Three years ago, when Adlai Wertman devised the USC Marshall School of Business’ master’s program for social entrepreneurship—a field using business strategies to address social challenges like poverty—he told himself he’d be happy if 15 people applied to it. He got more than seven times that number. Turns out he was onto something. Because of its basis in business, the Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab is unlike any other social impact program. It’s housed in a business school with a curriculum devoted to using those skills to solve global problems, explains Wertman, a professor of entrepreneurship and the lab’s founding director. Students create business concepts and apply those skills to improve communities from busy metropolises to small villages.
Business Plan: Building Farms in Angola
Inspiration: Suzana Amoes, who was born in Angola, wanted to help her country recover from its civil war. “Any time I went back home to Angola I saw the problems… but I never had the opportunity to pursue a business,” she says.
Taking Action: Amoes and two other USC students created Terra Limpa, a company that acquires land once filled with mines at below-market rates. They hire farmers to work the land and provide tools, seeds and fertilizer. The company generates revenue by selling the goods produced.
Business Plan: An Uber for Wheelchairs
Inspiration: Alex Aldana, a master’s student at the Brittingham Lab, has cerebral palsy. “One of the issues I find for myself and other people with limited mobility is transportation,” Aldana says. He relies on public transit and also uses county services, the latter requiring 24-hour advance booking. An on-demand transportation service, like Uber, tailored to people with mobility issues would be life-changing, he says.
Taking Action: Aldana hopes that with his app, which is still in the planning phase, people could book rides quickly and easily.
Business Plan: A Website to Inform and Educate Voters
Inspiration: Michael Lim, an undergraduate majoring in economics and neuroscience, teamed up with four other USC students to improve voter education. Their idea, BallotView, provides nonpartisan information on propositions and candidates, helping voters make informed decisions before heading to the polls.
Taking Action: BallotView signed up 10,000 users in 50 states during the November 2016 election and its creators aim to keep it growing.
Business Plan: A Water Filter Program to Support Entrepreneurship
Inspiration: When he was 15, Kevin Kassel started a nonprofit that provided water filters to communities in India, Vietnam and other places that lacked access to clean water. At the Brittingham Lab, the undergraduate decided to spin off the charity with a new business called Aqus.
Taking Action: Aqus sells water filters to villagers, who in turn can sell the clean water, turning them into water entrepreneurs. It operates in Nigeria, Pakistan, Ecuador, Vietnam, Indonesia, India, Ghana and Sierra Leone.
Business Plan: A Youth Development Program in Uganda
Inspiration: Before starting the Brittingham master’s program, Charity Prado went to Uganda, where she spent six months overseeing a youth leadership program and helping women learn trades and receive microfinancing.
Taking Action: The experience led to Do Good Journals, Prado’s skill-building program for youth in Kyetume, Uganda. It helps young people sell handmade journals to fund their education.
Photos by Gus Ruelas