Course Spotlight: Darden’s “Markets in Human Hope”

Three professors from the Darden School of Business have joined forces to offer an unusual course that they hope will help change how we approach the seemingly intractable problem of poverty.

Called Markets in Human Hope, this course aims to “treat ‘social’ entrepreneurs in poverty-stricken areas who have great ideas and good products just like everyday entrepreneurs. Lend them money, invest in their potential, and odds are wealth creation will blossom.”

“It comes down to economic development,’’ says professor Veronica Warnock, a native of the Philippines who witnessed economic privation fist-hand growing up. “It’s poverty alleviation in a financially sustainable way. It’s getting away from dependence on donor funds.’’

Markets in Human Hope began as a doctoral course in 2006 for which MBA students showed up and wanted in, too. It challenges students to come up with private sector solutions for long-standing social dilemmas, such as lack of credit. Classes operate as workshops with the professors acting as coaches.

Though many of the ideas might not take off by the end of the course, says professor Frank Warnock, the best will be passed down to new students and eventually implemented.

As part of the course, students must now go on a field study to face poverty head on. This term’s class left for South Africa yesterday for 10 days of meetings with entrepreneurs large and small.

“What we have is a seed of an idea,’’ says professor Saras D. Sarasvathy. “We see the students as innovative farmers who will experiment, crossbreed and cultivate a variety of new ideas and new instruments that they can nurture as they go forward into their chosen careers. We hope those seeds grow in ways we haven’t even thought of.’’

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