This business and management course takes an inter-disciplinary approach to understanding and solving complex social problems. You will learn about prior attempts to address these problems, identify points of opportunity for smart entrepreneurial efforts, and propose and develop your own creative solutions. The focus of this course is on individual agency—what can you do to address a defined problem? You will learn an awareness of the opportunities for entrepreneurship in fast-growing, emerging markets, an understanding of a conceptual framework for evaluating such opportunities, and an appreciation of the types problems that lend themselves to entrepreneurial solutions.
This is a novel experiment that I co-taught in early 2021. The audience was 700 entrepreneurs from across the African continent, taught simultaneously on Zoom, during the COVID pandemic, when we were all forced to experiment. The idea was to mix-and-match asynchronous learning, by having students view material each week from the pre-recorded EEE course, with weekend live, synchronous teaching customized to their interests related to the realities of the African continent. The result were electric in their effectiveness and suggest a way of scalable learning.
Contemporary Developing Countries: Entrepreneurial Solutions to Intractable Problems
What problems do developing countries face, and how can individuals contribute to solutions rather than awaiting the largesse of the state or other actors? Intractable problems – such as lack of access to education and healthcare, forced reliance on contaminated food, deep-seated corruption – are part of the quotidian existence of the vast majority of six of the world’s eight billion people. Developing societies suffer from what we refer to as ‘institutional voids’ that make organized activities of all sorts difficult; think of the mundane but important physical infrastructure that allows us to get to work or school in the developed world, as well as our access to higher-order institutions such as the availability of information at our fingertips or the security of the rule of law.
This course demonstrates that reflecting upon the nature of the developing world’s intractable problems through different lenses helps characterize candidate interventions to address them: the scientist’s hypothesis-driven and iterative experimentation, the artist’s imagined counterfactuals through putting oneself in others’ shoes literally and theatrically, and the planner’s top-down articulation of boundary conditions.
The course is divided into five modules: an introduction that reviews various approaches to development and explores the importance of understanding problem-contexts; three thematic modules, each taught by a leader in their respective fields, which introduce the entrepreneurial lenses of the artist, scientist, and planner; and a concluding module that applies lessons learnt throughout the semester to specific problem contexts. The case study discussions included in these modules will cover challenges and solutions in fields as diverse as health, education, technology, urban planning, and arts and the humanities.
In the course of the semester, all students will divide into teams that will each develop a business plan or grant proposal to tackle a chosen problem in a specific developing country/region.
Grand Challenges for Entrepreneurs
Grand Challenges for Entrepreneurs (GCE) is designed for students who are interested in entrepreneurial approaches to the biggest challenges of our time. Grand Challenges are near-intractable, global problems that offer the tantalizing prospect that even a partial resolution will dramatically improve some facet of human existence. Success requires individual creativity to break down a problem into constituent manageable parts, coupled with imaginatively catalyzing collective action in society.
The challenges affect the entire world, though inevitably the burden often falls disproportionately on the fast-growing and populous emerging markets. Invariably, grand challenges require solutions that beggar the imagination, and that require an embrace of science, with all its excitement and uncertainty. To misquote Peter Thiel, “We wanted flying cars, let’s not be satisfied with 140 characters.”
The course is appropriate for would-be entrepreneurs, as well as those interested in the financing and curation of economic activity at the exciting edges of the knowledge frontier.