Forty two stu­dents on a Dia­logue of Civ­i­liza­tions pro­gram in South Africa this summer worked hand-​​in-​​hand with local entre­pre­neurs to deliver sus­tain­able and socially respon­sible solu­tions to a variety of chal­lenges facing their businesses.

The five-​​week pro­gram has grown expo­nen­tially in pop­u­larity since its incep­tion six years ago. Each year, it is led by Dennis Shaugh­nessy, exec­u­tive pro­fessor in the Inno­va­tion and Entre­pre­neur­ship Group and founder of the Social Enter­prise Insti­tute, and this year it was assisted by Gordon Adomdza, assis­tant pro­fessor of entre­pre­neur­ship and innovation.

“Our stu­dents are not just inter­ested in businesses—they're inter­ested in how busi­nesses can make the world a better place,” said Esther Chou, assis­tant director of pro­grams for the Social Enter­prise Insti­tute. “If they're going on a study abroad pro­gram, they want to do some­thing that leaves an impact.”

The South Africa Dia­logue is broken into two mod­ules. First, North­eastern stu­dents team up with local stu­dents from the Ter­tiary School in Busi­ness Admin­is­tra­tion, or TSiBA, to study and work on a con­sulting deliv­er­able for their assigned project. This year, these projects involved working with 22 entre­pre­neurs from the Cape Town area looking to get their busi­nesses off the ground. The second module is a more prac­tical learning expe­ri­ence, in which stu­dents work on an inno­va­tion and design con­sulting project with more estab­lished social enter­prises. At the end of this expe­ri­ence, four enter­prises from the first module are selected to apply for gap funding through the NU-​​TSiBA MicroVen­ture Fund.

Adam Fishman, a senior busi­ness major, worked on the con­sulting project for a busi­ness called Global Prime Tutoring that was ulti­mately selected for seed funding. The social busi­ness works with stu­dents in the Cape Town area to help them improve their matric test scores so that they can go onto ter­tiary education.

“When we started out, our client was tar­geting only one group of people, which were stu­dents that wanted to improve their scores and have failed in the past,” Fishman said. “Because they were tar­geting stu­dents that tend to be lower income, they weren't being as finan­cially sus­tain­able as they could be.”

Fishman and his North­eastern and TSiBA peers rec­om­mended that Global Prime Tutoring imple­ment sliding scale pricing and expand its offer­ings to prepa­ra­tion classes that may appeal to a more affluent market. If they could offer a higher price to wealthier stu­dents, then it would help bring down costs for lower income stu­dents. They also rec­om­mended that Global Prime create a non­profit to form a hybrid busi­ness model, which would bring out­side funding to finance the cost of one year of matric preparation.

North­eastern alumna Caitlin Fer­guson went on the South Africa Dia­logue in 2010 and returned this year as a teaching assis­tant. “It's a pro­gram that I believe in a lot,” said Fer­guson, a 2013 grad­uate with a degree in com­mu­ni­ca­tion studies. “It's both inter­esting and inspiring to watch the stu­dents grow and open their minds to the influ­en­tial poten­tial of social enterprise.”

In addi­tion to working with local entre­pre­neurs, stu­dents pointed to another par­tic­u­larly impactful moment during the Dia­logue pro­gram when they had the oppor­tu­nity to sit down for tea with Nobel Peace Prize lau­reate Arch­bishop Emer­itus Desmond Tutu.

“We were given an audi­ence with the Arch­bishop by way of one of the South African stu­dents enrolled at our partner insti­tu­tion, TSiBA,” Shaugh­nessy explained. “During this time, he offered his unscripted thoughts and inspiring insight informed by his life's work—in speaking truth to power on behalf of the pow­er­less, and of seeking rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and for­give­ness over con­flict and revenge.”

Shaugh­nessy described the meeting as an incred­ible moment of wisdom and a com­pelling call to action, which the 42 future busi­ness leaders took to heart.