Few universities are as active in BoP health care and social entrepreneurship as Duke. The Duke Global Health Institute addresses health disparities around the world. Duke’s School of Business includes the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE). Its School of Medicine includes the International Partnership for Innovative Healthcare Delivery (IPIHD). And its School of Engineering features the Developing World Healthcare Technology lab.
Now these programs are coming together to dramatically expand Duke’s impact in both fields. In November, USAID announced that it was awarding $10 million to the university, making it a founding partner in the Higher Education Solutions Network, a new USAID initiative that hopes to leverage the power of universities to create breakthrough development solutions. Duke will use the funds to launch the Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator at Duke (SEAD), a development lab that draws from several academic disciplines to identify and support solutions to global health challenges in low- and middle-income countries.
I spoke with Matt Nash, the executive director of Duke’s CASE program, about the growing academic interest in social entrepreneurship, the new grant, and what it could mean for health care-focused entrepreneurs.
James Militzer (JM): What kind of work does CASE do?
Matt Nash (MN): CASE is a research and education center, focused on promoting the entrepreneurial pursuit of social impact. We were founded in 2002, and our mission is to help create a movement toward the academic study and research of social entrepreneurship, as well as the practice.
We have a combination of programs for students, but an important part of our focus is our research and our field-building work, reaching out to practitioners and other academics around the world. We do research on a global basis on how to scale social impact, so we’ve published books, held a number of global convenings, and done an annual research colloquium with Oxford University on that topic. Also, business models for social entrepreneurs is another area of interest in our research. One of the latest areas that we’ve started working on has been impact investing. We’ve got a couple of reports out now looking at the field of impact investing, and opportunities for growth and improvement in that field.
We’ve also started a national network on scaling social impact called the Social Impact Exchange, which has an annual national business plan competition for U.S.-based non-profits, a conference, and so forth. And we have an impact investing initiative, which is the first research initiative on impact investing in a major business school. So there are a variety of different things that we do.
JM: In the years since you were founded, what changes have you seen in student interest in social enterprise, or in the growth of the field in general?
MN: On the student side, over the past five or six years or so, we’ve seen probably a tripling of the number of students interested in it. And that’s partly because Duke has become known as a leader in this field, so there’s a variety of different factors at work, but we’ve seen a significant growth in the number of students applying, participating in classes, participating in our programs – it’s grown pretty dramatically in recent years.
When we started, it was really just us, the Stanford Center for Social Innovation, and the Skoll Centre at Oxford. But we’ve seen literally dozens and dozens of universities that have now started social entrepreneurship programs – especially in the last five years.
(Left: Matt Nash. Photo courtesy of Duke University)
JM: Talk a bit about the Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator at Duke – how do you think this new funding will impact your work?
MN: I think this is an exciting opportunity for us to pursue our mission in a particular domain: global health. In a way, it’s just building out what we’re already doing, but with a specific focus. We already work with students, we already work with practitioners, we already have an interest in scaling, we already have an interest in impact investing. So this is simply doing all of that, but with global health entrepreneurs. It’s an opportunity to apply our research and continue to build out our framework as a tool.
What’s nice about it is that it’s bringing together strengths that we have in social entrepreneurship, and also broader university strengths in global health and innovation entrepreneurship. So we’re working with groups across Duke, and also with Investors Circle, which is the oldest and most successful early stage impact investing network in the world.
In the past, I’d say most of our collaborative efforts have been with practitioners and networks at other universities around the world. This grant is going to allow us to work more within the university, with the Duke Global Health Institute, with the School of Medicine, with the School of Public Policy, with the School of Engineering - it’ll allow us to do more collaboration on campus.
JM: Prior to the USAID award, how much of your focus at CASE was on global health?
MN: I’d say we’ve had a broader focus: it’s been on poverty, it’s been on health, on education, on the environment. We’ve been pretty agnostic. So this is giving us an opportunity to go deeper in a particular domain.
JM: Any predictions on what might result from this funding?
MN: Well, I’m hoping we can better understand the ways in which one can scale up a social innovation to have greater opportunity for impact. I think that one of the areas that’s going to be exciting is on the impact investing side, there’ll be the development of a whole new network of impact investors interested in global health. So hopefully we’ll make more private capital available to innovators with evidence of impact. And so it’ll be nice to see hopefully more money moving through those kinds of markets as well.
JM: How could the SEAD program impact social entrepreneurs and enterprises outside of Duke?
MN: I think they’ll mostly be interested in some of the reports and research and tools that we develop, that will be based on identifying pathways to scale, identifying competencies and strengths, and better understanding readiness to scale – things that they might be able to apply in their own work. And so although we have a lot of these tools available now on the CASE website and social impact exchange website, I think in the coming years we’ll be developing more in the international development context, and also the global health context.
(Right: Photo courtesy of Duke University)
JM: Will the program offer direct support to specific enterprises or entrepreneurs?
MN: We’ll be working with a cohort of eight to 12 new innovators each year. We hope to have the first cohort publicly announced this April. There’s a list of the types of businesses in the cohort that the International Partnership for Innovative Healthcare Delivery is already working with on their website. Right now, we’re reaching agreement with USAID on the specific cohort that will be formed from IPIHD, and from the USAID Saving Lives at Birth cohort, to create a single cohort that we’ll be working with in our first year. Then each year, we’ll be awarding and working with another group of innovators.
JM: How can an innovator apply?
MN: Our first full application process, which will be for our second cohort, will be available probably early this summer. And we’ll be announcing that on our website. But the initial cohort had a slightly different process because we wanted to get it up and running quickly.
JM: If entrepreneurs are interested in being a part of an upcoming cohort, what should they do to strengthen their application?
MN: If they’re working on global health innovations, they should email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.