SEID project with eLuma

In the last ten years, the word “sustainability” has grown in importance in the international development space. Sustainability has become a development category unto itself, and often refers to environmental considerations: how can we ensure our project has a neutral or positive impact on climate change? How can we encourage farmers to grow organic? At other times, it refers to generating positive social benefit.

But an original and oft-neglected meaning of sustainability lies in the simplicity of the word itself: how can our project be sustained, once we’ve moved on? This may be one of the greatest challenges of development work. Countless well-intentioned projects boast stellar outcomes, and five or ten years later are abandoned. Some critics of international aid (like Dambisa Moyo) point out that assistance from outside parties can often create dependencies and reduce incentives for local governments and entrepreneurs to stimulate lasting change from within.

eLuma, a project supported by IDEAS, was quick to identify this challenge, and has wasted no time in seeking a solution. The eLuma team is creating a business center in Yele, Sierra Leone which will leverage electricity to stimulate new enterprise, economic activity, and community development. eLuma realized that a rural business center not only had the potential for social impact; it also represented a good investment opportunity for utilities and energy providers. Enterprises, even when small, typically consume more energy than a residential household, and thus can significantly boost a utility’s revenues. The team called this the “eLuma effect” – the existence of a business center would absorb unused energy supply during daytime hours, when most residences don’t use electricity (check out the graph on the right). It would also stimulate the local economy as a whole, raising consumption (and thus, revenues) across the board.

As members of Sloan Entrepreneurs for International Development (SEID), a team of four of us set out to make the business case – in essence, the sustainability case – for eLuma. Our group came from consumer products, management consulting, and international development, and we’d all be stretched by the new assignment: build a financial model that shows the return on investment a utility can get from building a business center.

Sounds simple, right? We thought we had one of the most straightforward SEID projects. Two months, many meetings and much research later, we finally had a clear picture of what our model needed to answer, and what information would go into the model to yield that answer.

This was a fascinating process for us, and provided a hands-on lesson in how innovators turn ideas into reality. You get an idea, and you’re inspired; you tell people about your idea, and it takes on weight and momentum; then you try to produce something concrete from your idea, and are suddenly slapped with an onslaught of frightening practicalities. This last step can derail many fine ideas, and even in our mini-project, there were moments when we weren’t sure which path to take, or whether we could make something that worked. In the end, though, our persistence and some computational wizardry from my teammates produced an exciting return-on-investment tool for eLuma. The eLuma team has already taken it to Yele’s utility company, so we think that’s a good sign.

So what’s the takeaway from this experience?

If you’re interested in development, innovation, or entrepreneurship, find someone who’s doing it already, and get on board. Find a way to volunteer or assist with an IDEAS team, or with any project that excites you. You’ll learn about working in a startup, and you learn to push through the difficult stages to produce something real. You’ll also directly experience the unique challenges that arise in a startup that pursues sustainability – of people, planet, and, well, profit (the last of these p’s may be as important for the sustainability of development projects as the first two). If you have an idea but aren’t sure where to begin, helping another project is a great way to get your feet wet.

The best part of working on our project, though, was the ability to take part in an organization’s growth and success. eLuma has just finished the first phase of construction for the business center, recruited a bank to open a branch in the center, and already received 40 applications from Yele entrepreneurs who are eager to open up shop. We’re excited to see what’s next!

Learn more about eLuma on their blog:

SEID organizes D-Lab Technology Dissemination Program Fellowship Demo


Mobilize Up to Change the World!!

Our next mixer is Feb 15th 6:00 PM- @ MIT Stata Center, R&D Commons

Please join us again to mingle with like-minded people, find teammates and partners, and opportunities to use your skills and experience.

This mixer includes idea pitches and demonstration of D-lab Technology Dissemination Program.

SEID Helping Assured Labor

This past week, SEID members and collaborators Tiago Wright, MBA ’12, Rachel Chung, MBA ’12, Reka Horvath, MBA ’12; Kira Intrator, a Course 4 student; and Pallavi Chaube, significant other of Anand Dass, MBA ’12 were recognized for their contribution to Assured Labor.  The company “enables job seekers in emerging markets to find jobs using their cell phones”, as the article states.  The SEID team explored Assured Labor’s options for new country expansion.  David Reich, co-founder of Assured Labor, notes in the article (published on the MIT News site):

“The students presented their findings to David at the end of the fall semester. He commented, “Our SEID team was great. It was invigorating working with five highly driven people. Given the demands of the Core, I was impressed with the quality work they produced and their enthusiasm for our business. Our team will absolutely implement some of their ideas. The team’s work provided a great perspective on what we’re in for and how we should approach these new markets.”

The SEID team, adding value to Assured Labor and photos

The full article can be found here.

