Stories of Impact: Facilitating Economic Growth in Sri Lanka

 International, Social Impact, Social Venture Consulting  Comments Off on Stories of Impact: Facilitating Economic Growth in Sri Lanka
Jul 242014

By Pammi Bhullar, Manager for Experiential Learning, Center for Social Value Creation

Smith Sri Lanka Team













As part of a multi-disciplinary, international consulting practicum offered by the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, ten graduate students ventured to Sri Lanka in May 2014 to spend three weeks consulting with small business owners and government agencies.  Students in this practicum, called Facilitating Economic Growth in Sri Lanka, were funded by the Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER) while working as consultants on USAID-funded projects.  The International Executive Service Corps (IESC) provided pre-departure training, project support, and in-country assistance while Biz+ Vega, a USAID grantee, led on-the-ground operations including cultivating and managing client relationships.  Students were also supported by the Office of Global Initiatives (OGI) and the Center for Social Value Creation (CSVC).  Contributing to the students’ cultural education, Ambassador Jaliya Wickramasuriya and his Board of Ministers hosted the students at the Embassy in Washington, D.C.

Under the direction of Professor Kislaya Prasad, Director of CIBER at Smith, students underwent a competitive application and interview process to be accepted into the program.  The selected group of ten represented three academic degree programs, Master of Business Administration (MBA), Master of Public Policy (MPP), and Master of Science in Information Systems (MSIS), and hailed from five different countries, including Japan, Thailand, India, the Czech Republic, and the USA.

While in Sri Lanka, students worked on high impact projects with key stakeholders in the local communities.  Hirokazu Masuoka (MBA ’14) worked with the Eastern Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Production and Development, Rural Industries Development, Fisheries, and Tourism Projects to develop a proposal for establishing a cooperative rural banking facility as part of the multipurpose co-operative in the Eastern Province.  On-the-ground observations made all the difference for Masuoka, he noted, “Now I learned what I need to take into account, what works, and what doesn’t work when I engage with financial markets in developing countries. There is a huge difference between working with my laptop in the U.S. and working on the real site.”

One team composed of MPP, MBA, and MSIS students provided recommendations on strengthening the National Policy on Local Government.  Through site visits and interviews, the team developed recommendations regarding Budget and Revenue Generation, Human Resource Management and Workforce Training, Transparency, and Information Systems and Technology.   At the culmination of the practicum, students presented their recommendations to their clients, representatives from the local community, USAID, IESC, Biz+ Vega, and Smith School of Business.

Not only were students immersed in improving business processes, but also in the cultural nuances of the Sri Lankan people.  Maurice Nick (MBA ’15), having not traveled to Sri Lanka before, was floored by similarities that he discovered between Sri Lankans and himself.  Nick elaborated on one of the distinctions that actually made him feel closer to the Sri Lankan culture than to his own American culture in an article posted in the Washington Times and the Smith blog.  Nick wrote, “Even though I was sent there [to Sri Lanka] to teach business owners how to maintain their financial records, in the end, it was the Sri Lankan people who taught me to always hold steadfast to my faith regardless of where I am in the world.”

Smith School of Business students have benefited from the opportunity to take part in the CIBER-supported Facilitating Economic Development in Sri Lanka practicum since 2011.  Smith has sent five different cohorts, including 34 graduate students from the MBA, MPP, and MSIS programs.  This has given students from the U.S., Europe, Southeast Asia, Japan, and China the opportunity to work with and positively influence Sri Lankan enterprises throughout Sri Lanka.

Building Wealth in Baltimore

 Social Venture Consulting  Comments Off on Building Wealth in Baltimore
Jul 012014

Community Wealth Building Presenters











What does it mean to have a job that builds wealth? Beyond a living wage – defined as wage that is high enough to maintain a quality of life standard – wealth building is about accumulating assets and surplus capital that lead to an elevated standard of life. For thousands of low-income households across the nation building wealth is not an option. With limited access to jobs that pay even a living wage, these families struggle to make ends meet, let alone to invest in the future.  These low wage jobs trap low-income families in institutional poverty, making them especially vulnerable to economic shocks. How can we create opportunities to help low-income households maintain and improve their current situations?

This question inspired a collaborative effort between the Center for Social Value Creation (CSVC) at the Robert H. Smith School of Business and the Maryland School of Social Work to pilot an experiential learning course called West Baltimore Community Wealth Building Practicum.

The course is based on the initial research of Stephanie Geller, clinical instructor and coordinator of Southwest Baltimore initiatives for the Social Work Community Outreach Service at the Maryland School of Social Work, which explores how to create more wealth building jobs for underserved communities in Baltimore, MD.

Stephanie was fascinated by the model of Evergreen Cooperatives which launched in 2008 in Cleveland, Ohio and came up with an interesting proposed solution to wealth building job creation:

  1. Target the major institutions that have no intention of leaving (hospitals, universities, government organizations, etc.)
  2. Find products and services these institutions need
  3. Build local businesses to meet those demands.
  4. Design the businesses as worker-owned cooperatives to ensure that each “worker / owner” builds wealth within the business.

Stephanie conducted research on how this model could work in Baltimore, identifying several major institutions and developing forty possible business ideas tied to these institutions.

Recognizing the transformative potential of Stephanie’s initial research, CSVC and the School of Social Work teamed up MBA and Masters of Social Work students to investigate the social value and financial viability of twelve of these business ideas. These cross-functional teams conducted interviews with potential stakeholders and partner institutions, analyzed the specific financial and social impact of their ideas on West Baltimore communities, and developed preliminary recommendations for launching these concepts into full-fledged worker-owned cooperatives.

In a final presentation to local funders, community members, and representatives of major Baltimore institutions, the student teams elaborated on four of the highest-potential ideas.  The ideas included property demolition, furniture recycling and refurbishing, compost collection, and an urban greenhouse. There are several common elements to these ideas that make them both attractive investments and appealing social impact opportunities, including:

  • Forecasted profitability within four years
  • Forecasted employment of at least 50 people within 8 years
  • Accessible to unskilled workers
  • Positioned to add value to major local institutions

During the Q&A and reception that followed the presentations many stakeholder expressed words of support saying things like, “I’m so glad you’re researching this,” or, “We definitely need something like this in our City.” The reception was also filled with the buzz of potential partners and funders digging deeper into ideas that caught their attention.

Whether a worker-owned cooperative is created as a direct outcome of this work, or is referenced at a later time by a group committed to aligning economic prosperity and local institutions, The West Baltimore Community Wealth Building Practicum has laid the groundwork for models that go beyond living wages and truly build wealth in Baltimore.