Makeshift Innovation and Engineering in the Third World

Tell us about your “Makeshift Innovation and Engineering in the Third World” course –what is it about and why do you feel passionate to offer it?

Makeshift Innovation and Engineering in the Third World is a course I came up with the uses the lens of international development to explain basic science and engineering principles through innovative solutions to global challenges. Students in the course come up with their own innovative solution to solve a global need.

What key concepts and skills do you want students to come away with?

The course has different goals for different types of students. Students with a background in science and engineering should come away with a better idea of the problems that exist today, and how they can use their technical expertise to design to solve them. Students with a background in international development should come away with a better understanding of basic scientific and engineering principles that build the world we live in.

Tell us about the connection between philanthropy and social enterprise–how are they distinct? How do they intersect or connect

Philanthropy and social enterprise share a common goal of helping people, but go about it in completely different ways. Social enterprises use the power of business to create social and environmental impact, and rely heavily on the principles of capitalism. Philanthropy by definition is promoting the welfare of others by generous donations. Think of it as this- philanthropy is giving a man a fish, but social enterprises are microfinancing fishing gear. Both are important, but to me social enterprises promote long-term growth more. However, without philanthropy helping in the short-term, this growth is impossible.

You’ve been a commitment maker and you have won the GWupstart Best For-Profit Social Venture prize for your venture, Pedal Forward. Did these experiences influenced the way you designed the course?

The course was definitely influenced by CGI and my work with the Clinton Foundation. I was able to bring in a lot of amazing guest lecturers who are experts in their fields through my connection with CGI that brought great perspective to the course. The application to CGI U and to the GW biz plan competition were both homework assignments in this class, so students were definitely encouraged to participate in both.

Give us an anecdote or story about the course–an “aha moment” or a compelling moment.

This past weekend seeing two of my former students at CGI U presenting and being named as Finalists in the Resolution Project was super rewarding. Their project was a great example of the what course is all about. They originally came up with an idea that had potential, but was untested. They were able to gather a lot of information through customer interviews to be able to pivot their model to a more human-centered design, that still needs site based testing, but is definitely more feasible and is gaining traction. You should ask them about it.

Will this course or a similar one be offered again soon? Will you be teaching other courses next year?

I loved teaching this class! This semester I am co-teaching a course with Professor Volker Sorger in the School of Engineering and Applied Science on Innovation and Technology, that uses a lot of the same principles from my last class, but applied to a more broad spectrum than solely international development and social enterprises. Unfortunately I will be moving to NYC for work, but would love to find a way to continue teaching this class, whether it be at a University in NYC, or even online through GW (what do you say GW? I’m in if you are!).

What has happened to Pedal Forward since you won? Where do you see it in the future?

Pedal Forward has is scaling our production to 250 bikes and just launched our new website where we are accepting pre-orders. We hope to continue to expand our domestic sales to increase our impact abroad.


An interview with Tim Savoy

dc-center-by-tommy-wells-optimizedAn interview with Tim Savoy
Public Health MPH ’14
Student in the Spring 2014 ‘Philanthropy and Social Enterprise’ course taught by Dr. Blaine Parrish

May 28, 2014

Q. What motivated you to take the Philanthropy and Social Enterprise course with Dr. Blaine Parrish?
I was motivated to take the philanthropy and social entrepreneurship course with Dr. Parrish because I am interested professionally with corporate social responsibility (CSR). To me, I have always been interested in where private enterprise intersects with philanthropy and how the corporate world can shape charitable giving. I have seen corporations throw money at causes to no avail, and yet have also seen targeted and message driven campaigns by other corporations that make major impact. This made me want to learn more about how this process happens.

Q. How was it similar and distinct from other academic courses available to you in your program?
My Master’s degree is in public health, concentrating in epidemiology (the study of disease across populations). Believe it or not, this course complimented my coursework in a big way. Through my program in epidemiology, my colleagues and I learn about the biggest health problems both here in the US and abroad. This course, in many ways, put that knowledge into action. This course taught me how to ask the best questions in order to understand how to make the most informed charitable gift.

Q. What surprised you most about the course?
I was most surprised about the giving experience. Initially, our class put out a request for proposals (RFP) to about 8 HIV-related nonprofits. However, these were all major players in HIV in the Washington, D.C. area, and I think they saw our $10,000 grant as a small opportunity. Thus, we really had to think outside the box about how to market our gift to other groups. In the world of philanthropy, donations like ours may be small, but I was surprised to see the amount of innovation we were able to find with the DC Center for the LGBT Community for our gift.

Q.Tell us your understanding of how philanthropy and social enterprise connect.
Philanthropy and social enterprise and constantly evolving. There has been a generational shift over the past several decades from philanthropy that focuses on just a cause (for example, focusing on a specific disease) to a focus on innovation and impact (really getting at “HOW” we can make change).

To me, philanthropy 2.0 (as we call it) could not exist without social enterprise and vice versa. Both of these concepts in the modern day feed off of each other. This is clear when we look at the current environment for philanthropy and social enterprises. Groups like Kickstarter and Indigogo are based on the idea that philanthropists really want to feel connected to their causes.

Q. What were some key takeaways from your experience with the course?
I had several takeaways from this course. They included a better understanding of how philanthropy has evolved over time, how to adequately make grant funding and philanthropic donations, and finally, how corporate giving can be made to give back to communities while also promoting enterprise.

