smith’s centers and its major offerings complement the student experience with co-curricular programs, elective coursework and hands-on consulting projects. The center also helps faculty integrate the concept of creating social value into curriculum in a strategic and methodical way, without removing any of the core teachings of their disciplines, offering faculty workshops and one-on-one assistance with course design.
A point of pride is the center’s Social Venture Consulting Program, through which the center puts MBA and undergraduate students to work on solving business problems for nonprofit organizations. Each student team devotes 60 to 80 hours over three months to their assigned project, working under the guidance and supervision of a faculty champion. The program has been so well-received that this year the center received proposals for more than 150 projects, just a dozen of which will be selected. Melissa Carrier, the center’s executive director, and assistant director Juliet Lloyd look for projects that have an achievable scope, will provide a meaningful learning experience for students and results in a viable solution for the nonprofit. For many students, it’s more than just an opportunity to practice applying business processes in the real world. It is an eye-opening and gratifying experience to see their recommendations put to work, solving real problems for organizations doing good in the community.
“This year we will be expanding the CSVC program—basically franchising it—to other universities around the country,” says Carrier. “We have built a program with a structured methodology that works and we have seen a lot of interest from other universities. Our goal is three new universities this year. We’ll also be developing a knowledge toolkit with all of the deliverables, as well as templates and how-to guides for organizations looking to achieve certain objectives, such as creating a strategic plan or developing a board.”
The Smith School’s proximity to Washington, D.C., has allowed CSVC to engage in some interesting partnerships with federal agencies as well as local and national nonprofits. Last spring the center teamed up with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for the Global Challenge, a first-of-its-kind competition that challenged teams of MBA and other graduate students to develop business solutions that supported international development. Teams were tasked with devising a new public-private alliance to allow a private enterprise to promote tourism while contributing to international development initiatives in southeast Asia. Eight finalist teams were selected from 65 registered teams across 32 universities. The competition offered students cash prizes, but also the opportunity to connect with leading experts in the international development and business communities. A second Global Challenge is being planned for 2011.
Some students find their interaction with the center so inspiring that they go on to pursue a career in the nonprofit sector, or in one of many companies that place social responsibility among their core values. Students can learn about creating social change through market-based approaches, explore career options and network with socially responsible corporations at the center’s annual Social Enterprise Symposium, which last year drew about 600 students from across the University of Maryland campus. The symposium is partly organized by the Terp Changemakers, a student group that is part of the Ashoka UChangemaker Campus initiative and supported by CSVC.
While the center’s main focus is on students, knowledge creation is also a key objective for CSVC. The center supports research through grants to faculty, encouraging them to explore issues that impact the world’s most urgent social problems. Smith faculty are currently working on studies related to the management of humanitarian relief, microloans and peer-to-peer lending, financing patterns in developing economies, and public incentives for green innovation.
The center is also committed to helping corporations meet their organizational objectives in the area of CSR and social innovation, and in connecting with students who align with their organization’s culture and values. Individuals and organizations interested in partnering with the center may contact Carrier for more information, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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