Course Detail

Social Impact Lab (42710)

Course Description by Faculty

  • Hachikian, Christina
  • Content
    The Social Impact Lab is a project-based course that deeply examines a social or environmental issue, and in which students work in small groups to develop a proposal for a company, nonprofit, or other organization to address the issue. Throughout the quarter, students learn about strategy development with a client objective in mind. Alongside the project, students delve into the domain area to enhance their understanding and inform their recommendations.

    Note: this class is being offered in lieu of the Social Enterprise Lab, which will NOT be offered in the 2020-2021 academic year

    Interested students should complete the application form before Wednesday, February 24 at 11:59pm. As part of the application, students will be asked to identity their preferred project. Decisions will be sent by February 26 prior to the close of first round bidding.

    Please email Professor Hachikian with any questions.

    For Spring 2021:

    In order for impact investing to grow as a field, new business models must be developed to drive solutions to social and environmental problems. In fact, the most recent investor survey published by the Global Impact Investing Network, 82% of the respondents identified that “high-quality investment opportunities with track record” was a significant or moderate challenge to the growth the sector. The good news is that the growth of this pool of capital, especially catalytic capital (that is, capital willing to be more patient or take on additional risk) is engendering the development of new business models and markets for addressing social and environmental challenges.

    That said, the growth of such business models is often stalled by the inability of individual businesses to thrive in the market without the development of the market itself as a whole. In these instances, philanthropists and impact investors must look for ways to catalyze a market place for certain types of social and environmental “goods”, rather than just investing in individual business ventures. As such, investments are made to drive systems change alongside financial returns and impact outcomes.

    In this class, students will learn about examples of business model innovation in the social sector, explore systems change as a means to drive sustainable ecosystems, as well as the better understand the capital that fuels their growth. Alongside classroom learning, students will work on one of two projects that explore these important issues. Each team will develop a recommendation to be presented to their client at the conclusion of the term.

    Project 1: Catalyzing Markets for Vision Correction (IADP/Clearly/Refractive Error Coalition)

    About the Client:
    The International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) serves as the overarching alliance for the global eye health sector, with more than 150 partner organization in over 100 countries. Clearly campaigns to educate the public and world leaders by raising the profile of the issue of vision impairment, champions innovation and the spreading of best practices, and connects people committed to tackling the issue of vision impairment. Recently these two organizations have come together, the marriage of which brings together the work on the ground via the partners with the larger mobilization of support for eye care and correction as a priority.

    A Refractive Error Coalition is being developed to usher in a new focus on scaling proven solutions and creating cross-sector partnerships to accelerate access to eye care and correction.

    The Coalition, supported by IAPB and Clearly, is an alliance of NGOs, academic organizations, and private sector companies seeking to end uncorrected refractive error by 2050, including ensuring that everyone who needs glasses and associated services has sustainable and permanent access. The aim of the Coalition is to move beyond pilots and trials, and instead to take what works and scale it to reach millions of individuals.

    About the Project:
    Across the world, at least 2.2 billion people have a vision impairment, and of these at least 1.1 billon people live with vision loss that could have been prevented or has yet to be addressed. For 9 out of 10 people living with vision loss, their vision loss could have been prevented or can be addressed if they had access to proven, inexpensive solutions, such as a simple sight test and glasses or cataract surgery. Which populations are most affected by vision loss is driven by inequality with 90% living in low- or middle-income countries, 74% aged over 50 years, and 55% women and girls. This gap – between access and solutions – is especially astounding because, once bridged, the returns to human potential are enormous. An adult that was previously vision impaired can suddenly be an income earner for their family, and a child previously unable to see the board can improve learning in school. Therefore, for governments, this represents increases in productivity and economic growth. Importantly, access to eye health and vision care services has enormous impact on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, touching on many of the goals beyond just access to healthcare.

    In order for IAPB and the Coalition to make meaningful and lasting change in access to eye care and correction, it needs to activate sustainable ecosystems that drive demand for and provision of services. Of course, governments play an important role in the ecosystem, by providing resources, setting policy, and via tax levies, but a truly sustainable market will include private sector and nonprofit actors as well. These additional players, including small business entrepreneurs, large corporations, international NGOs, and philanthropic organizations, each have a role to play in driving consumer demand, technology adoption, and market development so that the complete ecosystem thrives over the long haul.