SEID partners with TechnoServe

Last Thursday, SEID kicked off the spring semester by co-hosting an event with TechnoServe at the Venture Café here in Cambridge.  The mixer brought together more than 50 students from schools across the Boston area including Tufts, the Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Business School and Northeastern to connect over a shared interest in international development and social enterprise.  A number of former TechnoServe volunteers were on hand to share their experiences working with an organization that for more than 40 years has helped entrepreneurs in the developing world escape poverty through business creation.  You can find out more about volunteering with TechnoServe here.

The Venture Café, a hub for local entrepreneurs housed in the Cambridge Innovation Center, provideda perfect venue to discuss these themes.  Endeavour Partners, a CIC neighbor, sponsored the event.  We hope this will be the first among many opportunities for cross-campus collaboration over the coming year!

BCG on Global Health

What is consulting’s role in impacting global health issues? Recently, Wendy Woods, a partner at BCG and key thought leader in global health issues, shared how BCG is supporting the entire global health ecosystem including foundations, NGOs, and local government.

The challenge, we learned, is not just getting more money to critical health issues, but finding the best way to get the money to the people who need it most. She was joined by Kurt Knight, a Project Leader, who is helping the Gates Foundation make sure that every dollar they give out has the highest impact.

Entrepreneurship in the Middle East

Mohammad Jhaveri set up Hera Capital, a social investment fund aimed at reducing poverty, extremism, and expanding economic opportunity for the lower-middle classes in Muslim nations. Mohammad provided valuable advice for entrepreneurship in the Middle East, such as structuring the company, legal protection, funding environment, as well as overcoming barriers unique to the region.

Olde City’s founders, Ali Siam and Ena El-Hadidy, envisioned their startup to be engaged in grassroots change. Ali told the story of how they received a bottle of Palestinian olive oil as a wedding gift back in 2007 and created Olde City to spread the gift to the rest of the world. Despite being profitable in only 1 year, Ali presented some of the real challenges they were still facing. The event closed with a tasting of their delicious product

Social Impact Career Panel: Networking

SEID and Net Impact co-hosted a panel on practical ways that MBAs can network their way to social impact summer internships. Lindsay Stradley explained the need for flexibility and always keeping your options open — she was forced to find another internship at the last minute. David Auerbach gave practical advice on how to get the internship of your dreams by reaching out to high-level executives, and Shayna Harris shared the long and careful process she used to find contacts in the right organizations.

Cold-chain problems in India and Pakistan

Entrepreneurs Sam White and Sorin Grama of Promethean Power co-led a talk with Kishore Musale, chairman of Astarc Group, on the challenges of bringing milk from farmers in rural India to processing facilities. Promethean Power produces a solar-powered milk chiller designed to keep milk cool at the source, so it doesn’t spoil before reaching the processing center. This allows milk farmers to collect more money for their milk, as less of it spoils on the farm and in transit. Kishore Musale spoke of the need for such solutions, as he predicts a shortage of fresh milk in the coming years in India, which will drive prices far above what the locals can afford.

Advising Dr. Sarmah

Dr. Pradip Sarmah, CEO of Rickshaw Bank, visited MIT Sloan to give a talk on his successul social enterprise, and to solicit advice from SEID MBA students. Rickshaw Bank is an NGO that has served thousands of impoverished rickshaw drivers in India by selling them rickshaws on credit, allowing them to keep profits for themselves after they have paid off their loans. Dr. Sarmah sought strategic advice on the future of the organization, including organizational structure (non-profit vs. NGO) and how best to scale the business.

Olive oil tasting and learn about social entrepreneurship in the Middle East!

Come hear from two social entrepreneurs who have successfully started ventures in the Middle East region, followed by an olive oil tasting!

Mohammad Hanif Jhaveri set up Hera Capital, a social investment fund in the Middle East. The fund’s model included soliciting funds for projects in emerging Muslim Nations with the purpose of reducing incidence of poverty, extremism, and expanding economic opportunity for the lower-middle classes. Hanif is currently a joint-student MBA-MPA-ID at Stanford and Harvard Kennedy School. Prior to investing, he worked at McKinsey in a variety of public and private sector projects.

Olde City‘s founders, Ali Siam & Ena El-Hadidy, received as a wedding gift of a bottle of Palestinian olive oil in 2007. After remarking on the flavor and quality, they founded Olde City in 2008.  The business turned profitable in only 1 year, and achieved 5 figure sales in its first 6 months of operation, and doubled sales between 2008 and 2009.  Olde City currently carries exclusively fair trade products.

Location: E51-335

Time: 5:30-6:30pm

Date: November 3

Sponsored by the Middle East and North Africa Business Club, SEID, and the Entrepreneurship Club