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Advice for Social Enterprise Field Study Researchers

1) Know where you can add value.
Are you best suited for lifting sandbags, grassroots organizing, or high level analysis and strategy? Think about your strengths as a business student and see how they can be applied to the situation. It’s natural to want to do something “hands-on,” however there might be people better able to accomplish these tasks. Sometimes the best way for HBS students to help an organization is to use our general manager’s mindset and HBS network to look at issues from a broad perspective and then bring relevant people and resources to bear on the challenge.

2) Realize that you will face similar challenges to other people working in the same environment.
Particularly in a disaster region, all infrastructure and normal modes of communication will be destroyed. This lack of basic support will make it difficult to take basic actions like setting up conference calls and accessing key databases. To see which challenges you might face, look no further than the problems the organization’s staff are having in their day-to-day experiences. As you work through these pitfalls, plan for the work to take longer than desired and modify your work plan accordingly.

3) Be open to change.
Business models need changing and so do field study projects sometimes! Don’t fall in love with your original project concept too much. This is particularly easy to do for a social enterprise endeavor. Emotions run high and personal passion may blind you from making good project decisions. For example, we held on too long to the idea of working with a particular aid organization when in reality they did not have the bandwidth to work with us.

4) Legacy is everything.
Attacking the world’s problems is not easy to do. And ‘making a difference’ can rarely be fully accomplished in three month’s time. So, when you turn in that final report, think through how to let your work live on in some way. Are there professors besides your faculty advisor who should see your work? What about encouraging a case to be written on the topic? Could another field study group continue the work?

5) Go for it!
There is much important work to be done in the social sector. HBS students’ skills and network can be incredibly valuable to the people and organizations dedicating their lives to social enterprise. There is no better time to start giving back, than the present.

September 5, 2006
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