    This project will start to answer this question by modeling market ecosystems under certain conditions, including quantifying consumer demand (and willingness/ability to pay) as well as supply (such as entities that test eyesight, those that sell and produce refractive error products, and the supply chains that underlie those sellers.) Once a model frames out the actors, it can then be adapted by adding potential ingredients (such as technology, supply chain support, etc.) that might be part of those markets, and therefore influence its development. Finally, recommendations can be made for how to (and where to) activate such market growth by pinpointing possible levers for catalyzing such as incentives, policy initiatives, technology adoption/innovation, small business development programs, and the like.

    Project 2: Monetizing Stormwater Solutions Project (American Rivers)

    About the Client:
    American Rivers is a nationally-focused nonprofit advocacy organization whose mission is to protect and conserve our nation’s rivers. They approach this work through a range of programs, including promotion of legislative and regulatory protections, implementation of on-the-ground restoration projects, and community-collaborations to foster river health awareness and promote justice in water related investments.

    Among the organization’s initiatives, the “Clean Water Supply Program” focuses on reducing the impacts of urbanization on our nation’s waters. These impacts are typically associated with stormwater, the excess and polluted water created by precipitation falling on the impervious areas of cities and towns. The Program’s efforts are largely focused on promoting “green infrastructure” solutions that reduce stormwater volume and pollutant loadings while providing additional benefits to communities and property owners. A critical aspect of this work is related to identifying funding sources for public and private property green infrastructure improvements.

    About the Project:
    To actually generate progress on river protection, investment in expanded and improved green infrastructure to mitigate stormwater impacts is needed. The current system of paying for stormwater infrastructure relies primarily on (i) stormwater fees assessed against end users of stormwater infrastructure and (ii) government funds. Collectively, these funds are often insufficient and / or too uncertain to attract investment. Identifying additional sources of revenue that provide an adequate return to investors to fund stormwater infrastructure projects is critical to making progress.

    American River’s leadership believes that creative financing solutions and deep pockets of capital (public and private) are available to invest in stormwater and other green initiatives, assuming there is a viable business model in which to invest. However, there are several barriers to generating additional revenue and therefore attracting social investments into stormwater infrastructure. In this project, students will map the value chain of stormwater management, then identify and propose a potential business model would both optimize the “traditional” funding mechanisms used by water agencies, such as cost-recovery, while expand the target revenue pool to include novel sources of income.

    In particular, an ideal model would, first, better reflect the “true” costs and benefits associated with the full life cycle of stormwater management systems, capture the value of unconventional assets that contribute to stormwater management, and provide additional ideas for water agencies to generate value from the private and public sector. Second, it would encompass novel revenue streams and funding mechanisms such as stormwater credit trading programs (being explored in the District of Columbia, Grand Rapids, Chicago, and other areas) to incent private property owners to contribute to stormwater management) and publicly traded Environmental Impact Bond (such as was launched in Atlanta) that provides enhanced returns to investors in exchange for hitting established water management goals. Finally, as with any public works project, issues of equity and social justice will be a key consideration for any municipality undertaking water-system investments, and an ideal odel should incorporate these factors into any recommended course of action.

  • Prerequisites
    • Application-based course

  • Materials
    Cases, readings.
  • Grades
    Grade breakdown:
    - 65% team output, including graded midterm (25%) and graded final project deliverables (40%)
    Plus teams must submit a team contract, mid-point contract revision, and a final team performance reflection
    - 35% individual contribution, including class participation (20%) and effective facilitation (15%)

    No pass/fail grades. No auditors.
    • No auditors

    • No pass/fail grades

  • Syllabus
  • Autumn 2020Section: 42710-01T 1:30PM-4:30PMLocation: TBDRemote-Only
  • Spring 2021Section: 42710-01M 1:30PM-4:30PMLocation: TBDRemote-Only
Description and/or course criteria last updated: March 15 2021