I HAD BEEN an editor at BizEd about a year when I researched and wrote “Taking Responsibility,” my first article about CSR and social entrepreneurship. One of the people I interviewed, Gail Whiteman of Erasmus University’s Rotterdam School of Management, was convinced that trained businesspeople had the inside track on fixing some of society’s greatest problems. As she said then, “One of the best things about business is that it’s filled with people who know how to do things. They’re not just thinkers and talkers.”
I’d never looked at business that way. I knew it could deliver cars and build skyscrapers and move products halfway around the globe. But I hadn’t considered that it might also know how to lower carbon emissions, cure AIDS, or raise the standard of living for whole nations.
While climate change, disease, and poverty are worldwide concerns, emerging nations are facing some of the most dire situations and have the most urgent need for answers. Maybe for that reason, individuals and enterprises in emerging nations are developing some of the most intriguing solutions.
For instance, Patrick E. Ngowi has founded a solar energy company in Tanzania called Helvetic Solar Group. Not only has HSG been profitable—it earned more than US$5 million in revenue in 2013—but it has a philanthropic bent. HSG operates the nonprofit Light for Life Foundation, which provides free solar power directly to end users, primarily women and schools in rural East Africa.
In other words, Ngowi has multiple goals: to make a profit by running a successful business, to ease global climate change by supplying renewable energy, and to combat poverty by empowering women and supporting education. No wonder that Ngowi was included in an article by Forbes magazine that profiled 30 young African entrepreneurs—and no wonder that he recently was invited to the University of Dar es Salaam Business School to tell his story. When it comes to promoting the kind of innovative entrepreneurship that will reshape the economies of emerging nations, business schools have a key part to play.
We examine that role with a series of articles in this issue of BizEd. In “The Right Ideas,” Walter Baets of the University of Cape Town emphasizes the need for African business schools to promote social enterprise and entrepreneurship throughout their curricula. In “The PhD Effect,” Johan Roos describes how Sweden’s Jönköping International Business School is partnering with universities in Ethiopia and Rwanda to help train the next generation of PhDs—and the next generation of business leaders. Similarly, the Zagreb School of Economics and Management aspires to improve the economic infrastructure of Croatia and all of Eastern Europe in a journey that Julie Felker maps out in “Rising to Excellence.”
These are ambitious goals. But, as Whiteman said to me 13 years ago, business is full of people who know how to get things done. It’s up to business schools to turn out more of those practical, capable, committed people—so they can “do things” that matter all around the world.