Kelley Institute for Social Impact supports increasing business student interest in engagement
March 21, 2011
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- When Kathleen Robbins was a student at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business back in the mid-1990s, many of her classmates wanted to be involved in their communities, but not as much as today.
Molly Barwick and Kathleen Robbins are co-directors of the new Kelley Institute for Social Impact.
"The interest is much bigger right now," said Robbins, who has directed Kelley's undergraduate program since 2008. "For example, when I went on an alternative spring break trip, there were three trips to choose from. This year, there are 16 trips and they're all completely full and we had to turn away more than half the applicants . . . That's a pretty telling statistic.
"When I was a student there were no student organizations related to social impact," she added. "That's not to say that the interest wasn't there, but it hadn't really bubbled up to the surface. Students didn't realize the correlation between those interests and the business curriculum, and now that's become more apparent."
Today, the Kelley School is home to one of only three undergraduate Net Impact chapters selected by the international organization as a Gold chapter. It's an example of how business students are trying to create a more socially and environmentally sustainable world.
To support those and other efforts, the school has established the Kelley Institute for Social Impact (KISI), a new initiative that provides support, resources and additional direction for business students involved in an expanding array of social enterprise and community engagement activities outside the classroom.
Molly Barwick, the other director of the institute and director of civic leadership development at Kelley, said a growing number of grass-roots efforts within the school created a demand for KISI. In recent years, many undergraduate student organizations with overlapping missions have been formed or began focusing more on making an impact on society, both in the United States and abroad.
"Students are really inter-relating with what they're learning in their classes with social impact efforts," Barwick said, adding that international experiences have opened the eyes of many to greater social needs. "They see that they can work for a for-profit business and still do good."
Students in 2009 volunteered at Rosie's Place, a Boston-based organization that serves food to homeless women. Left to right, Adam Jacobs, Dan Cho, Kyler Gray, Ryan Harvey, Missi Davis, Aditya Prakash and Suzanne Hsieh.
"While the Institute's initial focus will be on supporting undergraduate students, the school envisions the future KISI purview to include graduate student activities as well," added Munirpallam A. Venkataramanan, associate dean of programs and a professor of operations and decision technologies.
By establishing this institute, "the Kelley School is more deliberately embracing and integrating social entrepreneurship, social innovation, and socio-economic sustainability topics into our school-wide curriculum," Venkataramanan added. "We recognize that both students and companies value the inclusion of a social consciousness in their approach to business and this is certainly in keeping with our Kelley School mission to transform lives, organizations, and communities through business education and research."
This summer, KISI will launch an international internship program through a partnership with the San Francisco-based Foundation for Sustainable Development (FSD). Two Kelley students will be placed in Uganda and two will be in India. Each student will be paired with an NGO focused on microfinance, community development or women's empowerment.
Students will be responsible only for their airfare. KISI will pay for all program costs, housing, food, in-country transportation and insurance. Upon their return to campus in the fall, participants will be expected to share their experiences to increase awareness of this opportunity.
"Certainly this type of opportunity takes a unique kind of student," Robbins acknowledges. "They have to be OK with doing something different. For students who are attracted to an internship like this, we want to offer them some opportunities to get there."
Robbins notes that the kinds of experiences offered by the KISI international internships also will be very attractive to prospective employers. "Just imagine the problem-solving skills that the students will be able to talk about," she said.
The Kelley School has provided many service learning opportunities for student for nearly 25 years.
Kelley students in January worked in Cape Coast, Ghana, with an organization called Women in Progress. Left to right, with three Ghanaian business owners are student Missi Davis and Kelsey Schlegel.
Its Civic Leadership Development (CLD) program dates back to 1988, when about 80 students served 43 local agencies. Today, CLD has 1,651 members and has partnerships with 194 agencies, including Junior Achievement, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Bloomington and Stone Belt rehabilitation center.
Kelley students also have been going on alternative spring break trips since 1991, although the program now also organizes trips at other times of the year. In 2010-11, it organized 16 week-long trips, which included rebuilding homes in New Orleans, working with children at a hospital in Little Rock, Ark., and volunteering at Everglades National Park. There were four international trips to Nicaragua, Peru and Ghana. More information is available at https://kelley.iu.edu/civic/CLD_ASB/trips.cfm.
"We try before and after these trips to engage students in community service in Bloomington together. They work in a homeless shelter here or the community kitchen," Barwick said. "They're immersed during their trips and then come back and know the issues a little better."
Among KISI's many activities will be providing organizational support for business students involved in major, school-wide philanthropic projects, such as builds for Habitat for Humanity. KISI also is bringing in successful business people and role models who've bridged their careers with strategies to alleviate poverty.
These mentors have included Greg van Kirk, an Ashoka Fellow and accomplished social entrepreneur who went from working in the banking industry to developing the concept of micro-consignment in Ecuador and Guatemala.
Students also this year have met Neil Blumenthal, co-founder of Warby Parker, which gives away a pair of eyeglasses to someone in the developing world for every pair sold in the United States.
Will Haughey, a Kelley alumnus, returned to campus to talk about Tegu, a company that sells children's blocks made of sustainably harvested wood from Honduras, and which works to increase the number of children who are able to attend school there. So did Ted Stolberg, another Kelley alumnus and founder of Beanstalk.org, a community development organization in Colorado.
KISI also has helped Kelley students who have applied for Teach for America and the Peace Corps, and interest in both programs have grown considerably in recent years.
Despite the tremendous interest within Kelley for what KISI will offer, Robbins noted that others may not appreciate how an undergraduate business education will enable students to attain their goals in international social enterprise.
"The more conversations we've had with students, it seems like we kept hearing, 'I'm interested in business, but I want to work in international development,'" she said. "We're trying to change that sentence so a student can say, 'I'm studying business because I want to work in international development.'"