Business and Faith: a Unique Partnership Inspires Future
Vanderbilt business and divinity students travel to India to fight poverty.
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Sep 28, 2007
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – What do you get when you put a group of creative and inspired Vanderbilt business students in with equally determined students from Vanderbilt’s divinity school? How about divine inspiration on the future of business and how business can end poverty.
Project Pyramid is one of the first classes of its kind in the country combining students from the Owen Graduate School of Management with divinity students. The program uses the teachings of Nobel Peace Prize winner and Vanderbilt graduate Muhammad Yunus to inspire students as they design ways to invest in the poor. More than 4 billion people around the world are considered poor, earning an average of $2 a day. That’s less than $1,500 a year in U.S. dollars.
The students created two business plans targeting those at the bottom of the financial pyramid. The group left for India on March 2 to put to their business proposals to the test. They will return March 11.
Bart Victor, the Cal Turner Professor of Moral Leadership at Owen, challenged the students to create plans that would do well financially and actively use Yunus’ philosophy that combines business, faith and hope for the future.
“If we can bring profitable business to impoverished areas throughout the world, we can help raise the standard of living for people who have long been forgotten, those at the bottom of the pyramid,” explained Owen student and Project Pyramid co-creator Rehan Choudhry. “The mission for Project Pyramid is to arm graduate students with the tools to create sustainable businesses and programs that effectively combat poverty.”
“I think most students think of the two schools as opposite ends of the spectrum, that you serve God or serve money, but you can’t serve both,” said divinity school assistant professor Graham Reside. “So it’s an interesting endeavor to bridge.”
Members of the class say divinity and business students have unique perspectives of the world. Both groups put value on people, but in different ways.
“One of the questions brought up in class was ‘are we going in to make money or are we going in to better lives?’ Really the answer is yes, but which way are you leaning toward?” said divinity student Elizabeth Nicole King. “Within the global world that we are now, even I have to admit that I have to embrace the business world and the desire that people have for money. If I don’t, I’m the one that loses out in my initiatives toward empowering the poor.”
The Vanderbilt students are also hosting an international case competition in October, focused on the theme “changing the world from the bottom up.”
Choudhry hopes eventually each of Vanderbilt’s graduate schools will include a course of study on poverty alleviation. But he has bigger dreams. “I would like to see Vanderbilt University and alums invest in students’ bottom of the pyramid businesses and projects, very much like a social venture capital firm.”
Owen is becoming a leader in “social enterprise, social responsibility curriculum,” said Victor. “Business decides what future we have. The students are very hopeful that business can do increasing amounts of good in the world.”
Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management is ranked as a top institution by BusinessWeek, the Wall Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report, Financial Times and Forbes. For more information about Owen, visit www.owen.vanderbilt.edu.