Q. Give us an anecdote or story about the course–an “aha moment” or some compelling moment.
During our check presentation to the DC Center, my classmate and I got to present a large check (physically, it was about 5 feet long!) to the board of directors at the organizations headquarters. During the presentation, I had a overwhelming feeling of joy as we did press and photos with the organization. The individuals at this nonprofit, a very small group compared to some of the HIV players in DC, were very grateful for our gift and it was an amazing opportunity to give back to a good cause that promotes innovation.

Q. How does this experience contribute to your professional goals?
I am someone who is a big fan of interdisciplinary research and learning. This course enhanced this as the course was truly service-learning in multiple disciplines at its finest. The course had elements of research within public health while also focusing on policy and project management. I believe that this course will allow me to better understand my giving philosophy when I started a full time career.

Q. If a fellow GW student were on the fence about taking this course, what would you say to them?
This is the only time in my six years at GW that I have been given $10,000 to spend as I wish. This will be an opportunity that you may not have for many years! Take this course because you will get first-hand, real life experience in the world of philanthropy and understand how major gifts are made!

Read more about the grant in Metro Weekly, and an interview with the faculty member leading the course here.

An Interview with Professor Blaine Parrish

An Interview with Professor Blaine Parrish
Assistant Professor and Director of the Graduate Certificate Program in Community-Based Program Management in GW’s Department of Prevention and Community Health

May 28, 2014

Q. Tell us about your Philanthropy and Social Enterprise Course–what is it about and why do you feel passionate to offer it?
A. The Philanthropy and Social Enterprise course is a collaboration between GW and the Learning by Giving Foundation.  The main objective is to help students better understand the world of philanthropy and how it intersects with public health and social enterprise.  The Learning by Giving Foundation provides $10,000 in funding for the students to award to charitable organizations in the DC Metro area.

My passion for offering the course comes from my work at the community, governmental, and academic levels.  Organizations do best when they are community-based, sustainable (without total reliability on one source of funding or one type of funding), and led by individuals who value innovation and change.  The non-profit world must embrace many different models to ensure the services they promise to a community when they open their doors, is reliable, dependable, and available well into the future.  My passion is to make sure students have the skills and understanding to make that happen.

Q. What key concepts and skills do you want students to come away with?
A: Students are 100% responsible for putting out a request for proposal (RFP), reviewing the applications they receive, conducting site visits, and deciding which organization will be awarded the funds.  By leading the process, students better understand the importance of critically evaluating the organization’s ideas, capacity, sustainability, fiscal responsibility, ability to be innovative, among other desirable organizational traits.  Students also learn about their own philanthropy and the value of giving.  The skills necessary to make all this happen in one semester are skills students don’t usually gain in other courses.  Community engagement and service learning prepare students to jump into community work confident and open to new ideas and approaches.

Q. Tell us about the connection between philanthropy and social enterprise–how are they distinct? How do they intersect or connect?
A. Philanthropy is the act of giving, understanding, exploring, and connecting.  Putting time, resources, and support behind an organization or idea keeps it alive and helps it grow.  Social enterprise is the act of developing, innovating, adapting, and changing.  Putting well-trained social entrepreneurs into the public health arena will help ensure social change, accountability, strong business practices, and an ability to generate resources at the community level.  When you connect philanthropy with social enterprise, you get the ability to upstart community ideas and grow community leaders from within.

Q. What key takeaways do you think the students gain? How about your own insights?
A. Students universally are surprised by the imbalance between best practices in business and best practices in programs.  Students takeaway a profound desire to support awareness of the importance of using best business practices (fiscal responsibility, accountability, management) to the same degree many organization use best public health practices (science, evidence-based interventions, program evaluation).

My own insight includes how dependent public health programs and non-profit organizations have become on government funding, with little options to choose from when those funding opportunities fail.  Sustainability, community ownership of programs, and social innovation continue to be the keys to organizational and programmatic longevity.

Q. Give us an anecdote or story about the course–an “aha moment” or  a compelling moment.
A. Students come with wonderful ideas – ways to change the world, which is what we teach them to aspire to as global citizens.  So, as you might imagine two aha moments come to mind – the first, a little disappointing, when students realize the challenges to putting their wonderful idea on paper, in a business plan, in a way that helps other understand how it will be implemented.  Students describe the process as a painful reminder that public good is also a business venture.  The most compelling aha moment usually comes when students from across disciplines – across the departments, schools, and GW – realize how interconnected their ideas, skills, academic training, and service learning is when social change and social good is the common denominator.  Class is never long enough and I usually have to kick students out of the space!

Q. Will this course or a similar one be offered again soon? What courses are you teaching next year? What research have you been most intensively engaging in these days?
A. The Philanthropy and Social Enterprise course is taught every spring as a graduate course, which also admits undergraduate students.  During the summer, Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship is offered as a study abroad course (twice to India, twice to South Africa, and next year to Peru) and covers the advances in social entrepreneurship as it relates to public health and development of a business plan to pitch for social change.

In addition to these courses, which I co-teach with Dr. Amita Vyas, I teach Program Planning and Implementation, which focuses on development of public health programs and implementation of best-practices interventions, and I teach Community Engagement and Advocacy in the MPH@GW online program.  My research is focused on LGBT health, use of social media on college campuses (sexual assault, violence, and alcohol/drug use/abuse), sentiment analysis use in community participatory research and engagement, among others.