Last summer, 20 North­eastern under­grad­u­ates teamed with stu­dents from the Ter­tiary School in Busi­ness Admin­is­tra­tion in Cape Town, South Africa, to help local entre­pre­neurs in the country’s for­merly apartheid-​​driven town­ships build and finance community-​​based businesses.

As part of the project, stu­dents from both schools helped 10 local “micro-​​entrepreneurs” to write busi­ness plans, create mar­keting pro­grams and build finan­cial models in an effort to boost job cre­ation in com­mu­ni­ties rav­aged by HIV/​AIDS, high unem­ploy­ment rates, gang vio­lence and drug abuse.

Stu­dents real­ized that busi­ness has a far greater reach than profits alone indi­cate,” said Dennis Shaugh­nessy, an exec­u­tive pro­fessor in Northeastern’s entre­pre­neur­ship and inno­va­tion depart­ment, who accom­pa­nied stu­dents to South Africa. “Though profit incen­tive is at the center of busi­ness, we think a more effec­tive model is one that also pos­i­tively impacts entire com­mu­ni­ties and countries.”

The Ter­tiary School, a scholarship-​​based col­lege of roughly 200 stu­dents, pro­vides emerging young leaders from impov­er­ished local com­mu­ni­ties a chance to study entre­pre­neur­ship and lead­er­ship. The col­lab­o­ra­tion between the Cape Town uni­ver­sity and North­eastern stu­dents lead to the cre­ation or improve­ment of sev­eral busi­nesses headed by low-​​income res­i­dents of the town­ships and, in many cases, women and chil­dren from fam­i­lies impacted by their country’s problems.

Entre­pre­neurial projects under­taken by the stu­dents included a mag­a­zine for black South African men addressing issues not cov­ered by existing media; a one-​​person busi­ness offering non-​​traditional tours of town­ships; a small tex­tiles com­pany looking to expand its client base and a con­sulting firm pur­suing oppor­tu­ni­ties to develop recre­ation areas near town­ship schools to engage at-​​risk youth in healthy activities.

Entre­pre­neur­ship major Tim­othy Vitulli’s expe­ri­ence in South Africa inspired him to want to become a social entrepreneur.

Before South Africa, I was com­pletely unaware of the inner-​​working of social enter­prises,” he said. “I feel that all new busi­nesses should incor­po­rate some type of social bottom line, aside from profits.”

Studying in the country gave inter­na­tional affairs and eco­nomics major Danielle Dobson a first-​​hand look at the trans­for­ma­tive impact of business.

I saw how busi­ness actu­ally had the ability to trans­form people’s lives—to make them self-​​sufficient and to pro­vide a way for them to break the cycle of poverty,” she said.

It’s one thing to sit in a polit­ical sci­ence class and talk about the fall of apartheid, and it’s another to be able to interact with people who lived through that time and learn what it means to them and their com­mu­nity,” she added.

Empha­sizing the impor­tance of inter­ac­tion between the two cul­tures, Shaugh­nessy recalled Ter­tiary stu­dents teaching their Amer­ican coun­ter­parts the impor­tance of their cul­tural values, including their “us together” (“ubuntu” in Zulu) mentality.

In the West, we are very inward looking,” he said. “We ask, ‘What’s in it for me?’ That’s not really their cul­ture. If a poor person in South Africa finds $10 on the street, he finds five people to share it with.

South Africans don’t want to live in America. They want to change their country. They want to be the future of the African continent.”

The South African project is part of Northeastern’s new Global Devel­op­ment Entre­pre­neur­ship pro­gram, one of the ini­tia­tives under­taken by the Col­lege of Busi­ness Administration’s Social Enter­prise Institute.

This summer, the pro­gram will expand to the Dominican Republic to focus on micro­fi­nance and vil­lage banking. Within the next few years, the pro­gram is expected to bring up to 100 stu­dents into the field and per­haps more than 200 stu­dents into the classroom.

For more infor­ma­tion, please visit http://​www​.cba​.neu​.edu/​p​o​r​t​a​l​/​i​n​d​e​x​.​c​f​m​?​p​a​g​e​=​7​1​3​&​a​m​p​;​n​a​v​=​565.

Watch a video about the work North­eastern stu­dents did in South Africa in our mul­ti­media section.